Surviving Cancer: The Quest to Conceive

A vast majority of healthy American women who decide to have children contend with a plethora of emotional and physical trials in the months leading up to conception and birth. There are the adjustments to the notion of becoming a mother, preparing the home for a newborn, stocking up on clothes and toys, and organizing a network of doctors, midwives and baby-sitters. But for women who have survived cancer, or who are undergoing treatment for cancer, the transition into motherhood is often more complex, and sometimes altogether denied.

In 1984, at the age of 22, Rachel Schumacher was diagnosed with Hodgkins Disease, a cancer of the lymphatic system. After six months of radiation treatments, the tumor in her chest that was the size of an orange disappeared. Ordered to have regular check-ups every six months, her doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston said they would consider her cancer-free after five years of remission.

Schumacher lived a normal life after radiation. She married her boyfriend Paul, and they bought their first home in a rural area of Maine, near the old navy yard in Portsmouth, NH. She worked full-time as a graphic design and fine artist. But in 1989, two months after she celebrated her five-year remission, Schumacher developed the same symptoms she had first noticed back in 1984: a bad cough, nightsweats and itchiness. After a series of tests, her doctors determined that the cancer had returned. This time it had invaded her lungs and spleen.

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