My Breast Cancer Journey Part 45: My Twin Sister’s Baby Harold Robert is Here!

This blog post is the 45th in a series about my (and twin sister’s) breast cancer journey that began when we were 30 years old in July 2019. In 2019, I also started documenting our younger sister’s breast cancer previvorship journey. Here is a list of all of the posts written about our journey at Mayo Clinic’s Breast Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, to date. To keep tabs on new posts, sign up for the “A Daily Miracle” email list at this link. You can also follow on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

My nephew Harold Robert is our most recent miracle story! He was born at Maple Grove Hospital on Wednesday, February 8, 2023, weighing in at 7 pounds 10 ounces and measuring 21.26 inches!

Here are his adorable “First Day Photos!”

And, like stones of remembrance in the Bible–laid by Jacob after he wrestled with God in Bethel in Genesis 28:10-22; Samuel after the victory against the Philistines in 1 Samuel 7:7-12; and Joshua in the Jordan River as he headed to the Promised Land in Joshua 3-4–I wanted to design this blog post in a way that gives thanks for God’s goodness to Steph through her breast cancer journey. Every heartbreak strengthened and enabled her to become a mama to one of the cutest boys in the whole wide world! Reminding us that blessings in life often come through struggles and challenges.

As a pastor shared at a family friend’s funeral last week:

“The heart of the gospel is a God who suffers for and with us…a crucified Christ who suffers for and with us. This is how He helps us: Through the power of suffering love. So, instead of removing it, He shares it. Instead of overcoming our pain, He promises we won’t be alone. He works mightily through people around us to bring us rest for our weary souls, hope for the future, and strength to carry on.”

There have also been incredible miracles along the way–not least of which has been a year-long sponsorship for Bobbie formula, one of the most amazing gifts both me (for my son Zephaniah in 2021!) and my twin sister Steph have ever received! Harold loves his Bobbie and chows down on the daily. At the 54th percentile in weight at his 4 month checkup, he’s thriving! 🙂

So, in a gesture of gratitude to the God who saves, heals, and redeems us!, here are the miracles that led to us meeting Harold Robert in person for the first time!

The First Miracle: Steph’s Fertility Preservation Before Chemotherapy + Surviving Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome

Harold Robert’s arrival is a miracle for many reasons. The first twofold miracle is that he came to us after my twin sister Steph went through fertility preservation that was successful, retrieving 28 eggs! The second part is that the successful retrieval led to a case of Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS), a life-threatening situation that occurs in less than 1% of fertility preservation patients. Of course, after being diagnosed with Stage 2A HER2+ breast cancer, Steph ended up with OHSS–only one week before her chemotherapy began in November 2019.

But God helped her to overcome this adversity with a trip to the ER, two thoracentesis and one paracentesis procedure. It turns out that, sometimes, miracles are incredibly painful!

Here’s Steph with two of our best friends from Wheaton College and prayer warrior sisters Brittany and Jessica the day she went in to be induced!

The Second Miracle: Steph Carried Harold to Term!

Not only was Harold potentially coming early because of her velamentous cord insertion, which occurs in 1% of pregnancies (shocker for Steph who has ended up with rare medical situations all along!!), but Steph made it all the way to 39 weeks, both she and Harold healthy as horses!

Also, Steph carried Harold to term after 18 rounds of chemotherapy, a double mastectomy, and over a year of Tamoxifen. You can see her, with two of our best friends from Wheaton College and prayer warrior sisters Brittany and Jessica!, in the photo above the day she went in to be induced! Brittany and Jessica (and their entire family!) have prayed us through our entire breast cancer journey–here’s a roundup of posts highlighting Steph’s beating breast cancer journey:

And if you’d rather listen 🙂 here’s a brief speech starting at the 38 minute mark that Steph and I gave at an American Cancer Society luncheon in 2021 recapping our journey through diagnosis and treatment!:

The Third Miracle: Steph and Paul’s Successful IVF Transfer!

The third miracle is the fact that Steph and Paul’s IVF transfer was successful! Steph had a few complications with pregnancy early on and was on bed rest for a little while, then she got COVID while she was pregnant, but the Lord helped her champion through all of it–then they got to see Harold Robert in real life! Here is another post highlighting her IVF / pregnancy journey:

The Fourth Miracle: Steph’s Benign ‘Nodular Adenosis’

The fourth miracle is the fact that all of Stephanie’s recurrence scares–most recently, a lump near her breast implant at 37 weeks pregnant which resulted in a biopsy and diagnosis of “nodular adenosis,” a benign breast condition–have been “all clear!” Here’s that praise report post, along with all the other praises of recurrence scares to date:

The Fifth Miracle: Harold Robert’s Arrival!

The fifth miracle is Harold’s actual physical arrival into the world! Given that Steph had a velamentous cord insertion–plus the fact that Harold was an IVF baby–the risk of stillbirth was significant enough for the OB to order an “early eviction” to ensure he arrived before 40 weeks, when the stillbirth risk was highest. In addition, the OB ordered ultrasounds every week starting at 36 weeks to check Harold’s breathing and movements. If there was anything at all “off,” Harold would come out as early as 36 weeks! His heartbeat and movements and breathing were strong all the way through, though, so they made it all the way to 39 weeks when it was time to go in for induction!

