The Underwear Affair

April 4th, 2012

My dear husband and I are running in the Vancouver Underwear Affair on Saturday July 7, 2012.  The BC Cancer Foundation’s Underwear Affair is a 10K run / 5K walk to uncover cures for cancers below the waist.

We are running to honour our friend Stripey, who lost her battle with colon cancer last year, and to honour our twins, who were lost due to cancer that weakened my cervix.

For Stripey, for Hokey & Pokey, for this awesome cause, for my cancer-free cervix, your generosity is appreciated:

For Posterity

February 26th, 2011

After some consideration, we have decided maintain our blog entries regarding our cancer & fertility journey for posterity, but did not want them to remain the sole purpose of this website.

As important as that journey was, we are still here, and as we move through our grief together, we will have other stories to share.

And so, we are archiving our cancer & fertility journey, so that it may still be accessed if anyone wishes to read it, but it will no longer be the focus of this site.  You may access the archive using the menu link above, or with the “Archive Home” link below.

Thank you, to everyone for your love and support through this incredible story.

Crank & Flaire

Archive Home

Sad News

February 19th, 2011

It is with heavy hearts that Frank and I share our tragic news.

Sadly, we lost the twins earlier this week.

We understand that some will want to know the details of what happened, and others will not.  For those that wish for more information, I will include it at the end of this post.

We would like to extend our sincere gratitude for the love and support we have received from everyone during this amazing journey.  When we stared this blog, and decided to share our story so publicly, we knew that as well as sharing our joy, that there may come a day when the news would not be joyous.  In for the good, in for the bad.  Although this end is terrible, we are grateful to have had the experience, and will be doing our best to move through it and back to a place of health and hope.

Without a doubt, this will be a difficult time for us, and we thank you in advance for your patience.  We are astounded by the outpouring of support to us, and we wanted to first say thank you, and also to say that no one need feel obligated to say or do anything – we don’t require poetry, as we know that sometimes there just isn’t words.  There is nothing we need, as there’s really nothing anyone can do, so we simply ask that you hug your families.  We are so grateful for our family, our friends, and our community, and just knowing that we are loved and supported is powerful in itself.

Frank and I are moving moment to moment, and supporting each other in our grieving.  Many have asked us already if we will try again, and we don’t have that answer right now, as it is a much more complicated question than many understand.  We need to honour Hokey & Pokey, and heal our hearts before we can think about the future.

Again, we thank you for everything, and we love you.

-Claire & Frank


Optional Reading: What Happened

The cerclage procedure I had done on Feb 2 was intended to compensate for my compromised cervix, a result of two LEEP procedures done to remove my cervical cancer last year. Believe it or not, the cervix is the only thing that keeps babies inside the womb, and an incompetent cervix can easily, (and dramatically) terminate a pregnancy.  The cerclage reinforces the cervix, but in my case, mine was so damaged already that there was not a lot of tissue to work with, and so the suture slipped.  Unfortunately, there aren’t really any symptoms that go along with an event like this, so I had no idea that anything was wrong.

I lost the first baby at home, on Tuesday morning as Frank & I were readying for work.  Frank was a powerhouse, called the doctor and rushed us to the BC Women’s hospital.  An ultrasound revealed that the second baby was still ok, and we were very relieved.  It was decided to perform an emergency repair/second cerclage to attempt to prevent the same fate for our remaining baby.  The surgery was successful, the baby was ok, and I was kept overnight for observation.  We would have an ultrasound in the morning (Wednesday) to confirm that the baby was still fine.

Sadly, the morning’s ultrasound revealed no heartbeat.  It is difficult to say for sure what happened, but it is very common for the second twin to not survive after the loss of the first.

The staff at the BC Women’s were amazing, and our obstetrician was so wonderful with us, and we are so grateful to have had her through this terrible experience.  She personally insisted on performing the awful task ahead, and I was kept through the day on and overnight on Wednesday, so that I could once again be knocked out for surgery, as the sutures needed to be removed, as well as the remains of the second twin.

I lost a lot of blood, and was very weakened from the events, as well as two rounds of general anaesthetic, but on Thursday morning I was deemed ok to go home.  My physical recovery is going well, but it will take time for our hearts to heal.

