Charlie. That was what we planned to call our first born in honour and remembrance of Chris’s paternal Grandfather. But Charlie will always remain in our dreams and never become a reality. I will never have those precious new-born cuddles or experience the wonder of childbirth. I’m not bitter about this but I am sad; really sad. I can’t change it. I can’t erase that sorrow and have to carry the burden of it around everywhere I go. The cancer stole most of my fertility as it grew inside and destroyed my ovaries; the intensive chemotherapy finished off any hopes that we would ever have children.

I am at the age where I am surrounded by babies and pregnancy. My friends are all starting to settle down and start their own families. And I have to try so hard to be outwardly happy about this and share in the excitement of those closest to me. But inside I’m crying. I’m grieving for a life that will never be.

It sounds so utterly selfish but these feelings are sometimes so overwhelming I avoid children because I’m scared I will be unable to maintain my public composure. Sometimes I struggle to hold back the tears as I play with my nephews or cuddle my brand new niece.

So not only am I a menopausal woman at the age of 33 but the cancer and the treatment has also pilfered much of my sexuality. I don’t ever feel sexy these days. I have major body image issues. I find it hard to let Chris near me. My body has become this ‘thing’ that gets examined, scanned and poisoned; examined, scanned and poisoned. It’s almost like it’s no longer part of me. It’s scarred and disfigured. No matter how pretty the dress is I don’t feel pretty anymore.

Sex is not something they talk about when you are counselled for cancer treatment other than ‘don’t do it and make sure you don’t get pregnant’. My sexual identity seemed to slip gradually away during the early days after diagnosis and now it’s gone. I guess my hormonal profile isn’t helping the situation either.

In some ways I’m very grateful we didn’t have children when I see the pain that is caused by a parent dying from cancer. At least that will not happen to Chris and he will be able to concentrate on his own grief. But just because I’m dying of cancer I’m still a woman, I still have those maternal desires that most women have.

I would have liked to have met Charlie; to have held him; to have fed him; to have played with him; to have seen him grow up….

49 thoughts on “Charlie

  1. Kate, I’ve never met you but my heart grieves for you so much and is also equally filled with the most profound admiration for your courage in confronting your innermost feelings and then sharing them. Your words will help so many other people,those also plagued by this wretched illness, their loved ones and those who care for them. I salute you, if anyone deserved a medal it’s you

  2. It’s just as painful when you have your Charlie (in our case Barry) and he is taken away from you at 20 on Christmas Eve by cancer. He also suffered by the treatment he had for a second brain tumour. We really feel for you and respect the way you are dealing with it xx

  3. Oh Kate, I don’t know which is worse….the position you find yourself in never being able to meet Charlie or the poision I find myself in…..dying because of leiomyosarcoma with two children aged 13 and 10. Every day is precious with them but their lives have been in turmoil for nearly 4 years since my GP said on 13 December 2010 I think you have cancer…..not only did those words destroy my future but the guilt I feel is horrendous….the guilt for : how they have seen me, the things they’ve had to do for me, the fear they have for me and their future to name but a few……knowing I’m not going to see them finish school, go to uni, start employment, be there for them when they have issues in the future etc all makes me feel guilty because I won’t be able to do all the things for them that my mum has for me.

    If I remember right you have a relatively young nephew and I hope you get the cuddles and love you want from him. Yes it’s not going to feel the same as if he were yours but you don’t have to experience the guilt of knowing you are going to leave your own children behind at a young age……..

    • Dear Kate, you and Chris should buy a little puppy to be your “Charlie”. You will be able to hold it and cuddle it, have fun playing with it together and training it. In return it will be of great support for Chris, it will be overjoyed to welcome him home everyday, will be able to remind him of the fun you both had with it and last but not least it will shower Chris with unconditional love. ( something you do not get from a children!) I speak from experience because we have had both!

  4. Your post was so moving – brought a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes. You are not at all selfish for needing to avoid children. I cannot begin to imagine how hard it is for you. Cancer has an impact not only on our physical health but on every aspect of our lives.

  5. Oh Kate, as a mother and a grandmother of 54, you make me feel lucky. Yes, I have secondary cancer and my life won’t be as long as I would like to to be, but I am so blessed to have had the life I have had. I’m so sorry you won’t get to meet Charlie, I know you and Chris would have been wonderful parents.

  6. As a doctor who suffers from infertility myself, I feel your pain. Although this is no comfort, as a surgeon who works with breast cancer patients, my heart bleeds for the children who watch their mothers suffer for it. You are right in that aspect. My thoughts go out to you and I have no words that can make you feel better, so I will just pass on a hug over cyberspace.

