“You will likely go into early menopause and become infertile,” my oncologist gently told me.
I was 24 years old and had just relapsed from Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of blood cancer I’d had six months prior. I stared back, unsure of how to respond; I wasn’t currently in a relationship and kids were not on my radar. I was fresh out of college and ready to soak up the magic of my new city, New York.
Cutting through the silence, my oncologist continued: “But you have an option for preserving your fertility. You can freeze your eggs. It’s still considered experimental, but you have time before you start your new treatment.”
It was a double punch. I had just fought through 12 chemotherapy treatments and ran my first half marathon to help me recover. In my heart, I believed I was strong and healthy, but my test results said otherwise. I did not think the cancer would return. Starting a family was a distant thought, a little blip in my future life story — one that I had no idea if I would live to experience. My friends were meeting for happy hours, while I was agonizing over whether or not to freeze my eggs. I was in a haze of sheer devastation during those weeks.
After careful reflection, I decided I wanted the option to have children. Or at least the chance of having children using my frozen eggs. Not knowing what the future would hold, but with a full heart, I decided to move forward.
Starting a family was a distant thought, a little blip in my future life story — one that I had no idea if I would live to experience. My friends were meeting for happy hours, while I was agonizing over whether or not to freeze my eggs. I was in a haze of sheer devastation during those weeks.
During the “egg harvesting” process, I would go in each day for the blood work, sitting in the waiting room with women who were more than a decade older than me. I felt like I didn’t belong — not only was I young, I had cancer and had no idea if I would live to see my next birthday. After each morning monitoring, I’d leave with tears streaming down my face. I was bloated, fatigued, and wanted to leave this alternate universe.
I kept a journal to allow myself to release and process my emotions. Reading inspiring passages and quotes ingrained a positive mindset. Words from Ralph Marston’s The Daily Motivator kept me afloat. One of many of his messages that helped me: “Commit to your highest vision, putting action and persistence behind that commitment. Remind yourself to live as though every moment matters, for indeed every moment does.”
Twenty-four eggs were collected and put in storage. Twenty-four potential future children that chemo could have taken away. Modern medicine and science gave me the opportunity to have a family with my own eggs one day. While I was struggling with so much, having the logical, rational world of science help me through such an incredibly difficult period was invaluable.
Treatment for cancer the second time was more rigorous: chemotherapy, stem cell collection, radiation, high dose chemotherapy, and an autologous stem cell transplant. I was in isolation at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center for nearly six weeks and recovery took one year. I tapped into the tools from my egg freezing experience to maintain my mental strength. Journaling empowered me and I surrounded myself with positive humans who lifted me up.
My sister, Jenn, was nine months pregnant with my first nephew so she couldn’t visit me in the hospital. Feeling helpless, she decided to ignite support from our community and organized a blood drive for me at the hospital. Dozens of family members and friends interrupted their schedules to donate blood and platelets, which were used for my blood transfusions. I am alive in part due to the kindness and compassion of my community.
Post-treatment, I felt as determined as ever. Over the course of eight years, I ran 10 half marathons and two marathons—fundraising for cancer research and young adult programs. I also fell madly in love with barre workouts—movement made me feel fully alive. I tapped into this passion and took the leap to become a teacher. Even though I loved it, I had to deal with a lot of doubt and fear through this process, but I now teach fitness at the cancer center, the place that gave me a second chance at life. Cancer helped me prioritize community and cultivate a life of meaningful connection.
A few years later, I met and married my joyful, caring husband. We started trying for a family naturally in January of 2018. I was nine years out of treatment and 33 years old.
On the third month, we were pregnant! We were surprised and cautiously optimistic. For so long I had worried about what my cancer doctor said years before about the likelihood of infertility. I constantly wondered: Would we be able to conceive and grow a baby without my frozen eggs? Would it go smoothly?
After eight weeks, I went to my OB/GYN for our first ultrasound. No embryo was found. I took additional blood work and had a transvaginal ultrasound a few days later. The embryo was in my right Fallopian tube and I was rushed into emergency surgery to address my ectopic pregnancy. We didn’t anticipate leaving the hospital a day later no longer pregnant. My husband and I call the embryo our “Wandering Soul.”
We cried for months but soon the resilient mindset I’d earned through cancer took over. I had to dig deep to find inner strength and returned to journaling to cope. These tactics helped us through.
This year I turned 35 and celebrated being 10 years cancer-free. A huge milestone!
Words from Ralph Marston’s The Daily Motivator kept me afloat. ‘Commit to your highest vision, putting action and persistence behind that commitment. Remind yourself to live as though every moment matters, for indeed every moment does.
We started exploring what it would look like if we used my frozen eggs, while still trying to conceive naturally. We met with Reproductive Endocrinologists (RE) and in May, I had an endometrial biopsy. The results revealed two bacteria on my lining. These bacteria could impact implantation, conceiving naturally or with a Frozen Embryo Transfer (FET). At the RE’s recommendation, I started a round of antibiotics and was set to begin a second round on the first day of my next period, which was slated to start in a week. One week came and went.
Two days after my missed period start date, we waited with excitement as we stared at the pregnancy test. Moments of disbelief, joy, squealing, and jumping ensued. We were pregnant! I had a chemo-blasted fallopian tube—and it still worked! That Monday, I went straight to my RE’s office to confirm — yes, we were pregnant!
At six weeks and three days, we had our first scan to discover that there were two embryos and two heartbeats, sharing a placenta. Identical twins. A double miracle. I had faced mortality not once, but twice. Now, here we are with two tiny humans on the way, conceived naturally.
Through these life hurdles—the cancer treatment, egg freezing, and fertility struggles—I am continually reminded of the resiliency of our bodies and the power of a positive mindset. My gratitude for life deepens with each of these blessings.
Lauren Chiarello is a two-time Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor, celebrating 10 years cancer-free. She is the founder of NY/CT-based Chi Chi Life, which melds her passions of fitness, corporate wellness, event planning, fundraising, and cancer advocacy. Lauren believes in the power of movement to transform our lives. Join her monthly Chi Chi Pulse newsletter to stay in the loop. @chichilifenyc
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