Following treatment for stage I hormone positive breast cancer, Stephanie Norris Drum accepted the idea she would have to wait five years before trying to have a child. That’s how long tamoxifen treatment would take.
To Stephanie, who was diagnosed at age 23, that wait seemed reasonable. She and her boyfriend had been dating for four years. When she was diagnosed, “he told me, ‘I don’t want to be anywhere else. I’m going through this with you,’” she recalls. He proposed the day she came home from surgery.
Two years later, they were married. The following winter, tests showed a metastasis on the bone at the base of her spine. Stephanie, who lives in Mt. Holly, North Carolina, was told that treatment would concentrate on shutting off estrogen in her body.
“They explained that I will never be able to physically have my own child, which was devastating—very, very devastating,” she says.
Moving Forward With Adoption
After the metastatic diagnosis, Stephanie had radiation. She also received treatment with leuprolide (Lupron) to shut down estrogen production in her ovaries and zoledronic acid (Zometa) to strengthen her bones. Once radiation was finished, she went back to work as a client service consultant with a major financial firm.
Stephanie and her husband still wanted to build a family, so they began looking into adoption agencies. “I was told by a few places, ‘We want to make sure your life expectancy is the same as anyone else’s.’ How does anyone know that?” she says. Some agencies suggested her doctor write a note about her prognosis to support the adoption application.
Instead of using an agency, the couple decided to let church and community contacts know about their adoption search. Such networks can help prospective adoptive parents find birthparents interested in making an adoption plan. An agency or social worker still conducts the required home study, and an attorney handles the legal paperwork.
One day, Stephanie’s mother called her at work and told her she learned of a woman who wanted to place her baby for adoption. “You need to go to the hospital and meet her,” said her mother. “She’s in labor!” The labor was premature, but doctors were able to stop it temporarily.
Stephanie met and talked with the birthmother. They were the same age. At that first meeting, the birthmother decided Stephanie and her husband would be good parents. “She liked the fact that she was able to help someone who could not have children physically,” Stephanie says.
The baby was born about nine weeks earlier than a full-term birth, weighing 3 lbs., 5 oz. He remained in the hospital for five weeks. Stephanie and her husband received temporary custody right away and had full access to the baby, who they named Drake. The adoption was finalized about six months later.
Now 18 months old, Drake “acts just like us. He’s real bubbly and funny,” Stephanie says.
“I wouldn’t change a thing,” she adds. “I love him more than life itself.”
Choices That Help
Now 28, Stephanie says she has hard moments, “not days.” When sidetracked by health worries, she reminds herself of the joy and love she finds in her son, husband and a supportive family.
She went to a breast cancer support group whose members were older. While talking about her situation, she cried. “I was surprised with myself that I let out so much,” she says. She found a group for women age 45 and younger, which she plans to attend soon.
She remained private about her health at work even when she went on leave for further treatment. Several months ago, Stephanie was promoted to a new job in a different department.
Yet she also makes time for dancing—something she has loved doing since she was a child. She teaches hip-hop and lyrical dance (a blend of ballet, jazz and modern) to children at a local studio. Dancing provides an important release.
“I go in and don’t think about anything but being in there,” Stephanie says. “It’s an emotional outlet.”
This article was supported by Cooperative Agreement Number DP11-1111 from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.