I used to be brave and bold. But before that I was angry and silent. I was emotionless 😐 I was barely alive actually. Going through the daily motions. Buying a certain brown dog helped. We already had two, but this third dog was exactly what I needed. ❤️
Then I became brave. I didn’t know how I was gonna hold everything together but I knew I had no choice but to try. I had two brown dogs to help.
Fast forward a few years and so much has happened. I fell in love. We got a blond dog and two kitties. I lost an old cat and got cancer. I lost another brown dog, an orange cat and the trust in the one I loved the most.
I was convinced getting a red dog would be what I needed to get my mental health back on track. I was doing well with weekly talk therapy and was starting to feel like me again. We got the puppy and it was wonderful for a solid 23 days… until we found out I was pregnant.
Then the crying started. We wanted this. But not right then. We wanted to enjoy the summer, kayak with the puppy, enjoy adult beverages, sun, concerts, each other.
We wanted to make sure my benign brain tumor was not growing. We wanted to celebrate one year cancer free in October. We wanted to grow back together as a couple.
But instead I grew more anxious, more fearful, more reserved, more terrified of what the future holds. Being a cancer survivor does strange things to my hope for the future. I was good for the first half of the pregnancy but when I cannot unwind with a beer, I turned to cookies. And gained 3 times the recommended weight for my BMI. “You should gain 20 pounds total” welp I’m 20 weeks in and 21 pounds up. Hearing that doctors insensitive comment to someone who already has body image issues ruined me.
I’ve spent the last 18 weeks wishing I was taller, not nearly 20 pounds overweight when I first got pregnant, and more mentally put together. What happened to you Nicole? You used to be beautiful with your long hair, thighs that didn’t touch and you used to have such a beautiful smile.
Trust me, I miss that girl so much. She was fun. She was brave and bold. And now she’s 37, a cancer survivor, 38 weeks pregnant with a double chin and thighs that rub together. And she cries all the time.
I live in a relatively small town in Central Wisconsin where the winters are long and most of us are ready for Spring. Being pregnant during the winter is a blessing I hear from my friends who had to endure the summer heat while pregnant but I disagree. I had to find a lot of clothes to cover my ever growing body. Find a big pregnancy winter coat. Find socks to reduce swelling and shoes that fit but don’t hurt. All the while trying to not overheat and pass out.
When it was suggested I get a flu shot, I jumped onboard as fast as I could. It was my first and I know it may not protect me from all strains but it wasn’t for me, it’s for the little one growing in my belly. So when they started talking about COVID-19, I didn’t really pay attention. I was too concerned about finding clothes that fit and a sitting position that helps alleviate the extreme back pain.
But as the days turned to weeks and now it’s nearly go time for baby to come out, everyone is concerned. Schools have shut down, every store is out of toilet paper, people are fearing with every cold, they are patient zero. On Thursday I was told if Mike still has a cold, he cannot be at the birth or hospital when our baby is born.
😳😕😓 This means my already anxious mind may have to have a baby pulled from an incision in my belly without my rock by my side. I have quarantined him to the living room, I’m in the bedroom. I’ve washed my hands to the point of bleeding and attempt to not touch my face but I’m legit scared. I can do anything but this mom gig is something I need his help with, especially now that I’m having a cesarean.
So to the healthy out there, stay healthy. Remember it’s probably not going to negatively effect you. But check on your older or compromised immune system friends. Check on your grandparents but from a distance. This is most contagious before you even have symptoms. Cover your damn mouth when you cough or sneeze. Wash your damn hands, often. And please, do not come visit me after my baby is born. We will be hibernating at home, forever. ✌️
One of my saddest memories is watching my father leave in his pick up truck, down our winding driveway, in the country, for the last time. I was six. My parents fought a lot and I know 1000% it was for the best. My dad married my step mom and gave me a wonderful new set of cousins, aunties, uncles and the sweetest grandmother.
My mom, on the other hand, worked really freaking hard to keep everything we had together. And by together I mean, sometimes we didn’t have heat or hot water, sometimes we ate the same thing over and over again. Once or twice, the electricity was turned off. But we always had our house, our horse and our dogs and cats.
Looking back, would it have been easier to give up on it all, fuck yes. Would it have been easier to move back to town, yes. But be it pride, determination or just my mother’s self perseverance, she did whatever it took to keep that place. And I was always there watching her work three jobs, witnessing the unopened mail, being bounced around from family member to family members as she worked. I noticed everything.
