In her PEOPLE.com blog, Diem Brown, the Real World/Road Rules Challenge contestant recently diagnosed with ovarian cancer for the second time, opens up about her desire for a child and the ups and downs of cancer and fertility procedures.
I’m writing this blog from a bench in Central Park and am on the verge of making a decision I know will cause judgment, guilt or regret.
To some degree, I grew up staying on the straight and narrow path because of judgment and guilt – not wanting to let people down, disappoint my parents or give any reason for my Catholic guilt to rear its ugly head. I think a lot of us make life choices because of judgment and guilt, however I don’t think those are always the right emotions to guide you toward a decision.
I have been researching, reading your comments, asking my doctors, friends and family’s opinions as I try to come to a decision on whether I should go ahead with my surgery and start on my cancer path or try one more round of fertility hormones to harvest more eggs before they remove the last half of an ovary.
I don’t want to be judged for my decisions, although I know that I will. I don’t want to feel guilty for my decisions, although I know that I will.
Some people think that I am not taking my health seriously and risking too much if I choose to follow through with this next round of hormone/fertility treatments and delay my ovary removal surgery and subsequent chemo treatments. I understand and appreciate those concerns.
Others who have lost friends and family to cancer/ovarian cancer are upset that I’m seemingly playing Russian roulette with my life. And I know there are some people who feel that if I do this next round of hormones then I don’t deserve to make it through my cancer treatments because I delayed immediate chemotherapy.
I understand those feelings. I understand the frustration of my friends and family who are pleading with me to just jump into surgery to remove my ovary and start chemo.
Remembering and Regrets
Here is the thing: This isn’t my first rodeo and regret can become your worst enemy. I’ve already been through the long and challenging months of chemo six years ago and I remember how depressed I was during certain parts of my treatment.
I felt different. I felt like “damaged goods.” I couldn’t shake the feelings of not being a complete woman even though my rational side scoffed at my self-deprecating sentiments.
This next surgery is D-Day for me because there is no going back after they remove my last part of my ovary. It starts my next cancer journey and I’m scared.
I’ve been keeping my chin up and looking at all the silver linings in my life. I’ve said in the past that I’m grateful for having cancer six years ago because it gave me a new focus and drive. That sentiment remains true. But at the same time, I can admit I’m scared.
I’m scared of depression, I want to avoid going down that dark, lonely rabbit hole again. I choose to be happy through every obstacle but a lingering fear remains in the back of my mind.
So how do I cope?
I understand there are many ways to have a baby. I know whether you give birth or adopt, you love your child exactly the same. For me, the desire to have a biological baby is the hope that my mom (who has passed away) will come alive in my child. Its important for me to know I’ve tried every available option to have a biological child.
I know how serious ovarian cancer is. I had a dear girlfriend, an amazing dancer, who I watched fight and beat cancer the first time, but was diagnosed a second time and didn’t make it. Storing my eggs in a freezer makes me feel that if I leave this earth, then at least part of me will still be here.
I’m not dwelling on thoughts of death. One of my coping mechanisms is denial. I think to myself, “I feel fine. I feel healthy. Maybe I’m a little exhausted for no reason here and there.”
What’s so weird is that because I’ve been down this road before I know that you can feel healthy and “normal” when you’re first diagnosed with cancer, it’s when you start chemo that you can’t ignore or deny you are sick.
My Hope, My Eggs
After talking to all my doctors, family and friends, and taking everything into account (including your comments), I’ve weighed all my options and have decided to do one more round of hormone fertility shots in hopes of retrieving more eggs prior to surgery to remove my ovary.
Fertility drugs are only 16 days and they are monitoring my CA 125 levels (that’s a cancer/tumor marker blood test) and are doing internal ultrasounds every three to four days to monitor other cysts.
I know I’m experimenting with my life to a small degree. It’s important to note that I’ve made this decision with a lot of consultation with my fertility doctor and cancer specialists. I’m a people pleaser by nature, but this decision is something I’ll have to live with and I plan on living for a long time, so having more eggs in a freezer makes me feel like I have control over a situation that I otherwise have very little control of.
I’ve closed my eyes, taken a big deep breath and followed my gut. I think the second time around with cancer may actually be tougher than the first because I know what’s coming, so I’ll hold on and grab a tight to anything that gives me peace and hope. For me, my hope is in the form of those eggs.
Check back for updates every Thursday: Diem will be chronicling her journey through fertility treatments, chemotherapy, and her quest to educate others about ovarian health exclusively for PEOPLE.com