We’d like to take another moment to say thank you for choosing to follow us on this path.  Through cervical cancer and infertility, having friends to cheer us on and lift us up is a great treasure.  This may not be the end of the story yet, but it certainly is the end of this chapter.

BabyTV at 13 Weeks.

February 9th, 2011

(Click the picture for full size!)

We went for our nuchal translucency scan on Monday, and all was well. They had a look at my cerclage too, which appears to be holding just fine. Hokey & Pokey were dancing around as usual, and making it difficult for the tech to get his measurements, but ultimately they said everything looked pretty good. There’s still some blood work to do before we get the official results back, but we’re not feeling very worried, which is great.

We hoped maybe that since the scan would take so long that we might get to have a peek at whether H&P were boys or girls, or one of each, but no dice. The scans were so focused on the head & neck that we didn’t get many full-body shots. I think we may have to accept that we’ll be waiting until they’re good & ready to show us, which I think is somewhere between 16 & 20 weeks.

In daily life, things are plugging along. Frank has been super-awesome-supportive-guy, and is incredibly sympathetic and understanding. He helps out as much as he can, and never gives me grief when he comes home to find me crashed out on the couch. We’ve started looking at things like cribs and strollers built for two, and sort of started making a list of things we’ll need to acquire before they arrive. My belly got big early, and although it seems to have slowed down a bit now, most of my clothes don’t fit anymore so I’ve been slowly getting some maternity wear. My round ligament pains seem to have eased off, but I have trouble being comfortable and my back hurts terribly when I wake up. My theory is that this is partly due to our bed being 10 years old, so I’m petitioning Frank for a new one, perhaps a bigger one, and one of those awesome Snoogle pregnancy pillows to boot.

I think I had my first official craving too: Baked lasagna from Gigi’s. I hadn’t been craving much, although I had been turned off by some things (like fresh basil and big slabs of meat). Mostly I found I wanted whatever was said to me… like if someone said French fries, I’d instantly want them. Or pie…somebody said pie and MAN, I wanted apple pie. (Thanks E & D for getting me pie!) The baked lasagna was the first thing that just popped into my head on it’s own, although I wasn’t compelled to get it immediately. But I’m trying not to give in too much to the desire for indulgent foods, and trying to make sure I’m still getting enough good stuff so the little wigglers will get big & healthy.

Pregnancy-dreams have started too. Over the last two evenings, I had two rich ones. First, I dreamed I was preparing to “jump” into the unknown, and I was super calm about it. I was sort of floating along, picking up symbolic things I felt I wanted to have with me as I made my leap into the abyss, not knowing if those things would survive the journey, but knowing I would. And last night, I dreamed of the bottom floors of a large building (school? hospital?) flooding with sea water. Normally water dreams cause me some anxiety, but in this one, I knew how high the water was going to get, and I stood Zen-like at the top of the stairs, enjoying the sound of the water crashing about, and watched others run past me in panic.

Still waiting for my second-trimester energy to kick in. I find I’m still running out of steam early, and my body complains when I do “too much” which really isn’t very much at all. Definitely tricky for us type A sorts that need to feel like we’re accomplishing something. Ah well… I suppose that’s just one of the many lessons and adjustments that comes with pregnancy, eh?

Cerclage Update

February 3rd, 2011

Gah. Yesterday sucked hard.
When I woke up from the cerclage, Frank & the doc were there to greet me, which was nice, but the news was scary. Apparently, the procedure was really, really necessary. The kind of necessary in that if I hadn’t had it done right away, I most likely would have lost the pregnancy. The doc said that from the two LEEP procedures I had for the cancer, my cervix was a mess, and was already not doing it’s job. Gross warning for the next sentence: my poor cervix was already open enough that she could SEE inside to the birth sac.
So yeah, that stitched that right up.
Now that it’s stitched, there’s less to worry about, but I’m still high risk, and they’ll be keeping a close eye on me. I have a followup on Feb 18, and that should show that the suture is doing it’s job, and everything’s still bundled up properly in there.
They wheeled me into recovery around 11am, and I’d expected to be out by noon, like usual for morning day surgeries. All you have to do is pee and they let you go. It sounds arbitrary, but sometimes surgeries like that shock the system and you “forget” how to pee, so they make sure you can before they take out your IV or let you go home. But I couldn’t go. Hours passed, tons of water drank, and I still couldn’t. 3pm, they finally do the drastic measure of draining my bladder for me (really, REALLY unpleasant), because apparently that fixes the forgetful bladder thing. You still have to sit around for another hour, traumatized by the catheter experience, drinking more water, and then prove that you peed before they let you go.

