Fighting for Our Lives: My Battle With Cancer to Save My Baby and Myself

Fighting for Our Lives: My Battle With Cancer to Save My Baby and Myself

by Heather Choate

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The inspiring memoir of a young mother fighting breast cancer while pregnant—“an honest, heartfelt journey . . . through self-awareness, self-discovery and life” (Cary MacArthur, Co-Host of Mechanic to Millionaire).
At age twenty-nine, Heather Choate was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was also ten weeks pregnant with her sixth child. Her unborn baby was threatened by the fast-spreading cancer that already spread to her lymph nodes. Doctors told her she needed to abort her baby to save her own life. Heather responded: “I’d rather die than take the life of my baby.”
Together with her husband, Heather was determined to save her baby—and be there to raise it. The journey pushed them to the edge of their stamina, tested the strength of their relationships, and taught them that sometimes faith can be a literal lifeline.
Many of us might crumble under such circumstances, but Heather found strength in the knowledge that life isn’t merely about what happens to you; it’s about what you do when it happens. Fighting for Our Lives will take you on a journey of self-examination and of making the choice to find joy in the present. It’s a book that could actually change your life.
What you’ll learn in Fighting for Our Lives:
  • Don’t just survive challenges, thrive through them
  • How to use your power of choice, because it’s not what happens to you that matters, it’s what you do about it
  • Practical ways that faith sustains and strengthens us
  • How to deal with doubt and insecurity
  • The best ways to release negativity and find forgiveness
  • How to trust your inner voice

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781633536302
Publisher: Mango Media
Publication date: 09/05/2017
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 206
Sales rank: 199,522
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

Heather Choate was born in Littleton, Colorado. Most of her time is spent homeschooling her six children while trying to squeeze in spurts of writing when she can. She enjoys daydreaming of worlds and people that don't actually exist but reflect the beauty and complicity of humanity. Her novels, Swab and Frayed Crossing are #1 bestsellers and her latest series, the Jonas Flash Chronicles, is warming hearts and minds across the globe. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2014 while pregnant with her sixth child, spurring her to write about her incredible journey in her memoir, Fighting for Our Lives. Writing is her escape from diaper changes and runny noses, but motherhood is the greatest journey and joy of her life.

Read an Excerpt




Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Today I found out I have cancer. The lump I noticed in my left breast was biopsied last week, and the results came in today.

I'm ten weeks pregnant. I have five beautiful children: Benjamin (7), Chance (6), Joseph (4), Morgen (3), and Naomi (1). We are so excited to have our sixth. The kids have each picked out a name for the baby. Chance loves the name "Binga." Joseph wants him to be "Sonic" (as in Sonic the Hedgehog).

Three months ago, I noticed a lump in my left breast. I was still nursing Naomi at the time, so I thought it was probably related to that, like a clogged milk duct or something. Then a month ago, after we found out we were expecting our sixth child, it really increased in size. I scheduled an appointment with my midwife for an initial pregnancy checkup. She examined the lump and said we should get an ultrasound of it, as well as an ultrasound of the baby, to determine how far along I was.

Last Friday, we went in for the ultrasounds. First, I saw our beautiful baby, healthy and well at ten weeks.

Then the sonographer looked at the lump. She took several shots, then said she wanted to send them down to the breast center to have a specialist take a look. Moments later, I was following her down long twisting halls to meet with him. He did another ultrasound there and an exam. He said we needed to do a biopsy immediately. They took three tissue samples and sent them off to the lab. He told me how unlikely it was to be cancer, or "anything serious," because I'm so young and healthy.

On Wednesday, the midwife called me. "You have breast cancer," she said. She scheduled me to meet with the surgeon in Durango the next day. "He'll want to discuss how the pregnancy hormones are going to affect the cancer."

Thursday, June 19, 2014

We went to see the surgeon specialist. He said, "There is no doubt this is cancer." He then outlined their methods of treatment. Words like "mastectomy" and "chemotherapy" buzzed in my head. None of it felt real. It still doesn't. "Now," he said, "we want to talk about how the pregnancy plays into all of this." I held my breath. Literally. I don't think I exhaled for about thirty seconds. This was the part where he would tell us the alternative options. Chemotherapy, radiation, and even hormone treatment would harm, if not kill, our baby. I was eager to hear what other answers there were to this.