    PS here’s my one post on infertility as a thirty something surgeon (too painful to do more than one) but… don’t read it if you are not keen on sad stories!

    Keep writing Kate. Your posts touch everyone. xo

  7. Oh Kate, I really feel for you. You write about such poignant things and you never hold back. It’s always pure honesty. You very often say the things I can only think. Thank you.
    Every blessing to you and Chris. Sandra xxx

  8. After suffering a number of miscarriages the sight of a pregnant woman would cause me physical pain a stabbing in my abdomen. Then you feel ashamed like when friends tell you there news of pregnancy. I was lucky to go on and have children but I strongly remember those feels and feel for u. Big hugs x

  9. Your words have moved my husband and I to tears. We all to often take everything for granted and you make us take a step back and think.
    You certainly would have made wonderful parents.
    Our thoughts are with you. Xx

  10. Oh Kate, it’s not fair, and there are no reasons why things should be so hard for you when others take them for granted and what you are feeling is totally normal maternal feelings and not selfish at all. You have a startling honesty and I have the utmost respect for you and your ability to express your feelings so poignantly and openly, and in all that you have achieved in the face of total devastation.

    I am sure you know better than anyone from the patients you have dealt with the pain felt by children when they lose a mum, and it’s something that has kept me fighting to keep going when I have been at my most ill with Septicaemia, multiple PE and SLE. I know that you know that having kids and being so seriously ill causes a terrible guilt, it haunts me to the point I feel compelled and trapped into keeping fighting when in fact where it just me, I have had enough, my body has had enough and I wish I could just let go, when further treatment achieves little and just exasperates the issues my body already has with infection. I know that even without children of your own you feel the pressure to keep going with more painful treatment as loved ones feel you are giving up when they don’t understand the situation fully, and that is tenfold when you have kids, you can tell yourself all these things rationally,that they will never have to go through the pain and grief of losing a mum so young, but none of that helps you, as the desire to have children and love those children with everything you have is so deep seated, and you have been unfairly robbed of that, on top of everything else already stolen from you by the cancer.

    You have shown love to so many people and given so much of yourself to others, often to the detriment of your own health and energy, it isn’t fair, and no-one would have been better parents than you and Chris. I have no words other than to say that my heart goes out to you, not in a patronising and condescending way, I hate the “I” word and the bravery and battle scenario as much as you! but in a way that understands the real heart wrenching and senseless cost of life changing illness and the pain it brings when people describe you as “lucky” In terms of the time you have had so far and that you have no children to be separated from; the heart wants what it wants, I became ill during pregnancy, but I regret nothing and I know my kids have given me so much more than I ever gave them.

    What you have said today has made me realise that I am so lucky to have my kids and I will cuddle them that bit harder tonight; but with a thought for you and all you have lost, but with admiration of all that you have built in the face of a devastating diagnosis and in a horrible situation, you have turned it around and made your scenario benefit so many others; It is not wrong to want something so normal and natural for yourself. I cannot confess to being so constructive through my illness and I have to admit that I have wallowed in self pity on occasion, when my outlook is comparatively not so bleak. You are more than entitled to grieve and mourn that which your friends and family and colleagues have and take for granted, a future, a family of your very own, give yourself time and space to do that, Cancer has taken so much, unfairly and in your mind you feel like screaming “haven’t you had enough of ,my life now” asking why and begrudging being robbed of those things is totally understandable, and some things are harder than others to accept the loss of.

    Your logical brain tries to explain things and rationalise things and you are clearly an optimist trying to extract the positive from every situation, but you also know that there is nothing new anyone can tell you that you don’t already know, other than my thoughts and heart is with you, even though we don’t know each other, just from reading your blog and books and I hope it is in a small way some comfort to know that you have come to mean a lot to so many people through the work you do and through being you, and sending you very genuine virtual hugs. I know it goes nowhere to filling the void, but with much love. xxxx

    Sorry about the length of this post!! xx

  11. Kate, As always moving to read your posts. I feel full of compassion and understand how hard it is for you. My daughter your age has had two miscarriages and I think it is equally hard for her to be around friends who are having babies at present. I agree with others though that it would be hard for Charlie if he were to lose you at an early age.

    I also can understand about body image. I have a permanent catheter protruding from my body as I am on Peritoneal Dialysis. I also developed osteoporosis and lost 5 inches with collapsed vertebrae due to cancer and I now hat seeing photos of myself.

    All my compassion to you.