At around 4pm, I finally got out. Exhausted, barfy, generally freaked out… and really hungry!
Frank took excellent care of me when we got home. Tucked me in on the sofa with water & juice to drink, made me toast when I was feeling barfy from the anaesthetic, and put lots of entertaining stuff on the TV for me to watch or nap through as I wished.

Taking it easy is my job for the next couple of days. Staying mostly horizontal, drinking lots of fluid, and letting my body recover.
And then on Monday, we get the fun of another ultrasound, this time it’s the nuchal translucency scan, so we’ll get to watch the womb-show for a good long time while they do their measurements.


January 21st, 2011

We had our first “official” visit to our new doctor yesterday, and it was loaded with coolness, planning, and information.

Frank was with me this time, so he got to see Hokey & Pokey in action, and hear their quick little heartbeats.  I admit I cried a bit from all the awesome.  The doc put some images & video on a disc for us and we can bring that disc back every time & she’ll keep loading it up for us.  Yay!

Hokey and Pokey… 10 Week Ultrasound from Helianthus Photography on Vimeo.

I’m stunned at how totally organized and on the ball they are.  Both the doc and her assistant/receptionist are powerhouses and had everything I could possibly think of (and a whole bunch of stuff that I didn’t think of!) pre-prepared for us.  She already has us booked up with all the appointments we’ll need, straight through until April!  Since we’re having twins, we’ll get ultrasounds every month, which is fine by us.  We love to see our little wigglers.  The cervical cerclage (small surgical procedure to reinforce my compromised cervix) is booked for our anniversary on Feb 2, & I’ll probably take the next day off too.  Also, while she’s doing my cerclage, she’s going to do a PAP to make sure that my cancer is still gone.  A nuchal translucency scan & bloodwork is booked for Feb 7, my cerclage follow-up is on Feb 18, they’ll do a detailed ultrasound on March 25, and then a regular ultrasound on April 21.  May/June/July will also have regular ultrasound appointments, but they’re not booked yet.

Very interesting is that while we were there, the results of the blood they took on Tuesday came in.  They checked my blood type (my mom said I was O, but I didn’t know for sure), and it turns out I’m actually AB negative.  I don’t know much about blood/blood types, but apparently there’s also a thing called RH factor that is very important to know about when you’re pregnant.  Apparently, I’m RH negative… and although we haven’t checked him, if Frank was RH positive, Hokey and/or Pokey could be RH positive, and then my body might have an immune response to them, and essentially send antibodies to attack the babies’ red blood cells.  How screwed is THAT, eh?  Luckily, there’s a shot for this, so just before we left, the good doctor jabbed me in the butt with the reassurance that all will be well.

We hope you enjoy the little clip of Hokey & Pokey.  It’s a little fuzzy, and they’re still really small, but you get the idea.  They’re about the size of strawberries now. 🙂

Scary Weekend, Good Outcome

January 18th, 2011

Well!  It’s been an emotional couple of days.

I had a bit of a scare this weekend, with two episodes of sudden bleeding.  I knew “spotting is normal”, but it seemed like too much too fast to be “spotting”, even though it did stop on it’s own almost as fast as it started.  I didn’t want to be hysterical/paranoid, so I decided to wait & see if it happened again.  I knew there were lots of things that could cause a bit of bleeding, and it didn’t necessarily mean that anything was really wrong.  But even so, I blamed myself a little bit for jinxing it (by letting myself get excited about a baby shower), so between fear and guilt, I had a good ol’crying jag.  But the rest of the day was ok, and Sunday was ok, so I felt ok about not rushing to the hospital in a panic, and decided to wait until my scheduled doc appointment on Thursday this week.