So once I was old enough to start working, I gave it all I had. Right before I got my license, I started working at Culver’s in high school. I worked the maximum a minor could work during the school year and 40 hours a week in the summer. Three days into my big move freshman year of college, I walked into a convenience store a few blocks from my dorm in Minneapolis and practically demanded they give me a job. When I moved to Madison three semesters later, I remember driving around turning in paper applications at every big box store. Of course the one farthest away hired me first but I loved working nearly 40 hours at Home Depot while going to school full time. I just like making money.
Having a career, a paycheck, a roof over my head, bills paid on time, a heated house (but not too warm) and all the other things I wanted and never had as a child were what drove me to work hard, budget my money, plan my adventures, save. I knew I needed to do things differently than my own hard working mom. I needed to be like dad. Lots of sacrifices, missing holidays to earn extra pay. Overtime. Work, work, work! That also meant, do not have children.
Fast forward to a tumor in my chest. Fast forward to the wonderful, adventurous life I knew without the fear of bills not being paid on time. Fast forward to out of pocket maximums and determining if my insurance covered this and that. Fast forward to not quite 35.
I cried leaving work that Friday. Not knowing if I’d ever return. Not sure the magnitude of my tumor, it’s tentacles infusing my lungs. I cried because the old me was dying. Or maybe she was already dead. I had to admit I couldn’t do all the things anymore. I couldn’t work all the hours needed. I needed to be with my family on holidays. I needed to be with my dogs and my chickens and maybe a glass of wine after 5pm. I needed to live.
And maybe, just maybe, if I beat this awful thing called cancer, I needed to be a mom. A real mom, a really real mom, like to a human child. The thought itself scared the shit outta me. I NEVER WANTED KIDS. But what the fuck was I living for? I have so much to give. So much teaching and learning. And who will be there for Mike once my time is up? I can be a mom. My stepmom’s mother’s last words to me were that I should have children. My favorite grandmother who knew me well, reminded me once that it’s not bad having children.
So now I sit here, less than two weeks from meeting my little one, nervous for a c-section, sad to leave my dogs for four days, super uncomfortable and exhausted from carrying around an extra 50 pounds. I’m going to be a real mama. Like a really real mama. To a human. They give babies to anyone. I can do this. I can be a mom. I already am.
And in 12 short weeks after my baby is pulled from an incision in my tummy, I will be a working mom. Something I dread. Though it will be two years since I was diagnosed with cancer, the inner workaholic is still there. How am I gonna work an 8-5 job, pump breast milk, take care of a three month old baby and do all the things I’m currently not doing around the house but really should be since Mike will be working 60-70, shit 80 hour work weeks? Plus find time to snuggle my puppies, love my boyfriend and take care of me?
I’ll worry more about that bridge when I need to cross it. For now, I’ll finish my cold 1/2 cup of coffee, pee for the fifth time already today, it’s 6:18am and pretend my feet don’t hurt to stand on while I get ready for my day.
We found out very early that I was pregnant. Lots of things can happen in the first trimester of pregnancy and even more ran through my mind as a cancer survivor. I had six infusions of the chemo cocktail that made me lose my hair within three weeks. It killed my hair follicles. What else had it killed?
During chemotherapy I quit taking my birth control, cancer was all the birth control I needed and finding myself suddenly bald and puffy from the steroids, I felt the most unattractive I ever had in my life. But I did get my period in April 2019, 10 months after I started chemo. The doctors told me the drugs would render me infertile. But my body had other plans.
I thankfully was spared a lot of other side affects during chemo. I never had nausea and I never had nausea with my pregnancy. I did however have constipation both during chemo and pregnancy. To the point I’m still taking a daily stool softener and I’m officially 37 weeks pregnant as I write this.
But back to why I kept my pregnancy a secret. Both my mother and sister experienced loss. Both for very different reasons further into the pregnancy but I remember my sister’s agony and I remember my mother always saying “if I hadn’t lost that one, you wouldn’t be here!” My cousin’s experienced a stillbirth still nearly full term. Other cousins experienced miscarriage too and given my medical history I just assumed I would have a miscarriage.