"I want you to consider terminating the pregnancy."

This hit me harder than anything else I'd heard so far.

The doctor immediately went into a thorough medical explanation. "When you are pregnant, your body is flooded with progesterone, a growth hormone. It is great for growing babies, bad for tumors. Any malignant cells within your body will go on a feeding frenzy." He stopped and looked at us with us pale blue eyes. "I understand you are LDS. From what I understand, the leaders of your church support abortion in cases where the mother's health and life are in danger."

He was right. That is the church's official position.

"I encourage you to talk to your bishop about this."


"I know it's a lot to take in."

Yes, it is.

"We recommend terminating the pregnancy and testing to see where the cancer is, how far it has spread, and what stage it is. We will do chemotherapy and then a full or partial mastectomy followed by another round of chemotherapy. In three or four years, when you show no sign of cancer, you can try for pregnancy again and have a baby. With this plan, your prognosis looks good."

I looked at Ben. His face was flat, but his eyes swam with concern.

The doctor wasn't looking for an answer now, but I already had one. I turned to him. I looked right into his eyes. "Well, I want you to know we will not be ending the pregnancy."

A frown flashed briefly across his face. "All right," he said, "but I want to be perfectly clear about this. We will not be able to treat the cancer effectively during pregnancy. The cancer will grow. It will most likely spread." He explained the hormone's effects upon the cancer cells once again, as if we hadn't heard him the first time.

"I really encourage you to talk with your bishop," he said again with great emphasis. He gave the same advice eight more times in our twenty-minute visit.

"How can we know how far the cancer has spread?" Ben asked, never letting go of my hand.

"There is no sure way of knowing unless we do the radiation testing," the doctor explained. "We will biopsy Heather's lymph nodes as soon as possible. The lymph nodes are the gateway to the rest of the body. If the cancer has spread, it will most likely pass through there, but there is also a chance it may have spread without going to the lymph nodes."

"So, as long as Heather is pregnant, we will have no way of knowing for sure."

"That is correct."

"We will do the biopsy, and then again, I really strongly suggest you go speak with your bishop."

The doctor urged the staff to get me in for the biopsy right away, but they were already booked up. We will go tomorrow. It will take two days to get the results.

So, that's what I'm facing now. At the very least, a biopsy and full mastectomy. I'm going to lose a boob. And that's so not even the important thing. I'm terrified for the life and health of my baby. I've always prided myself on being able to bear and deliver children so well.

I'm too shocked to even realize what this all means right now. ... I have cancer.

I will not abort my baby. There is no alternative in my mind. I understand why some people make that decision, but it is not one I can personally live with.

I would rather die than take the life of my child.

Thursday, June 19, 2014, later the same day.

It's a gummy bear, no, it's an indistinguishable gray blob, no, it's a baby! Baby number six is on the way! Due January 9. We're very excited and feeling very blessed.

If you close your eyes,
Does it almost feel like nothing's changed at all?
And if you close your eyes,
Does it almost feel like you've been here before?
How am I going to be an optimist about this?
How am I going to be an optimist about this ...?

That's one of my favorite songs, "Pompeii" by Bastille. It played today as I got ready in the bathroom.

It doesn't feel real. Yesterday seems like a dream. A bizarre, frightening dream, but something I can push aside, something that doesn't affect the rest of my life. Just a stupid dream.

The kids are playing. Already they're fighting. Ben's gone to work. I served breakfast, ran three miles, took a shower, put the kids in time-out, got the kids out of time-out, nursed the baby, read my scriptures, and now sit down to write. Today is the same as every other day. And yet, everything's different.

Something raw and frightening tugs at me from inside. It's a caged animal I don't want to let out. But there's something else inside too. I feel a calmness and peace I can't explain and don't deserve. Things are going to be all right. I'm worried the feeling will betray me as soon as I enter the hospital again and hear the doctors talking. Everything in me has tried to downplay this. Of course, I wondered and worried about what it might be, but surely it wasn't. The chances were so slim. I'm young, I eat healthy, exercise like an addict, and have five children. There's no way. There's still no way. This isn't real.

