Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Rachael's Birth Story

I met Rachael for the first time many years ago, when she was dating her husband Carl, who lived with us in the dorms at UK. She came around quite often and none of us were surprised when they got married after he graduated. Her birth story is pretty amazing, and I'm so glad I get to post it today - her two year "Cancerversary!" I was especially touched by how supportive her family was during this rough time for her, and how positive she was able to stay during what must have been some agonizing months. As I get ready to post this story, I'm starting to get a little overwhelmed at the blessings this project has brought to me. I know that when I'm in the delivery room, no matter what happens, I'll be able to draw upon the strength and knowledge of all of these amazing women. Rachael, you are an inspiration! Thanks for sharing your story.

At 28 weeks pregnant, I felt very blessed. I was pregnant with a sweet baby boy named Evan and I felt great. Pregnancy had been easy. I had no morning sickness, no stretch marks, was not moody, and was still sleeping well each night. Life was pretty much perfect.

While at one of my regular visit with my obstetrician, I decided to ask about a lump I felt in my breast. I was pretty certain that it was pregnancy related, but thought I would have her check it, just in case. My doctor examined me and knew right away that it was not pregnancy related. She was not too worried, though. She explained that it was probably a cyst. Just to be sure, she scheduled an appointment for me to have an ultrasound of my breast a few days later. Since she was not very worried, I was not either. I was certain that I would go have the ultrasound, be told that everything was fine, and be sent on my merry way.
The next week, on December 7th, Carl accompanied me to the diagnostic center for my ultrasound. (It was the first of several appointments for the day and I was ready to get it over with and move on to the fun appointments, like my ultrasound of Evan.) I was called back shortly after we arrived. I was taken to a small, dark room while an ultrasound technician performed my ultrasound. She finished her work and said she would be back shortly.

When the technician entered the room a few minutes later, she asked me how far along I was in my pregnancy. I thought it was an odd question, but answered that I was 29 weeks along and she left the room again. As I sat alone in the room, I started to worry. I sensed that something was not right. When the technician returned again, she explained that the doctor wanted to speak with me about the results of the ultrasound. At this point I really started to get scared. She left the room again and returned shortly with a doctor. The doctor introduced herself and said that she was really worried about what she saw on the ultrasound pictures. She said that although we would need further tests, she was certain that I had breast cancer.
My head immediately began swirling with questions. Was I going to die? If so, how long did I have? What would happen to Evan? How would this affect him? How would Carl raise Evan without me? As I continued to process the awful news, I started to cry. I asked for the technician to go get Carl. I knew I needed him right away.

Carl came in the room and he held me tight. The doctor explained the results of the ultrasound to Carl. The rest of the appointment becomes blurry to me at this point. I vaguely remember more ultrasounds, mammograms, and a biopsy.

Once we left the diagnostic center, we visited my obstetrician, who is partners with Carl’s dad. Together we all talked about the next steps. We would get the biopsy results on Monday, December 10th. Since the biopsy was certain to confirm a cancer diagnosis, Carl’s dad and my doctor arranged for me to meet with a surgeon on Monday afternoon.

Early on Monday morning, my doctor called with the results of the biopsy. I had breast cancer. That afternoon I met with my surgeon to discuss what we needed to do next. Of course, I was very worried about Evan. Thankfully, Carl’s dad had done a lot of research over the weekend and was able to help us and my surgeon make a decision about surgery that would take out my cancer and that would be safe for Evan. I would undergo a lumpectomy that Thursday, December 13th.

When Thursday arrived, I felt that I was in very good hands. Not only was I confident that my surgeon would be able to remove the cancer, but I knew that Evan I and were in good hands. My obstetrician would be in surgery to help monitor me, and Evan had a nurse that would monitor him.

After the surgery I woke up and asked how Evan was doing. I was told that he was fine and that he was still being monitored. As I laid in recovery, Carl came and told me that the cancer had been removed and that only a couple of cells were found in my sentinel lymph nodes. The rest of the lymph nodes were removed and would be biopsied, but it was not likely that the cancer had spread. What a relief!

