Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

The Day I Became A Dad (For The First Time)

Next to losing hair, the most upsetting thing about going through cancer treatments for many patients, is the ability to have children. Being able to have biological children going through the cancer experience can be affected in multiple ways. Stress alone has the potential to drive down the body’s ability to produce what it needs for its part in the procreation process. And of course, there is the toxicity of the treatments, chemotherapy or radiation, that can play the ultimate role in whether or not, biological child rearing is possible.

A separate issue of course, is when someone is already pregnant, and the decisions that need to be made as far as continuing treatments, beginning treatments, stopping treatments, or if necessary, aborting the pregnancy.

For the purposes of this post, I am referring to the male situation, post treatments.

Prior to beginning my treatments, I submitted to fertility testing. I was encouraged to do this, as I was only twenty-two years old at the time, too young to really know what I wanted in my life other than beating cancer, but this step could be critical depending on side effects from my treatments. Unfortunately, fertility testing back in the late 1980’s was fairly “plain and simple” in methods, but came back, that I had no amountable sperm worth making storage worthwhile. Spoiler alert, had I known what would happen after my treatments were completed, I would have paid whatever I had to, just to store a single sperm. Hindsight is always 20/20.

Though I did not have the internet to rely on, I did hear stories of other survivors who had gone through similar treatments, and were still able to have biological children. I was told not to give up.

But it was soon after I completed my 8th cycle of chemotherapy, a study had been made public. One of the drugs in my chemotherapy cocktail, was a main culprit of sterility, Mustargen. This drug is highly toxic, but crucial when it came to treating Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at the time. To give you an idea badass this drug is, one of its alternative uses, when synthesized in gas form, was used in World War I as a chemical warfare agent. Though it was banned, that did not prevent former dictator Sadaam Hussein from using Mustard Gas on his own people during the Iraq War. As deadly as that derivative is, it played a vital role in saving lives as well.

The study revealed that male sterility was not only affected by Mustargen, but it would depend likely on how many doses received. I received 8 cycles of the drug. The study confirmed sterility likely at that amount. The study also confirmed that fertility could be spared with six cycles or less. Just my luck, I was only supposed to have six cycles, but it was recommended to ensure my remission, that I go through two more cycles of preventative chemo. According to the study, that was probably what sealed my fate of ever having biological children.

I struggled emotionally with sterility, as I really wanted to be a Dad. I would try other scientific means to have either of my wives (I am twice divorced), get pregnant, also to no avail.

An information meeting on international adoption is what convinced me, how I was meant, and going to be, a Father. A mother had just returned back from China, with her newly adopted daughter, “Lily.” She was such a precious and sweet child, and considering the ordeal of travelling from the only world she had ever known, it was clear that she had adapted to her life in the United States, and clearly loved her mother.

International adoption was the path that I chose to pursue. There would be too many hurdles going through the domestic path especially with my health, and with lawyers wanting to make their paydays. Adoption I would soon realize would help to make my dream come true, becoming a Dad. I would also recognize, that it was not the actual birthing process that was most important to me, but rather becoming a Father. Until that moment arrived, I did not know there was as difference.

Going through China, it did not matter that I had gone through cancer more than a decade earlier. All that mattered to China, was that I was expected to live a long, natural life. Up until that point, nothing was evident to the contrary, at least not for another five years and the creation of “Paul’s Heart.”

But there I was, in a crowded room, with nine other families that I had just met within the prior forty-eight hours. All of us were checking our cameras. Some paced the small area. All of us were waiting for that moment. And then it came. We could hear it, the sound of babies. Soon, ten families would be “born” or at least grow in size. This picture is the actual director of the orphanage where my daughter came from, and she is in his arms. I have to admit, this is not my photo, but one taken by another parent. But it shows the first moment, that I laid eyes on my oldest daughter.

And then, she was placed in my arms. For the first time in my life, I was holding a child, a baby in my arms, not just any baby, my daughter. I was a Dad.

Now, if you are able to feel my emotions at this point, this, this is the moment that I had referred to earlier in my post, the moment of becoming a parent. While I cannot express what it is like to experience or witness actual childbirth, I feel pretty sure, that the emotional realization of the moment that you become a parent, either through childbirth, or adoption, the emotions are the same. The whole experience of the journey to China and back is an entirely full story on its own. But it was soon after my daughter was placed in my arms, I wanted to give my daughter a sister. I would return two years later and go through the process again.

And so, my life went from being told I had a disease that had the potential to kill me to going full circle, not only surviving Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, but, becoming a Father, twice. And though I struggle with my health today, my daughters are my driving force to keep on fighting, no matter what gets thrown at me. No matter WHAT gets thrown at me.

Neither of my daughters were around during my Hodgkin’s days, but they have heard stories, and they have met two very important people in that part of my life, that they can now relate to what it took to get here today, my oncology nurse and my counselor who I leaned on so many times when I was at my emotionally weakest moments.

Today has several important recognitions to me in my personal life. But most importantly, my life changed forever on this date, almost two decades ago, the day I became a Father, for the first time. What a great ride it has been, and what I hope will be many more years to come.

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