I listened to miscarriage podcasts daily. Hearing the stories of other ladies experience loss while my baby grew inside of me. I talked to my therapist about my fears of loss. I talked to my doctors about the genetic tests I wanted. I knew I could handle anything but I wanted to be prepared and if it was worst case scenario I wanted to know early enough to make a decision for our family.
Even though I’m 37 and a cancer survivor, the team of OB doctors didn’t consider me high risk. What the what? I had to BEG to see the specialist in the next town over and I’m so grateful I did. That doctor was the most understanding and considerate woman I have ever met. She never made me feel like I was asking dumb questions or taking too much of her time. Plus I got to see my baby grow with the extra ultrasounds.
Around the 12 week mark we had the nuchal fold measured and the blood taken for the genetic tests. We finally were ready to share our big secret so we told our parents.
Mike’s parents live in town. We told them first. They are the nicest people I have ever met and I’m so grateful for them, for their love and their support.
My mother is well, my mom and I was dreading telling her. She isn’t the best at communicating her feelings and mostly says shit that is rude, inappropriate or just simply mean. But she was excited. We left her house and I was simply shocked but terrified of her as a grandmother as I recalled my own childhood and all the hurtful things she said and did that I’m still going to therapy for.
My parents, as I refer to my dad and stepmom, live just four miles from our house, so we went there last. Dad was injured so he was stuck in his easy chair. They thought we got engaged, I literally laughed out loud. We aren’t engaged. We are just having a baby. They were extremely excited for us, and for them.
The fear of miscarriage was present in every doctor visit, waiting to hear the heartbeat, but every time, baby was growing stronger. Then I finally started to feel movement. Though it was real the whole time, 20 weeks in, I could finally feel my baby move. And everyday, I enjoyed those punches and kicks.
I never announced my pregnancy to the world. I had deleted Snapchat in January of 2019 and then deleted Facebook in November. I thought I would feel lost with that connection but I actually feel better. I’m not comparing myself to others. I’m not trying to one up anyone. And most importantly I’m not reading about anyone else’s fucked up life. I can focus on my health.
I have taken progress photos. I’ll take a lot of baby photos but I’m not sure I’ll share them. If you wanted to be in my life, you’d make an effort. If I wanted to be in yours, I’d make an effort. There’s no secret. I don’t have time for bullshit. Cancer taught me the real meaning of life is short. Surround yourself with good people. Not everyone understands how hard my journey has been. But those who care will be there.
I’m not your typical pregnant person. I’m not your typical 37 year old.
Cancer changed everything. Every fucking thing. It changed the way I looked at others. It changed the way others looked at me. It changed my relationship. It changed my work life balance. It changed my life.
My thought process is completely different. I no longer live my life like I’ll live forever. I know now I am going to die eventually. When my oncologist told my father, “she would be dead in weeks if we didn’t start treatment immediately,” I knew my life was going to be different. But I didn’t realize the level of anxiety and amount of depression that would come from being a cancer survivor. The guilt of “beating it so easy.” The fear of when it will come back. The thought races in with every headache, cough. Is my tumor growing back? Is my cancer back? Am I strong enough to win again?
Now add in a pregnancy and a child I haven’t quite met yet, though we know each other well. My first thought was, will this pregnancy last? Then, will I survive child birth? Now knowing it will be a cesarean, will I survive that? How old will my child be when my cancer comes back? Will they recognize the bald me when my hair falls out again? Will I see grade school, junior high, high school? Sports, dance, bike rides, their first horse, teaching them to drive a manual car, prom, graduation, college. When will I burden them with the news that I have cancer again?
People have asked me if we will have more children and my answer is always HELL NO. I dislike pregnancy, mostly disliked the getting bigger and the aches and pains. But all the heavy emotions and thoughts are too much to bear again. Once baby is out, I’ll need to increase my talk therapy and probably increase my anti anxiety medications. Bringing this baby into this world is a miracle and I’m so excited to meet them however being a cancer survivor adds a whole different dimension to first mama nerves.
I’ll start with saying that for the first 22 years of my life, I barely had boobs. I was a 34b on a good day in college. And I hated them for being too big 😳
The first thing I noticed differently from June 22nd to July 17th, when I found out I was pregnant was how sore my boobs were. My periods always had brought on boob pain. I was on a perfect pill for many many many years in which I never got my period and didn’t have the boob pain. There is a cyst in my right breast that swells with every cycle. But I had pain in both boobs.
