At just over 30-years-old, Andrea Gressman and her husband, Jason, were at a good place in life. They enjoyed their work, had three wonderful boys, and a new baby girl. They had no idea that a difficult cancer diagnosis was months away from undoing their status quo, nor could they have imagined all the good they had yet to receive.
On February 2, 2011, Andrea was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a cancer of the Lymphatic System. She was 31 and Jason was 32. Their children were 11, 5, 3 and 8-months-old.
“When I was first diagnosed, I was told I would not be able to have children again,” Andrea states. “I already had four children, so I wasn’t in the position of a lot of other women who receive this diagnosis. I was not necessarily okay with not being able to have kids again, but I was definitely thankful for what I had, and was at peace with that reality.”
Gressman’s unrest was not in not being able to have more children, it was in not being able to care for the children she already had. In three days, she weaned her 8-month old daughter and transitioned from being a new mom with a growing family, to fighting for her life.
While Gressmen underwent 10 months of cancer treatment, Jason slipped into the role of both father and mother. Their kids chipped in as well, with everyone focused on the same goal – beating the cancer.
That goal was achieved on January 4, 2012, when Andrea was declared cancer free. The elation, however, unfortunately subsided with the realization that being declared cancer free did not mean life went back to the way it was.
“Even though the cancer was gone and I was not going through treatment anymore, I was still so tired,” states Gressman. “I struggled with fatigue and for the following year, everyone just stayed on autopilot.”
Gressman says that there were days that her kids would only eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and nothing would get done. And there was nothing Andrea could do about it. She continued to struggle to get her energy back, and Jason continued to keep the plates spinning, filling the role of dad and mom.
Andrea says this even went on into her second year of remission, when something very unexpected happened.
“I found out I was going to have a baby,” states Gressman.
Cancer was supposed to have shut the door on having kids, and what cancer didn’t do, the early onset menopause that most women experienced after going through the cancer treatment, was supposed to take care of the rest. Andrea says the door to having more kids was supposed to be welded shut. Yet here they were.
“My first emotion was shock,” states Gressman. “I began to think about all the chemicals that had just gone through my body, and wondered what that would do to my baby. But I also thought about how I was struggling to take care of the kids I already had.”
Gressman was also scared. Before going through cancer treatment, Andrea and Jason had gone through a series of traumatic miscarriages. So, even though she absolutely wanted more children and absolutely feels that all children are a blessing, she felt very scared.
Andrea says that when she first told Jason, he sat down and just said, “Five? We just got out of diapers.” But then he got up and said, “It’s going to be all good.”
With all Andrea and Jason had been through in the last three years, they decided that the first thing they needed to do was surround their situation with as much positivity as possible. Her oncologist, however, did not help.
“He was not excited to find out we were going to have a baby,” states Gressman. “He said that the baby made me a big blind spot, because he could not tell what was going on inside me.”
Then there was the doctor that had performed Andrea’s other deliveries.
“He was a great guy and an exceptional doctor, but he had worked with so many of the miscarriages we had been through, that every time we walked into his office and saw him, there was so much sadness,” Gressman states. “We needed someone who was going to be excited for us, to see us through this pregnancy.”
Then they found a doctor who was not only excited for them, but shared their faith and did everything he could to reassure Andrea and Jason that the baby they were not supposed to have was going to be delivered into their arms, alive and healthy.
Other interesting things also began to happen. Andrea had had gestational diabetes with her other pregnancies. This fact, in conjunction with her age and recent cancer battle, caused Andrea’s doctor to decide to put her on insulin, just to be safe.
“I have always been against having to take something unless I absolutely needed to, but after all the chemicals that had been put into my body with the cancer treatments, I decided to show the doctor that I did not need insulin,” states Gressman.
Andrea started to eat clean, like she had for her other pregnancies, but even more so. She also started to walk for 20 minutes each day.
“When you don’t feel well, you don’t have the energy to eat healthy but this, for some reason, gave me the motivation I needed to start eating healthy and exercising,” states Gressman. “Low and behold, I also started to feel better and my energy came back.”
Gressman says when they tested her to see if she needed insulin, they were blown away by her numbers. Not only were they good, they were better than they had been for any of her other pregnancies, and she says that she felt better than she had with any of her previous pregnancies.
“It is just ironic,” states Gressman, “that the thing I was really so scared of was actually the thing that gave me the motivation I needed to do what I had been wanting to do.”
With a pregnancy that was not supposed to happen, and her oncologist’s disapproval, Andrea found the strength to be the mom that she wanted to be. Not only that, but she remained healthy to her 37th week, when she developed preeclampsia.
“At that point they just decided to induce me, but I was so excited that I made it to 37 weeks,” states Gressman. “After all that I had been through and all the worries that the doctors had, and people around me had, my son came into the world a perfectly healthy baby.”
Gressman says that she would not have chosen to have her son, if she had been given the choice, but there is a big difference between having something unplanned come into your life and having something unwanted come into your life. Having cancer wrecked the ‘good thing’ Andrea and Jason had going, but from the minute the couple found out that they were given the chance to have a baby they weren’t supposed to be able to have, that was very much a wanted thing.
“I feel like I could have been pressured and swayed very easily if I had opened the door even slightly to people’s opinions about my pregnancy,” states Gressman. “Even if what you believe does not make sense to you in that moment, do not be afraid to stand firm in it. Even though we did not know how everything was going to come together, we all felt like God would not have given us this baby if he did not already have everything worked out.”
Their healthy, beautiful baby boy is now a special part of Andrea and Jason’s life. The youngest member of their family and the thing that kick started all the things happening that they wanted to happen. He has a very special relationship with all of his brothers and his sister, and they have a special relationship with him. He is very much a gift, almost, as Andrea puts it, like the promised rainbow after the flood.