But when it happened again on Monday night (last night), I decided that I’d call the doctor in the morning.

The receptionist was awesome, called the doc for me, and called me back within 10 minutes to tell me the doc says she’s not worried, everything is probably fine, but considering my history (being an IVF patient, carrying twins, and having had 2 leep procedures for cancer, etc), she thought we’d all feel better if I got looked at, so to head into the BC Women’s & get assessed.  Even better?  She’s the attending doc there today!

So, I went to the hospital, and they were totally prepared for my arrival.  They gave me the whole nine yards: blood, urine, ultrasound, and a look at my cervix.  The ultrasound showed some dark spots, likely to be subchorionic hematoma(s), and very likely the source of the sudden, short-lived bleeds.  (Subchorionic hematoma just means a blood clot under the placenta).  Even if I bleed a bit again, as long as it’s the same kind of thing as before, it’s totally fine.  The only thing I should get worried about is if I get tightening/cramping feelings (not the sharp pokey ones), in which case I should go to emergency right away.

Beyond that, everything is totally peachy.
Both heart rates are perfect, and they were both awake, so I got to see them both wiggling around.  They have little mitteny-hands 🙂

And, I love my new doctor, SO MUCH.  She’s so bright and clear, and yeah, totally cheerful, and clearly loves babies.  She was super awesome, very relaxed, great bedside manner, and was so NOT in a hurry about the ultrasound.  She hung out there with me for quite a while, both of us just staring & grinning at the screen, watching Hokey & Pokey wiggle around.

In light of my cancer treatments & compromised cervix, we talked about doing a cervical cerclage (a stitch that reinforces my cervix so it can’t open early), which I’m totally on board for, so she’s going to book me for that shortly and will do the procedure herself.

So, I’m not to do any more worrying, because everything is cool, and I’m to take it easy for a couple of days.

A Bit o’Sunshine

January 13th, 2011

I was invited to a baby shower/blessingway thing for a friend of mine, which is really lovely, and I’m totally gonna go.  I haven’t been to one in a long time…I’d sworn off them because it was too hard for me emotionally.  I made the mistake of agreeing to host a blessingway a few years ago, and I spent half the party out on my patio, crying.  After that, I made excuses not to go because it was just too hard to pretend to be “ok” when I really, really wasn’t.  I felt selfish for not being able to get the hell over myself and go celebrate my friends happiness, but I also felt like it was unfair (to me and everyone else) to have me lie convincingly about being ok, just so as to not ruin their day.  Sounds complicated, but it’s all just part of the self-inflicted mind-fuckery of fertility troubles.

But now… well, it’s different now.  So I was thinking about that today.

I’ve been really bogged down by how bad I’m feeling physically, and really, I *am* happy and grateful, but it’s hard to be present in that when I feel like crap all the time.

So I took a moment to imagine forward to being at my friend’s shower, and then another one for another friend just behind her, and then another friend after that…. and knowing that now, I’ll have my own fullness and joy to bring there with me, instead of an empty womb full of sadness.  And I realized that after all of theirs, it’ll be time for mine – something I didn’t think I’d ever have.  Happy thoughts!

And then… I decided that I don’t want a baby shower or a blessingway for myself.  I often find them to be either cheesy, or stilted, or too gift-pressured.  I’m just HAPPY and I want to have a relaxed, happy day with my womenfolk, and be happy together.

So I decided that I want a shikhatt!

I want dolmades, tabouleh, and olives, and I want a roomful of women cracking jokes, making sexy eyes and doing pelvic drops. Yes!

Oh, what’s a shikhatt, you ask?

Well, in a nutshell, it’s a special thing at Moroccan celebrations,  commonly seen at weddings and childbirth.  A shikhatt is led by a woman (a sheikha), or a troupe of sheikas who come to entertain the celebrants.  Sort of like a halfa (Mid East dance party with food & belly dancers), but rowdier & with a mission.  The sheikhas are women of “worldly and carnal knowledge”, which they communicate through their bawdy songs and dancing.  The sheikha’s performance is not only to entertain, but also to coach a virgin-bride for the marriage bed, or a mother-to-be for the birthing room.  The very famous belly dancer “Morocco” (with whom I had the pleasure of taking a shikhatt workshop with a few years ago), wrote an article on it.  It can be found with some digging on her own site, or directly here.

