I was 20 when I met Jack. Working at the grocery store, contemplating my future, dreaming of the sparkling lights
on Broadway. He came in one night and we started talking. I was obsessed with Eddie Vedder from the band Pearl Jam and he looked just like him, only his hair was darker. I didn’t know it when I met him, but he was an alcoholic. I thought he was wonderful. He was 9 years older and much wiser than I. He lived on a boat and didn’t have a phone.
At first this didn’t bother me. He just showed up whenever or called out of the blue to ask me to come over. We’d hang out, smoke cigarettes, he’d drink, then we’d have sex. He was my first. He took me out to lunch twice, never dinner and never to a movie or on a real date. He came to see me in a play I was in. I was playing Julie in Carousel. The lead. He didn’t seem to care.
It wasn’t long until I found out I was pregnant. I still remember the date: July 11, 1994. I was nine weeks along when I finally figured it out. I dreamt of having a little girl with long dark curls like her father. Come November, we found out it was a boy. ‘What am I going to do with a boy?” I asked my mother. “The same thing you’d do with a girl. Love him.” she replied.
That wasn’t all we found out. In December, at a prenatal appointment, the doctor noticed my lymphnodes were swelling and sent me to an endocrinologist. He did a biopsy. Seven needles full of fluid taken from seven different place on my neck. Seven tasts came back with malignant tumors. I had thyroid cancer.
The next prenatal appointment was the hardest. The doctor came in carrying all these books with titles like ‘Cancer During Pregnancy’. He promised me the surgery would go quickly and I would be able to carry my baby to full term. He was wrong.
On January 17, 1995 they took me in to surgery. “We have the obstetricians set up in the room and will monitor the baby closely in case anything happens,” they told me. “But don’t worry. The surgery should only take about 3 hours.”
It took 8 and a half. My baby went into fetal distress about halfway through and had to be delivered via emergency c-section. He was 6 weeks premature and had to stay in the hospital for 10 days.
After the surgery, the doctors sent samples of the cancer for testing. I did not know it but they were worried. It could go one of two ways: The typical thyroid cancer, which is very slow growing and could have stayed unfound in my body for many years, or the more aggressive type, which would have killed me in 6 months.
Thankfully, despite the growth, I did have the typical thyroid cancer. The way the doctors explained it was that the hormones in my body from the pregnancy had sped up the growth of the cancer cells. Leading me to believe that if I hadn’t had my son, we would have never found out I had cancer.