Welp, I am pregnant so that explains that.
And man did these suckers grow. I was wearing a 36C before pregnancy and they are growing and growing and growing. And I hear they grow more. My rib cage has expanded so much for my breech baby you’d think I was having this babe orally. I’m measuring 38 actual inches around the bottom of my breasts which conveniently sit on top of my belly now. And these things have grown to proportions I can’t even describe.
I plan on breastfeeding as long as I can and heard they will get even bigger 😳 I bought a sports bra in XL and can’t wear it. I fit nicely into XL nursing bras but they do nothing for supporting the weight of these giant boobs.
Thankfully the painful part stopped after week 15 but the damage was already done. New pink and purple stretch marks roadmapped my journey to becoming a mother. But as I near the finish line, the milk ducts are awakening and the painful ness is returning.
Looking forward to the day in which these things are empty bags and I can throw them over my shoulder like a continental soldier.
After they validated the pregnancy with bloodwork two more times, they give me a long list of things to avoid eating.
I obviously knew about alcohol. It’s summer people. And now it’s two summers in a row I cannot drink. I gave up coffee, alcohol and sugar when I was going through chemotherapy the summer of 2018. I gave up coffee and alcohol and a whole lotta other shit effective July 17, 2019, but I certainly wasn’t giving up sugar.
In fact, gimme cookies 🍪 gimme all the damn cookies 🍪. I normally don’t eat sweets but surely this baby was half Mike’s as I wanted all the cookies. I think maybe all the years of restricting myself from sweets, chocolate 🍫 candy 🍬 cookies 🍪 and now knowing I’m gonna gain weight, I just let my body eat whatever it wanted to eat… well minus the list…
No smoked salmon – what the what? People are gonna know our secret if I’m not eating the salmon.
No lunch/deli meat – that includes pepperoni. While I haven’t had deli meats, I may have ate pepperoni and no not the ones cooked on a pizza. I love love love old fashioned pepperoni.
No sushi – again FML
No rare steak – welp sorry kiddo, I am not eating my steak any other way but medium rare but more rare than medium. I haven’t had a lot of steak though. It sounds really good. With mashed potatoes because I can always eat potatoes 🥔
No hot dogs – minus that one I had to have at the Packers game
No raw cookie dough – raw egg 🥚 welp, again kiddo, I trust my chickens and trust my tummy. We ate raw cookie dough. It was delicious.
No caffeine – I followed this during the first trimester to a tee. I followed most things until our genetic test came back. But this mama was effing exhausted. So I drink 1/2 cup of coffee a day. Sometimes I allow myself some pre-workout that contains caffeine if I’m too exhausted in the afternoon.
So back to the alcohol… I love beer. Can you tell? I found my sister in law drinking a 0.0 no alcohol beer and discovered that I actually enjoy it. I have had some low 0.5 alcohol beers at dinners out but meh, they are yucky. I have had a random 4 ounces of wine here and there, again after my first trimester was long gone. But shockingly I survived family functions, holiday events and life in general without a beer.
Am I giving it up forever? Oh hell no! Bring on the mimosas once baby arrives. But I’m excited to breastfeed and enjoy this next stage of my life.
I looked at the receptionist in the cancer center and practically with tears in her eyes and the biggest smile on her face I said “I’m fucking pregnant!” She couldn’t “say” but I knew. I’m fucking pregnant.
I’m 37 years old, no children for a reason. I am nine months post my last chemo. I have no idea what the tumor in my head is doing much less when the cancerous tumor will come back. Or the breast cancer caused by my radiation.
How the hell am I going to be a mom. I have a shitty mother myself and know how I don’t want to be but I’ll probably raise a little brat because I’ll want to give it all the things I never had.
I have to tell Mike. We have had our struggles in the last six months. Struggles I promised myself I would never go through but I believe in us and stuck it out. I texted him that I couldn’t have my MRI that day. He was on his way to the hospital anyways to get the results with me.
What lasting effects did the chemo have on my eggs? Are all my genes slightly mutated and this pregnancy will be over as soon as it started?
These are the thoughts that ran through my head in the first five minutes of knowing I was pregnant. My last period started on June 22nd. I track everything. I was supposed to get my period in 4 days.
I met Mike outside. I was crying. “We’re pregnant” is all I could get out. How the hell are we going to be parents? We talked about a family after I beat cancer. We talked about having a child. We talked about the potential for my cancer to come back. We wanted to wait for the right time. We wanted to make it a year cancer free. We wanted more time with each other.