    • Hello, my name is Catherine. Dear Kate, I empathise with the body issues and sex. It must be terribly disconcerting to talk to patients about sex. I am a patient and issues about sex have always been brusqly talked about then shoved aside as quickly as possible. But humans are sexual animals and it is a huge part of who we are. After a major operation, I felt horrible and ugly and also terrible because I needed help with every little thing. My husband was wonderful to me, so patient and understanding. But still. What I found that helped was wearing a little bit of lipgloss, or doing something that made me happy, just bit by bit. Yours in love and understanding.

  12. Thank you for your words. Tho I have never met you or seen you, my heart tells me that you are beautiful inside and out! I also have a “Charlie” I have never met and while I love my nieces and nephews, the pain of sadness is intense. My heart goes out to you. Praying for you and Chris!

  13. hello sweetie
    thank you, thank you thank you. We weren’t sure if we would ever be able to have sex again and sure as hell, no one was going to talk to us about it. Sex and cancer – what a taboo! S says his body doesn’t belong to him and I worry that something might burst asunder! (I know it wont really!)We grieve daily for the sex we don’t have. We have 6 children between us – so no Charlie shaped hole but great silent gaps. It needs a whole chapter in my book that I am writing!
    Please know that you are making a difference, every single day x

  14. Thanks, as always, Kate for sharing such personal but valuable insights into your experiences. As a woman I can recognise completely understandable feelings, but I am sure as health professionals we often forget (or are afraid) to acknowledge them.
    Wishing you all the best, Becki xx

  15. Thanks Kate for your honesty and courage to share. I have spent time with patients and partners talking about intimacy, hard for all to feel sexual when there is such medicalisation of the body. Intimacy is possible, in a gesture, in touch, in holding, in words, I hope that you & Chris find a way to navigate this that leads to you knowing you are loved, desired & cherished.

  16. Oh Kate. I can see your cancer is stripping away all the little things as well as the large ones. It makes me very sad that there is nothing to compensate for your losses. I lost a baby, and the pain of wanting that lost opportunity has never gone away. It is so unfair that you never got to hold your ‘Charlie’ as I am certain you would have been the most loving mother on the planet, because your heart is so large and splendid. It isn’t much comfort, but please accept my love and support.

  17. Kate, I`ve been following your journey for quite some time now. I am moved and my heart goes out to you. I cannot even begin to imagine how you feel. You`re in my thoughts. Big hug from Southern Germany. MC

  18. Kate, I attended a talk that you gave to GP VTS and subsequently bought and read your book, then gave it to another trainee to read too. You are an inspiration, and I don’t say that lightly. Your honesty and courage are magnificent. I wish you could have been a mother, I truly do. You are a true role model and I hope to teach my kids and myself about courage using your example.

  19. Dear Kate,

    Thank you for writing openly and honestly about yet another topic society shies away from. Yes, seeing others’ children is hard. Hard, at times, to the point of resentment. Resentment that you recognise as ugly, but sometimes really can’t help. Then there’s the isolation, which stems from trying to avoid children as you describe, as well as trying to deal with the guilt for your feelings. That isolation is alleviated somewhat by reading pieces like this.

    Some of us will never meet our “Charlie” and that is absolutely something to grieve for.

    With all the very best. x

  20. So kind of you to share this, it brought a big lump to my throat. I have no words to comfort you or pearls of wisdom to advise you, I can only wish you the best for the future.

  21. Dear Kate, Your complete honesty and ability to share your innermost thoughts is wonderful, and will help countless people in years to come, just as it has already helped me and my late mum. No matter what insults your body has had to take during your treatment, remember this – “On ne voit bien qu’avec le couer, l’essentiel est invisible aux yeux” – One can only see well with ones heart, what is essential is invisible to the eyes. (By the way, you are beautiful!!) love and hugs jenny xxx

  22. Kate, you break my heart, you really do.
    I don’t know what to wish for you, what you would want me to wish for you. You inspired me, filled me with courage when I was distraught, without hope and desperately unhappy and I can at least, with all my soul, thank you for that.

  23. I look forward to reading more of your beautifully expressed story. Good luck as you go through whatever comes next. Keep on sharing.

  24. Dear Kate, you have devoted your career to caring for others, doubtless saved a few lives along the way. Maybe your “Charlie” is not one person but a composite of those you have “kept in” even if you’ve not “brought in” to the world. That is a feat even the most fecund cannot match.

  25. Kate, I found nothing that you’ve written here, even remotely “selfish.” You have every right to these feelings… and for as lobg as you need to feel them you should own and embrace them.

  26. You are the only person who has had the courage to write this way that I know of. You took the words and feelings out of my mouth. I thought that it was just me who feels …less. I am a teacher and daily work with children and families. It’s not just hard it’s like a corkscrew turning and twisting inside. My greatest difficulty is keeping that professional face on when the next baby brother or sister is brought to see the teacher for a cuddle. It’s taken years of my life and it keeps on taking. Slowly bit by bit I feel i’m getting less, dying just a bit more and becoming less of a person and a wife. It’s hard to say thank you to someone who I know is suffering for having more courage than I have but thank you, thank you, thank you. Stay strong and as well as you can.