The next few weeks were tough. Recovering from surgery was hard, especially since I was pregnant. I was in a lot of pain and to top it all off, I developed morning sickness. The holidays helped keep us in good spirits though, as well as a lot of support from family and close friends.

After Christmas, Carl and I met with my oncologist, who had been working with my obstetrician. She explained that I would need six chemotherapy treatments in the coming months. Afterward, I would need radiation treatment. It was important to start chemotherapy soon, but it was safer to wait until I had delivered Evan. Evan would need to be delivered as soon as it was safe to do so.

Carl and I spoke with my obstetrician again and got advice from Carl’s dad. Evan would be delivered at 36 weeks gestation by c-section. We were told that I would be given steroid shots to help Evan’s lung development and that by 36 weeks, he would likely be fine. Once Evan was born, I would begin chemotherapy almost immediately to make sure that my cancer was completely gone.

We spent the next few weeks getting everything ready for Evan’s arrival. I was well enough to help and I was very excited to get everything prepared for Evan. I couldn’t wait to meet my son!
On January 25th, Carl and I arrived at the hospital for my c-section. I was so excited! I couldn’t wait to hold Evan and to see what he looked like. To be truthful, I was not worried about the c-section. I had been through so much in the past weeks that I felt I could get through ANYTHING at that point.

After being at the hospital for a couple of hours, it was time for my c-section. I was prepped and soon I was lying on the surgery table. Carl joined me and the surgery began. It didn’t take too long before we were told that Evan was about to make his debut. We knew he was there when we heard a tiny cry. We were both overcome with such joy that we began crying too. Evan was held up for us to see. Carl and I were ecstatic to see our son. He was perfect.

Carl joined the doctors and nurses that took care of Evan on the other side of the room. He would bring the camera to me and show me pictures of Evan and tell me how he was doing. Before long, Carl was allowed to hold Evan. He brought him over to me and I was able to kiss him and snuggle with him for a few minutes. Evan was then taken away to be monitored in the nursery.

After my c-section was over, I was moved to the recovery room. I felt pretty good and was anxious to get to my hospital room and see Evan. One of the neonatologists came in and explained to me and Carl that Evan was having trouble breathing and was going to need to go to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (N. I. C. U.). We had been told this was a small possibility, but I was devastated. I felt horrible, knowing that he was born early so that I could begin cancer treatment and that now he was suffering due to his early delivery date.
After a couple of hours, I was wheeled to see Evan in the N. I. C. U. I was not allowed to hold him, but I was allowed to place my hand on him. As I watched him struggle to breathe, I felt so sorry for him. I wished I could scoop him up and magically make him all better. I felt helpless.

Over the next few days I recovered easily from my c-section. I took pain medication, but I was up walking on my own the same night I had the surgery. I spent lots of time with visitors. Sadly, Evan was still in the N. I. C. U. I could take one person back at a time to see him, but no one could hold him. Still, it was still nice to show off our little boy.

Before I left the hospital, I was allowed to hold Evan. I was thrilled! He was covered with wires and tubes and was extremely swollen, but I thought he was perfect. While I was happy to hear that I was being discharged, I was sad to leave Evan at the hospital. Everyone knows that you are supposed to leave the hospital with your baby, but we would not get a chance to do that until over a week after I was discharged.

The day we got the call to pick up Evan was one of the best days of my life. Carl and I went directly to the hospital where we eagerly gathered Evan. We were so excited to bring our little boy home!

Here's the happy family. Doesn't Mom look beautiful? And even though he's wearing a mask, you can just feel the joy in Daddy's eyes!

Poor little guy, all hooked up and helpless. Oh, this picture breaks my heart! He's the cutest thing I ever did see!

And this one's my favorite! He's practically perfect in every way, and even with no hair that girl still looks beautiful! Look at that smile...what a trooper! Rachael, you are amazing! Congratulations on your beautiful family and Happy Cancerversary!


Meredith said...

Oh my goodness, I can't stop crying. What a wonderful mother. I can't imagine how difficult of a time that was for Rachael. Thanks for sharing her story.

Rachael Koontz said...

Thanks for encouraging me to write my story. =)

Pocket said...

Thanks for writing! I did not know you had a blog! Read a couple posts this morning - LOVE the pictures!