The Bright Light (Actually Two!) at the End of the Tunnel

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I was 28, married for two years, and my husband and I had just celebrated our one-year anniversary at my business, Gigi’s Cupcakes. We were happy and healthy and ready to start thinking about having a family. Life was perfect!

On March 30, 2012, that all changed. I had gone to see my physician for bruising on my legs. After undergoing a couple of lab tests, my doctor informed me that in all his years of medicine, he had never seen a white blood cell count that high. He couldn’t fathom it was correct, but if it indeed was, I either had leukemia or lymphoma. I will never forget the numbness I felt when those words came out of his mouth. He called back that afternoon with confirmation of our worst fears and said I was to go see a hematologist/oncologist the next morning.

Having to call my husband home from work to tell him the news was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. After the longest night of my life, we went to see Dr. Grant Lewis at Summit Cancer Care for my appointment. By the way, that man is my angel. After lots of blood work and a bone marrow test, they confirmed it was indeed leukemia, but they weren’t yet sure what kind.

As I was waiting to be assigned a room in the hospital, my doctor came back for yet another bombshell: “I have good news and I have bad news. Good news is it looks like chronic myeloid leukemia; bad news is that you are pregnant.”

I couldn’t fathom how my life would continue on from that moment. We had been trying for a baby for a few months, but I had no idea that I was pregnant. We were told our sweet angel wouldn’t make it through my treatments and I would never be able to carry a child. So now, not only was I having to deal with the shock of leukemia, but also with the sadness of losing our sweet baby. I had dreamed my whole life of being a mom and having children, and to have that all taken away from me was the worst nightmare I could have ever dreamed up.

After the weekend at the hospital, I was officially diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) in the chronic phase. Although this was the best type to have, and I was in the best phase possible, I still had a long way to go. I was started on an oral chemo pill, Tasigna, which I would expect to take every day for the rest of my life. The first generation of that chemo drug was developed in 2001, and the one I’m on currently, Sprycel, in 2006.

After diagnosis, I gave myself a month. A month to be sad, and angry, and pout, and cry, and time to let it all sink in. I stayed in my bed most days and did just that. Cried a lot, was sad a lot and tried to learn to accept my life with cancer. Setting that deadline was the best thing I could have done for myself, I allowed myself to really feel the harsh new reality but knew I had to put my big girl panties on at the end of my month. So on that 30th day, I came back...Back to work, back to smiling, back to enjoying my life, just this time enjoying my life with cancer. Sure I have my hard days still, sure I still cry myself to sleep some nights...but I'm living, truly LIVING my life, cancer and all.

Trying to find a smile after losing her baby shortly after diagnosis

The past few years have not been easy, but I’m happy to say that I am now happily in remission. I continue to take my life-saving chemo pill everyday and I will be seeing my oncologist, Dr. Lewis, every three months for the rest of my life for check-ups and blood work.

After successfully maintaining a major molecular response for several years, which means that no BCR-ABL protein is detectable – i.e. remission, we began exploring the option of starting our family. Although we knew that I could not carry a child due to my daily chemo pill, there was a chance that doctors would be able to harvest a few of my eggs that had been unaffected by my chemo. However, to do so meant that I had to come off my life-saving chemo for 17 days. After lots of prayers and anxiety, and a lot of time and attention from my oncologist and reproductive specialist, they were able to get two of my eggs that hadn’t been affected by chemo. With lots of doctors’ help and a selfless best friend as a gestational carrier, those two precious eggs are our precious little twins, Taylor Anne and Weston. It was truly a miracle and not an hour goes by that I don’t look at them and feel so incredibly blessed. To go from being told I had cancer and that I would never be able to carry a child, to being in remission and being able to hold my very own twins, is something I will never take for granted.

My treatment is easy, a simple chemo pill each day, and I am so thankful for all I see in front of me. I am happily married, run a successful business, and am a proud mom of two beautiful children. I’m looking forward to being a regular mom and wife, packing lunches for my kids and walking them to school each day. Knowing that I’m staying one step ahead of cancer makes me look at life a little differently…I truly appreciate every moment. Every morning, every sunset, every giggle (and even cries) from our twins is such a blessing and something I will never take for granted. So here’s to lots more giggles, kisses, sunrises, and special family moment s that I will get to enjoy thanks to the life-saving research funded by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS).

Bethany and her mom support the cause by taking part in a local LLS Light The Night Walk.

Bethany Shantz lives in Savannah, GA, with her family.

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