She Faced An 'Uphill Battle Of International Special Needs Adoption,' All While Fighting And Beating Cancer

" ... every bump and every delay, though frustrating and emotionally draining, would be for a reason that we would see on the other side."

My husband Brad and I both grew up in families built through adoption. My father and aunt were both adopted, and Brad has four aunts adopted from Korea as well as a biological aunt who adopted four children from one family. We always talked about adopting as a way of growing our family, but it wasn't until we experienced difficulty having a biological child that we began discussing our options.

After fifteen months of trying to have a baby, and only one doctor visit away from starting fertility treatments, we finally got a positive pregnancy test. Nine months later we welcomed home our son Sebastian.

Soon after, Brad traveled to Malawi on a trip with our church, which turned out to be a "special needs" mission. It was unexpected, but we knew that it was all part of God's plan. We had been talking more and more about adoption, and I kept feeling a pull toward children with special needs. A few months later, I traveled to work with an orphanage in Haiti for Children's HopeChest. The tug grew stronger. We decided to get the ball rolling.

We chose to adopt a baby from China not only because I had always been drawn to Chinese culture, but because China also had a very stable special needs program. It took almost a year to finish the paperwork, but on December 26, 2012, our dossier arrived at the China Center for Children's Welfare and Adoption. We were thrilled! At that point it was just a matter of waiting for a referral. Or so we thought.

In February of 2013, I discovered a lump in my breast. I had always been a bit "lumpy," but something about this one felt different. On March 13, my thirty-third birthday, I had an MRI and biopsy. We got the results five days later. I had invasive lobular carcinoma, and the treatment (a double mastectomy, chemo, radiation, and ten years of a drug called Tamoxifen) would render me infertile. If we wanted to have another biological child, I would have to undergo egg harvesting and embryo storage immediately, then try IVF when my cancer treatment was complete. The doctor told us that harvesting would not be covered by insurance, and that IVF and pregnancy hormones could potentially bring the cancer back.

By this point we were well into our adoption process but feared the worst—that our adoption would be delayed or denied because of my diagnosis. So there we were, holding hands tightly, feeling like all our plans for our family and life were crashing down around us. Thankfully, we believed in God's plan and trusted this was all a part of it.

After much prayer and fasting, we felt at peace not pursuing harvesting or IVF. We were also reassured by our social worker that my diagnosis would not have to affect our adoption. The goal was to get through treatment so we could bring our daughter home.

On the last day of September, after I had been through two major surgeries and six months of chemo, we received an exciting call from our agency. They had matched us with a baby girl! She had a cleft lip and palate; would we accept? We knew she was perfect for us, but the timing felt all wrong. I still had one more chemo session, seven weeks of radiation and one reconstructive surgery to go. How would this work? Would our agency even let us go through with it? They still didn't know about my cancer, and we knew we had to tell them, but we feared it would mean forfeiting the adoption.

We spent that weekend praying and weighing all sides of the issue. In the end, we wanted our daughter's story to honor God, even if it kept us from her or from any child. We knew what we had to do.

Monday morning came and we called our agency. We said, "She is perfect! We want her. But first, we have to tell you something." Our wonderful agency contact said, in so many words, you are cancer-free and that is a blessing. And this little girl, your daughter, will be a blessing as part of your family. If you want to move forward, so do we. In that simple but miraculous moment, we were one more step closer to being a family of four.

We received our letter of acceptance from China, updated our immigration paperwork, and updated our home study, all while I underwent weeks of daily radiation therapy. Every morning, when I climbed onto that cold table and faced Betty, the radiation machine, I thought of our daughter and all that she had been through in her first months of life. There would be scars, for sure, but also strength, resilience, faith and, most of all, love.

Technically, all we needed now was our travel approval, but waiting for that was like waiting to go into labor. Every day we hoped for the call.

Finally, on February 24, 2014, we got that call. The agency had just received word from China that we were approved to travel. We would arrive in Beijing on March 13 to meet our daughter and finalize the adoption five days later.

We had been told from the very beginning of the adoption process that every bump and every delay, though frustrating and emotionally draining, would be for a reason that we would see on the other side. Never in our wildest dreams did we imagine we would be facing the uphill battle of international special needs adoption while at the exact same time fighting and beating cancer.

The day we received travel approval was exactly one year from the date that Brad turned to his friend Joel and said, "I don't know how, but one year from now we are going to have a daughter." That was before my diagnosis, before my first ultrasound, before our world was turned upside down by cancer.

The day we arrived in China was my thirty-fourth birthday—exactly one year from the date of my biopsy.

The day sweet 10-month-old Ting Mae officially became our daughter was exactly one year from the date the doctors gave us my official diagnosis.

Those awful dates, which were so mired in fear and chaos, were completely redeemed. And so were we. I had a second chance at life, and so did our daughter. And the best part is we would get to spend it together.

This story is from Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Adoption: 101 Stories about Forever Families and Meant-to-Be Kids  © 2015 Chicken Soup for the Soul, LLC. All rights reserved.

Cover image via  EmiliaUngur I Shutterstock



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