If we have any “official” sheikhas in town, I don’t know of them, and I don’t feel I need it to be all official even if I did.  But I do know plenty of dancers, and I’d want a lot of them at my celebration anyway, so why not make it a fun thing?  I can’t think of anything better in the world than a feast of Middle Eastern food & music, and a crew of happy women dancing together. 🙂

Also, please enjoy some video reference. Great music too!

8 Weeks

January 3rd, 2011

Happy New Year, everyone!  Hope you had a wonderful holiday and are jazzed for a fresh trip ’round the sun.

We haven’t met our new doc yet, or had another ultrasound or anything, but I thought I’d do a little interstitial post.

I’m still rockin’ some serious fatigue, but I’ve gotten a bit used to it now, and find it a bit easier to manage.  I’m not requiring epic mid-day naps at the moment, (which is GREAT), but I do run out of juice easily and spend most of my evenings on the couch.  So far, “morning sickness” still hasn’t kicked in, but I am experiencing “evening gross”.  Sometime around 6pm, I start feeling generally icky.  Not really barfy, just kind of unwell, a little braindead, and really heavy.  Thus the many evenings spent on the couch.

The part that really sucks though, is being at reduced capacity and not feeling like I can accomplish anything.  I’m used to being a rockstar, and now I feel more like a rock.  Part of it is the fatigue/energy thing, but it gets to be a vicious cycle too… the less I do, the less I can do.  Of course it’s important to get a bit of exercise during pregnancy, and I know that getting a little blood/oxygen going always improves feelings of wellbeing, energy etc… so I need to do it.  But everything is stiff and sore, and even though I try to make myself go for a little walk or a bit of gentle yoga, I still feel like a lump.  Last week, my dear friend & massage therapist gave me an outstanding treatment, and before I even got off the table, I felt awesome.  I was all buzzy and energetic, and felt like… well, I felt like myself.  It was GREAT.  I hadn’t felt that good since Friday sunrise at Burning Man.  And you know what?  It lasted about half an hour.  When that rockstar feeling slipped away, and I started feeling heavy and gross like I always do in the evenings, the depression that came with it was epic.  I felt like I was never going to be awesome again.  Yes, I know it’ll pass, but still…it sucks right now.  I try to strike a balance between being grateful, and validating my grumpy feelings.  Go me.

Haven’t had any cravings yet, but I have some pretty clear aversions.  I ate a piece of cheese the other day (that I’ve previously tried and liked), and I totally flipped out.  The taste got right up into my sinuses, like smoke – sort of how it feels when you eat too much wasabi.  Yeah, gross.  Not eating that again.  Also?  Fresh basil.  Put some in my Vietnamese noodle soup the other day and thought I was going to hurl.  The smell was nasty to me, but the taste was even worse – I couldn’t finish my soup!  And I can smell everything.  I can’t wear my perfume right now, partially because even just a little bit smells too strong to me, but mostly because it’s an oil-based scent, and although I didn’t ever smell it before, I can smell the slightly off-ness of the oil which makes me gag.

But perhaps the most odd, and unfortunate newfound aversion, is this:  Zombies aren’t funny anymore.  I mean WTF?  I *love* zombie movies, am very entertained by zombie paraphernalia, have had a most excellent time dressed up as one, and even have awesome recurring zombie “dreams” that aren’t really nightmares, because really, zombies are pretty funny.  We discovered this by deciding to start watching Walking Dead, which we’d been really looking forward to.  We got not-very-far-into the first  episode, and I got all squirmy, my “evening gross” got even worse.  I figured out pretty quick that it must be a pregnant thing, which I can understand, but it’s still a bummer.   I made a deal with Frank to keep watching it, with the agreement that if it gets too much for me, we can shut it off.  Yeah, lame.

So that’s all the fun symptom-news.  Next update will likely be related to an ultrasound or something 🙂

First Ultrasound

December 23rd, 2010

Yesterday was a day we’d been very excited about since the appointment was made: our first ultrasound, when we’d likely see how many of the three embryos stuck.