  27. Very sad and completely human post
    Your integrity and truthfulness is profound
    I hope this very real sadness you carry is eased when you put it into words but suspect this is just marginal… are changing lives…please keep going for as long as you are able

  28. Hi Kate,

    I’ve happened randomly on your blog and can’t help but feel you are a kindred spirit.  I was not supposed to survive 2009, thanks to a huge soft tissue Ewings Sarcoma/PNET tumor taking over my retroperitoneal cavity.  They tried to hospice me two more times after that, I did 7 rounds of chemo before my none marrow failed, two failed resection attempts (the tumor was wrapped around my inferior vena cava, abdominal aorta and mesentaric artery), 31 days of radiation and 3 years if watching and waiting. In December of 2012 I started dialysis thanks to all the lovely  side effects of this horrible beast, yet somehow I recieved my first NED PET/CT scan in January 2013 and have been on dialysis 2 days a week for the last near 2 years. Needless to say I have a lot if late effects from the cancer and am not a candidate for transplant, but I try to live my life to its fullest, but not recklessly as there is no way to tell how long any of us will be here.

    Needless to say you took the words out if my mouth that I have shared with friends who have lost babies/pregnancies, I don’t know what they are feeling, but I mourn for the babies that I will never have. When people ask if I/we have childern and I say that it was a mixed blessing that we did lot have wee ones before all this happened, because I can’t imagine putting them through this crazy lifestyle, granted it’s slowed down a bit in the last two years. But, not enough to ever adopt like people say, they have no concept of the sort of lifestyle we have been forced into living, not to mention no adoption agency in their right mind would ever give up a child and we don’t have the kind of money or the type of people to go through an agency that would look tge other way. It hurts enough to tell my little “nieces and nephews” that I am too tired, sore, etc to play with them. Let alone the toll it takes to hold someone’s baby as it is difficult on so many levels to nuzzle a newborns head and take in the newness of them that I likely will not be able to see grow up.

    I also do feel you on on being
    a menopausal woman in her, 30’s (36 to be exact). With my clothes on I look so put together and people have a hard time wrapping their heads around the idea that I survived terminal cancer and am now on dialysis, as I look so healthy.  When I look in the mirror I dont even really recognize myself, before cancer I used to be heavier. And I don’t even want to look at myself in the mirror without clothes on, I joke with people that it’s like I’m humpty dumpy and Mr potato head with all my surgeries and procedures I have had done. I also have lived with bilateral nephrostomy tubes for 4 years that have to be exchanged every 3 months, I joke that it’s just like getting a new oil filter and oil between the neph tubes and blood cleaning at dialysis.  So basically I am comfortable being naked around just about anyone, but my husband.  Our level of intimacy is different than when we met over 11years ago. I thank God we are friends and share common hobbies and interests, otherwise our near sexless marriage would have been over years ago. 

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m greatful for each day I’m alive and can get out of bed and function. Just this was not how I expected to spend my 30’s. Anyway, keep on, keeping on.  Thanks for your blog, you are an inspiration to me! It’s so hard to find someone my age that has been through done thing similar and can even begin to comprehend the things going through my head. I’ve tried going to support groups and seem to fall in the middle doughnut hole, people are older fighting cancer or the caregiver to a child fighting cancer and since I’ve had to become my own advocate I’ve gotten a coach course in medicine and how things work, so people end up losing to me for advice rather than me being a peer and them being supportive of me and listening to me. Thanks again, Jenn Stefanick, Sacramento, CA, USA

  29. Kate, I’m in a similar situation and you speak my heart! I am glad you can share this and educate people, giving a voice to many of us who can’t. And maybe, just maybe there will be one or two fewer people who judge a woman in her thirties for not having children, assuming she was just too selfish.
    Thinking of you and Chris, Kate, sending all my best wishes for many more days for the two of you! Thanks so much for your writing!

  30. I would not describe you as selfish for sometimes thinking you need to avoid children, then showing love to your family as you cuddle your nephew and niece. Thank you for being so brave in sharing your thoughts and feelings. My thoughts are with you.

  31. Hi Kate, I recommend you take a look at an online community called Gateway Women who seek to help women like us ‘rock the lift unexpected’.

  32. Ours were to be called Luca for a boy or Eva for a boy. I feel the same as you. Biggest hugs to you and thank you for making me feel normal x

  33. Pingback: Kate Granger | Jeff Pearlman

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