When I first found the lump, I thought it was just a clogged milk duct because I was still nursing Naomi. As her nursing slowed, I thought it was just full from carrying extra milk. But then it got bigger and hard, too hard to be just full of milk. And it didn't hurt. It never hurt. It couldn't be mastitis, because there was no sign of infection. So I started to watch it. Ben noticed too. We resolved that as soon as we got insurance, I'd go into the midwives and have them check it out. That took two months. Now I realize how precious those two months were. Is there guilt? You bet. Maybe if I had taken care of this earlier, maybe if I had acted on it before we even got pregnant, all of this could have been prevented. Probably not prevented, actually, but less complicated. But I see there is a potential blessing in this too. I might never have noticed it if I hadn't gotten pregnant. The hormones caused it to grow large enough to detect this last month.

Round and round. Circles within circles. Could-have-beens and should haves. I'm like the spider in the middle of a web. All I can do is face what is now. It is what it is. No amount of wanting or wishing can change that.

Ben and his father will give me a priesthood blessing soon. A priesthood blessing is when a worthy, ordained priesthood holder gives a blessing by the laying on of hands for the sick and afflicted. These blessings have been a great source of peace and guidance for me in my life, and I am grateful for the opportunity to get one now, but nervous too. I guess I'm a little scared to know what Heavenly Father's will is or that I still won't know at all. But I need this baby to be safe. The baby must live. I must be able to carry the baby. Only the Lord can make that possible. Will He?

I have to feed the kids and get them ready for the day, so I really don't have more time to write. Afterwards, Ben and I will go to the hospital for the biopsy. More needles. Yay. But really, that's so the least of my worries.

Friday, June 20, 2014

I had built a cocoon of optimism and a sense of control around myself the past two days. That all shattered this afternoon.

The doctor called and told me I have cancer in my lymph nodes. It has spread past the tumor in my breast. We don't know yet if that means the cancer cells have just passed through there or if the cancer is growing within the lymph nodes themselves.

And I thought that putting deodorant on my swollen and punctured skin from the biopsy was tough enough. Looks like I'm going to need to be a lot tougher.

I'm back to my initial shock. Every step of the way I had acknowledged the possibility of the worst-case scenario, but I always believed in my heart that everything was going to be fine. It's probably just a cyst like the one my mom had. It has to be related to nursing. Okay, now they're saying it's a tumor. It will be benign. Now, I have cancer. It's just a small tumor. It hasn't spread. It will be taken care of easily. Every time, I believed it would be minor. Every time, it has been the worst it could possibly be. But I'm not giving up hope. I'm just feeling a little crushed by the news. It's getting more and more serious.

We met with two more doctors after talking with the first. They both told me I need to abort. My heart seems to sink further and further. One told me of a mother who did not. She delivered her baby but passed away a few weeks later. "She probably would have made it if she hadn't kept the baby," he said.

The doctor asked if we had met with our bishop. I told him we hadn't. He urged us to do so and said we would need to make our decision about treatment by Monday. My decision is made. This doesn't change anything. But that doesn't mean I'm not afraid. It doesn't mean he isn't going to think we're completely crazy.

I will never put my life before another. This is my child. I won't kill for my own health or survival. The Lord gave me this pregnancy, and His will, will be done. I would rather die than take my child's life. That may be the outcome of this. It may not. Either way, I know it is the right thing for me to do. I feel in my heart that a mother should protect her children. I feel total protectiveness of my child. Protectiveness against the cancer in my body. Protectiveness against the effects treatment can cause. Protectiveness against the very professionals and caretakers that are supposed to help us with this.

There is so much to process. I feel bombarded. So much information. Hours and hours of conversation, ideas, thoughts, hope, encouragement, fear, support and, through it all, an incredible amount of love that brings me to my knees and makes me weep tears of gratitude. It is all happening so fast, and yet so slow at the same time. It's hard to stay focused sometimes. My head spins from the whirlwind of varying emotions, the constant streams of information, and the bombardment of opinions. I feel like Nephi, in that I can't write a hundredth of what is happening and how I feel. Words are so inadequate.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

My beautiful children are playing all around me. I'm in the middle of an epic battle of Power Rangers vs. Ogres. Morgen is lying on my pillow. "I'm dead," she says. How I love them. It is shocking how precious such normal moments are to me.

"I want to talk to you about your decision," Ben's friend told him this week. "I want you to really consider terminating the pregnancy. You have your wife and five children to think about." Ben said he was pretty taken back. His friend then told him that he knew of a woman in similar circumstances. She was pregnant when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She chose not to terminate the pregnancy. The baby lived. The mother did not.