The cancer team was ecstatic as good news travels faster than bad news in there. My oncologist gave me two hugs and said this was a miracle. My body is extremely healthy. My blood counts never looked better. Minus the fact that I had a 10 cm by 10 cm by 4 cm tumor in my chest one year ago, I’m the ideal health to support a pregnancy.
I have been putting off writing my story for almost nine months now and for some reason 25 days before my due date and 23 minutes before I need to shower, I found myself writing. Well more like happily pecking at the keys on my iPhone.
It was a typical scanxiety day. I had to go to the cancer center for labs and over to the Hub and wait for an MRI. We were finally going to check on the tumor in my skull. It’s benign, called a meningioma but it’s there and I worry about it. Worry that my headaches are caused because of it. Worry that it will grow and I’ll die. I mostly just worry about that one to take my mind off the bigger issue, when will my cancer come back? When am I not going to be strong enough to beat it again? When am I going to die?
Everyone in the cancer center was so happy to see me. I got hugs from everyone as they commented on how fast my hair was growing back. After the blood was drawn, I sat in my usual chair waiting for the tech to come get me for the MRI. I texted Mike that they were running behind. Weird. Usually it’s me who is running behind. The tech finally came and said, we needed to go back to the cancer center.
I knew every time I had a scan, a pregnancy test was taken along with checking all my other bloodwork. I knew unprotected sex had occurred in a fertile window. I knew that defying the odds, my period had returned just three months prior, six months post my last chemo. I knew the chemicals in my chemo cocktail were supposed to kill my eggs, rendering me infertile. But I knew, I was pregnant.
Note: I’m not really dead. But 365 days ago I was convinced I was going to die when I found out I had cancer. I wrote this soon after and unfortunately my dog Merlee and my cat Oscar have both passed away. I still miss my long hair but am so grateful for these last 52 weeks of life. I’ll write more soon xoxxo
Nicole Rei Burm, from Custer, was born on a warm July 2nd day 1982, lived a beautiful life.
She was the daughter of Patricia (Pat Epright) Burm, Custer and Jack and Linda (Iczkowski) Burm, Amherst Junction. She was the sister to Jocelyn Barnwell, outside Bozeman Montana and the aunt to Jadyn and Jazzelyn. Nicole was a dog mom to Merlee, Kooper and Madison. Cat mom to George and Oscar. And chicken wrangler to many happy hens and a few roosters on her farm Pleasure Pastures. She was also the girlfriend to Mike Proulx.
Nicole attended local schools in Stevens Point and graduated from SPASH in 2000. She moved to Minneapolis and attended The University of Minnesota for three semesters before transferring to The University of Wisconsin at Madison where she was proud to be Wisconsin Badger. Nicole graduated with a degree in Zoology and Environmental Studies in December 2004. She later received an additional Biology degree from UWSP in May 2007.
Nicole was a hard worker and worked hard to provide herself nice things. In high school she worked at Culver’s, in college at Home Depot and then in 2008 she started working at Associated Bank. She always wanted to use her college degrees but her dreams were much bigger.
After a few years as a delivery driver in Central Illinois, Nicole moved home and started her farm, Pleasure Pastures in April 2012. Raising chickens was a dream of hers since she interned at Wildwood Wildlife Park in Minocqua. The funny part was Nicole rarely ate eggs.
Nicole became the Training Specialist in the bank call center in December 2013 and poured her heart into training new colleagues to be the best they could be, not only while at the bank, but in life.
She enjoyed writing, reading, watching tennis, playing volleyball, throwing darts, drinking beer, eating tacos, and most especially spending time with her dogs. Nicole became focused on her health in April 2017 when her grandmother passed away. Fitness and working out was part of her daily life.
In June 2018, she was diagnosed with cancer.
Preceding Nicole in death were her maternal grandparents Fred and Bertha Epright, her paternal grandmother, Alice Burm. Her step mom’s parents Willard and Cecelia Iczkowski. Her cousin Tony Gigliotti and her favorite dog Kosmo. She is survived also by her paternal grandfather Donald Burm, many aunts, uncles, cousins, cousin’s kids and Mike’s amazing family who treated her like their own.
Life is so short and so precious, be grateful for every minute.