This week’s guest post is from Heidi Floyd. Dr. Attai had the chance to meet with Heidi last week. Heidi is a breast cancer survivor and shares her incredible journey in this powerful piece, Time.
He was with me for exactly 4 and ½ seconds. My memory is that of a few short, quick breaths – rapid representation of the life he was beginning. The overwhelming smell was of hospital grade bleach in the swaddling blanket, and the itchy feeling of tears running down my face. 4 and ½ seconds of relief, joy, exhaustion and utter resignation to the fact that I would not get any more moments; this was it. 4 and ½ seconds. Would I get just a bit more time?
I had fought for months and months to make sure he was ok, strong (as strong as possible), healthy (as healthy as possible) and thriving (as much as possible). It was all about him, still is, really. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I was told to terminate my pregnancy to focus on the cancer. It would be easier for me, I was told. Easier is one of those words I’ve encountered, but has never really managed to squeak its way into my own life. So I found an oncologist who knew how to treat both of us, and had years of experience treating pregnant breast cancer patients. Hours away from where I lived, in another state, but I found this miracle doctor – and mourned for the women who didn’t know he existed.
The oncologist never told me it would be easy; quite the opposite, in fact. Many great advances in chemotherapy couldn’t be utilized by pregnant patients, but many could. My treatments would be long in duration and scope, would run the full course of my pregnancy as soon as I was out of my first trimester. On Fridays, I would head to the infusion center to tackle the bad thing growing inside me and on Mondays I would head to the ob/gyn for ultrasounds to check up on the good thing growing inside me. A delicate balancing act of saving two lives while eradicating a mutation of evil…like in a comic book. But, alas, I was without both a cape and wonder woman boots. Drat.
We went through it all, baby and me. Hair loss (are you bald in there, too?) unending nausea (is this morning sickness or chemo all-day sickness?) exhaustion (promise me you will be really good when you come out ok? Mommy is so tired…). People stare at you when you are going through chemo, I’ve seen it happen when my mom was being treated. When you add a pregnancy, they don’t stare at all. They look away, blinking in abject terror. Is that..wait…is she…ohmygosh look away look away.
My onc has a great sense of humor and was many times the only person I could just sit back and laugh uproariously with during this time. We knew I was fighting for survival without any promises, but we also knew that if I was going to have a limited amount of months left I was darned sure going to spend as much of it as possible laughing.
As delivery time/end of chemo time approached, I knew that both baby and I would have compromised immune systems. What I failed to realize is that meant he would not be with me like normal mommies after his birth. He would go immediately to the Neo Natal Intensive Care Unit, and I would go to the ‘no one wants to go into the room with the creepy bald mommy’ area of the ward. I was told that as he was being delivered via c-section. They said ‘we have to take him now, you have much more surgery ahead’ and take him they did. I had 4 ½ seconds with him.
I had more parts removed than an old buick in a junk yard during that surgery. Bits and pieces that contributed to my estrogen positive status, bits and pieces that I didn’t really think I would miss (for the record, I DO!). But I didn’t have my son. He was down in the NICU. The sweet, sweet nurses took photos of him and taped him on my wall so I could see how he changed from day to day. What tubes and sensors were removed as he got stronger. He is strong now, and healthy and smart, feisty, silly, handsome, crazy, wonderful little video game lover. I knew I needed more time with him.
More surgeries followed, radiation, daily Femara regimen. Outreach with fellow patients, survivors. Speaking engagements, book offers, even job offers. Hit hard with new tumors and more surgery. I face them all with a simple goal: every time they wheel me away from my family I say the same thing. I’m not done yet. I have work to do. I want people to know they CAN do this, they CAN face this, cancer is evil and stupid but I don’t care. I want more than 4 and ½ seconds. I want my whole life.