This is part three of a four-part series written by Ted Sibley, MD, a former Children’s cancer patient from Plymouth, Minn., who used to work as a nursing assistant and pharmacy technician at Children’s while attending medical school, about how cancer drastically impacted all aspects of his life from youth to adulthood.
Part 2: Cancer delivers another blow
Part 4: ‘I’m a cancer survivor’
Ted Sibley, MD
The next couple of months were some of the most difficult in my and Erin’s relationship. First were long nights on call, delivering babies in the labor and delivery unit, followed by a six-week rotation in pediatrics at Children’s — the same hospital where I had been a patient and had worked in the pharmacy and as a nursing assistant. Now, I was a medical student doing 30-hour on-call shifts. Still angry and wounded by the fertility diagnosis, the vigor and laughter that I used to share with the oncology families had vanished. I put on a happy face and tried to give them hope like I once had, but on the inside I was hurting.
The disease I had beaten and put behind me was now staring me in the face. Only, this time, it was different. This time, I couldn’t fight infertility with surgery and chemotherapy. My wife and I had to look inside ourselves, at our relationship, and to our strength in God. We had to accept our situation for what it was and determine if we were going to let infertility bring us down or make us stronger.
During my pediatrics rotation, we finally broke. We had attempted a couple of months of fertility treatments, with no success. The emotional price for my wife during that summer and fall had become too high. We also had exhausted our finances trying to become pregnant. At dinner one night, she decided that she had had enough. Previously, we had been involved in international medical teams and traveled throughout Central and South America.
“What are we doing?” she said. “We are throwing hundreds and thousands of dollars at trying to become pregnant! We’ve seen children without parents and now we desire to be parents and cannot have biological children! Why don’t we build our family through adoption like we talked about during our medical trips?”
And so it was decided.
I attended a meeting about adoptions through Colombia. While we were too young to meet the requirements for a number of countries that adopted to the United States, we met all of the requirements of Colombia’s adoption policy because of how long we had been married. We began paperwork, home studies, background checks and psychological evaluations. We thought of ourselves as “paper pregnant” and celebrated each time we passed a part of the process. After months of meetings, paperwork and social-work visits, we finally had a set of completed paperwork to send to Colombia in application for a child. We considered this our unofficial “ultrasound,” confirming we’d be parents eventually.
About nine months after we started our adoption process, we attended a weekend fundraiser for our adoption agency and Colombian orphanage. We knew we were getting closer to being matched with a child and that sometimes the agency matched parents to their children at these events. Throughout the weekend, we attended a number of fundraising functions but never got any indication that there was a match. At the end of the final event, a Mass, the founder of the orphanage and the organizer of the agency both spoke about how grateful they were for the weekend’s turnout. At the end, one of them pulled out a manila envelope and read the name of the young boy pictured on it, finishing with, “And my parents are Ted and Erin Sibley.”
We were overjoyed. I called the medical school the next day and extended my vacation for an additional three weeks. We were going to be parents! All the tears, all the sorrow and all the anger were gone. My wife and I were ecstatic! A week later, we flew to Bogota, Colombia, and prepared to meet our first child the next day.
At the orphanage, we waited in the aptly named “green room,” as it is painted bright green. The walls also are covered with hundreds of pictures of children with their families, placed together by that orphanage. In that room, numerous others had met their children for the first time, and now it was our turn. A group of Colombian ladies who worked in the orphanage walked in the room with a gorgeous 3-month-old boy wearing the presentation outfit we had picked out for him. My wife and I stood up and held hands as the women who had taken loving care of our son approached us. They placed him in my arms and said, “Congratulations, Dad. You have a beautiful baby boy.”
We were a family. My wife was a mother, and I was a father. Twice, I had felt the blow of cancer in my life — both times unexpectedly. I learned that the life I had wanted, and the life I had planned, was not the life I was meant to live. I had to live with the long-term effects of what happened when I was 13 years old. I couldn’t put cancer in a box and place it on the shelf to look at occasionally. I had to learn to live with it. I was a cancer survivor, husband, medical student, soon-to-be-physician, and now — finally — a dad.
Ted Sibley, MD, is a doctor in emergency services at Truman Medical Centers in Kansas City, Mo., and a clinical assistant professor for the emergency medicine department and adjunct clinical assistant professor for the master of medical science physician assistant program at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.