That made this pretty real. I knew that was the risk. Hearing someone talk about someone they knew was another shock, though. I also know a woman who was diagnosed with colon cancer during her pregnancy, and she and the baby were both fine. They're healthy and well now. Miracles can occur. I have faith that they will. But I'm also not going to put blinders on and ignore the danger of our decision. We're the ones that have to live with the consequences.

I can understand where people are coming from when they tell us that. They are scared. They love me and don't want to lose me. My dad wrote me a letter reiterating what he had told me on the phone. "There is no way you should rush to any decisions until you know the full picture. But as referenced before, I have served in stakes and wards across the country and have seen countless families reach crucial decisions. Some failed. Some succeeded. Some tried and tried to get things right. But I do feel that it would be extremely wise to keep in mind the best interests of your five beautiful children, who need their mother's constant love, focus, and attention. These days will pass quickly, and suddenly they will be adults who will look back at their mother, who stood central in their lives in preparing them for life." I can tell how scared he is, and my heart goes out to him.

One of my dear extended family members expressed a similar view. I told her abortion was not something I was willing to consider. She said, "But you need to think about your five children." She is right. I do and I have. Believe me, I've thought about this more than anyone. But when I hear these things, something in my heart screams out, "I don't have five children. I have six. Five born. One coming. I must think about all of them!"

They just don't see it the way I do right now. I know they just want what is best for me. They have to trust that this is the best thing for me. I'm not afraid to die. I'm only saddened by the thought of not being there to watch my children grow, of not being with Ben as we get old together, of not being able to do all the things I've longed to do while in this mortal life. What would my children remember of me if I were gone? Have I lived my life the way I should have? Will my mistakes and shortcomings be forgiven? Will I be remembered as a good mother who did her best for her children?

Maybe in five years I'll look back and smile, knowing that I did it. And how much more I will cherish every moment because of it. But maybe not. I can't be blind to either possibility.

Everyone wants me to be positive. They want me to fight. I will. But these are my thoughts spilling out onto the page. They shouldn't be taken as me giving up. Far from it. It's just that sometimes the possibilities of this situation pound into my face. If I die, I want to be known not as the mother who foolishly didn't think of her five born children, but as a woman who loved her children so much she was willing to die for them. That is the sacrifice the Savior made for each of us. He loved us so much he laid down his own life so that we might live again. I can't hope to do what he did and feel foolish for comparing myself ... But if I can be like him in any way, I must do this.

It's amazing how much you can love someone you've never met.

Everyone has a cure. I have ten emails in my inbox from well-meaning family members who love me. Everyone seems to know exactly what I should do and what will work, as if they've overcome it themselves. I can't bring myself to look at the emails right now. It's not that I don't want help or a solution. I do. It's just that it's so overwhelming. How do you sift through it all? How do you know what's real and what's just a hoax? So many people and products use "cancer cure" as a marketing ploy. I appreciate their desire to help. It's just too much. I feel completely inadequate to sift through it all and come to any sensible decision.

As for treatment, we know chemotherapy and radiation are out of the question. We have no way of knowing how far the cancer has spread or how much there is. That's where faith really has to come in. Right now, I'm willing to pursue a complete and aggressive mastectomy to remove all breast tissue and the lymph nodes. Surgery terrifies me. I've never had a major operation before. But it seems sound. I was concerned about the effect the anesthesia would have on the baby, but I feel more confident about the risks after reading about it. My mother-in-law also assuaged some of my concerns. Then, after surgery, I'll turn to alternative measures to treat any cancer that may remain. I've already cleaned up my diet. I've turned back to the Nutritarian diet of aiming to eat 90% fruits and vegetables with some legumes. Ben even had a green smoothie with me this morning. I'm still exercising and going to my counselor to get some stress management techniques and help me process all of this. We're researching cannabis oil, turmeric, and other natural treatments. There is hope. There are some amazing survival stories.


Excerpted from "Fighting For Our Lives"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Heather Choate.
Excerpted by permission of Mango Media, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Part One Shock,
Part Two Chemo,
Part Three Scars and Kindness,
Part Four Miracles,
Part Five Changes,
Rescued Through Writing,

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