On the way to the lab, Frank said he thought there was going to be one, and I said two.

We had an excellent technician (Alex), who did a great job of explaining the black & grey spots we were seeing, and seemed rather entertained by our excitement.  The first portion of the appointment was a standard external ultrasound, (you know, the kind where they make you have a ridiculously full bladder) and I’d done enough reading to know what I could expect to see… but then, with those things, it’s always hard to be sure what you’re looking at.

Alex checked out everything, including my ovaries, before explaining what we were seeing in my uterus.  He pointed to the two black spots we were seeing, and confirmed that they were gestational sacs, but we still had to get a closer look and make sure that there were little baby-dots in them.  Sometimes gestational sacs form, but they are empty… and that would be terribly disappointing.  So to confirm, we did an internal ultrasound as well, and that’s when it got awesome.

It didn’t take him very long to find our black spots again, and get focused on one of them.  Now, it’s too early (I’m only 6 weeks along) to actually HEAR a heartbeat, but there it was, visible on the screen….a teeny tiny heart “flicker”.  Like a single pixel flipping on and off.  He said it was perfect – the perfect size for 6 weeks, and a perfect heart rate: about 125 bpm.  We were pretty thrilled, and I had to put a lid on my giggling so that I didn’t keep shaking the display.

Then he went and checked the other black spot, and indeed, there was a flicker in that one too!  We were giddy to see him switch screens and flip the “Twins” toggle to “Y”.

However, we can’t get too excited about that just yet.  It turns out that flicker B was a bit slow… only about 107 bpm, and it really should be up as high as the other one.  He was a bit less cheerful with us when he explained that this is not uncommon, and that very often, the slower heartbeat means this one is not viable.

But even so.  We put in three to increase our chances of getting ANY, so even if our two becomes one, that’s really ok.  Nature knows what it’s doing, and if it thinks that one of our little beans isn’t ready for the world, we trust it’s judgment.

Alex was awesome, and gave us some photos from the ultrasound, and made an extra effort to get a good shot (shown above) of both our little beans, which we’ve been affectionately calling Hokey & Pokey, and even put the little arrows on for us.

Later in the afternoon, we went off to see the fertility doc again, for our last visit with him.  He congratulated us on our first-cycle success, and reassured us that my miscarriage rate is less than 5%, so everything should be smooth sailing from here.  He did talk a bit more about the low heart rate on Pokey, and he said that we’ll see how that unfolds over the next few ultrasounds.  Either Pokey will wake up and pick up the heart pace, or very likely we will see a “vanishing twin” situation: that potentially the next ultrasound, or the one after, may show only one heartbeat.  He said it’s very common, and that the vanished twin would just be reabsorbed into my body, and no harm would come to the remaining twin.

But, we’re hoping they both make it.  Our fingers are crossed.

We also talked a bit about what to do next, as I’m now officially “done” at the fertility clinic, and can be handed off to a regular baby-catcher.  As an IVF patient carrying twins, I have a higher chance of complications, so he encouraged us to see a particular doctor that they (at the clinic) like very much.   We kind of expected our midwife vs doctor/home vs hospital debate to be settled by whatever this ultrasound revealed, and there was a moment of “ah well” for me, when I knew that my idea of a home birth with a midwife couldn’t happen if both Hokey & Pokey make it to term.  But in the end, as long as I’m happy and my beans are getting excellent care, it doesn’t really matter to me where it happens, or what the title of their catcher is.  We’ve had such good care from our specialist, that we trust his referral, and if it turns out we don’t like her (even though she was entertainingly described as being “very cheerful, and *loves* twins), we can always find someone else.

As well, the doc pointed out that while Alex was checking out my ovaries, some cysts were seen on both of them.  Not surprising, as apparently a lot of IVF patients get ovarian cysts after their treatment cycle, and it would probably take a few more weeks, but they should go away on their own.  That explains why they’ve been feeling so spikey lately!

As for how I’m feeling these days, I’m very, very tired…all the time, and feeling really sluggish and at reduced capacity thanks to my spikey ovaries.  But I’m at 6 weeks + 2 days now, and I still (knock on wood) haven’t had any nausea.  Booyah!