On Monday, February 6th, the morning of her induction, Steph was pretty nervous–we all were!–but thankfully we had friends in town (Britt and Jess) to distract her and we took care of her by getting her all of her favorite foods and by hanging out with her as much as possible to keep her calm. 🙂

To be honest, I was relieved when Steph finally went to the hospital because it meant all eyes were on her and Harold and they were covered in prayer, surrounded by medical professionals. The journey was much longer and circuitous than what any of us anticipated but it was what God ordained and prepared Steph for!

While Steph pampered herself with a nice long shower in prep for the induction, she listened to “Like Incense / Sometimes by Step” on repeat as she prepared to leave for the hospital, which was stuck in her head and encouraged her as she persevered through labor and delivery!

The cool thing is, when I got to the hospital on Tuesday evening, after she’d already been in labor for almost 24 hours, I started singing this song between her contractions and she and Paul both looked at me in shock–“What song are you singing???”–and I told them, “Like Incense / Sometimes by Step,” which was one of my favorite worship songs of all time and helped me have peace in the midst of anxiety! Then Steph told me she’d listened to it all day in preparation to come to the hospital.

Holy Spirit echo for the win! 🙂

Another encouraging thing that the Lord gave Steph in prep for her marathon labor was a sermon from Christine Caine called “Remember Lot’s Wife” (below). Key point that Steph took away and into her labor and delivery is that it’s important to not look back and to remember that, sometimes, God brings you the long way around for your safety–because He has your best interests in mind 🙂

When Steph arrived at the hospital, they tried a few different induction methods that weren’t successful until they started a Pitocin drip and an oral ripening medicine mid-morning on Tuesday. Then, the contractions started coming on strong!

It was interesting to watch the doctors, nurses, and care team discern what the best choices would be for Steph along the way. Even though she was actively contracting (without an epidural), Steph’s dilation took a long time, and involved Pitocin, oral ripening medicine, dilation balloons, etc. Finally, late Tuesday, after an entire day of painful contractions and dilation, they decided to break her water and give her an epidural. I was relieved they chose the epidural at that point because I just wanted Steph to not be in pain anymore!

Overnight from Tuesday into Wednesday, the computers broke, and they had old-fashioned paper printouts of the heart monitors. They also thought that Harold might not be tolerating Pitocin very well, so they decided to turn it off. They also decided they would likely need to do a c-section on Wednesday because Harold seemed stressed on the readouts.

But when God provided a new doctor and nurse early Wednesday morning, there was another miracle–they reviewed the overnight charts and believed a vaginal delivery was possible! Steph is convinced the Lord sent her an angel nurse named Kelly, who was exactly who she needed to endure the final 8 hours of labor and to push Harold out into the world!

When Nurse Kelly came on shift, she said: “One of my favorite things is when I come on shift and they say ‘We have a patient who might need a c-section but we’re hoping for vaginal delivery.’ Let’s make it happen!'”

My labor and delivery took 7 hours beginning to end, so watching my twin sister go through 36 hours of labor was no cakewalk–for me or any of our family! It was a roller coaster that involved Paul sleeping on the hospital floor, Steph going through immense pain, vomiting, Steph developing a mild fever, and a lot of blood loss–all resulting in the miracle of a little human life, Harold Robert.

I had to go to Mayo Clinic for my 6-month ovarian checkup on Wednesday, February 8th. Leaving Steph at the hospital Wednesday morning was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done because I knew how exhausted she was and how much pain she’d been in and also because I knew she still had to push a baby out after all of that. I prayed for her before I left for Mayo that morning, prayed and cried with a friend on the phone on the way back from Mayo (“WHY DOES EVERYTHING FOR STEPH HAVE TO BE SO HARD?!?!”) and when I arrived back from Mayo, I arrived just in time for Steph to start pushing!

Here is Steph, Paul, Harold, and (angel) Nurse Kelly!

When it finally came time to push on Wednesday afternoon, Steph pushed Harold out faster than I pushed Zephaniah out–in less than an hour!

When Harold came out, Steph lots 900 mL of blood, only 100 mL short of a hemorrhage. Harold also had some trouble breathing, so after handing him to Steph, they took him back and they had to call NICU, who helped Harold get his lungs going with deep suction and a CPAP machine in only a few minutes–but it was the longest few minutes of our lives as we texted friends and prayer warriors (“PLEASE PRAY HAROLD ISN’T BREATHING!!!!!”)

When his lungs finally cleared and we got to hold him, we were so thankful and happy! We gave him all kinds of snuggles and cried. We couldn’t believe how scary the entire labor and delivery experience was and also what a miracle it is for anyone to have a baby, ever.

The Miracle of (Single) Parenting Through Postpartum

The night after Harold was born, Steph’s husband Paul came down with COVID. He left the hospital as soon as he started to feel sick and went home to isolate for the entire first week that Harold was at home. Thankfully, I took some cute photos of them before he had to go into isolation 🙂

Then, it was up to us–Steph’s siblings and parents and brothers-in-law!–to help Steph get through that first week of parenting a newborn and managing postpartum physical and emotional symptoms! In addition to being with Steph and Harold around the clock, Paul’s mom and sister made meals and held the baby and our Maple Plain Community Church family made a Meal Train that was beyond generous for an entire month. Not only did meals keep coming, but they were rich in iron and gluten free to help with Steph’s low iron levels and to keep any dietary sensitivities at bay!

Like the quote from the pastor I put at the top of this post, it’s a joy to help be the hands and feet of Jesus in serving loved ones in times of need. And, as you can see in the photo above, we made sure Steph and Harold were never alone! My son Zephaniah enjoyed crawling around Harold’s bassinet while he slept!

Steph cried a lot that week because she missed Paul, and also because she was in a lot of pain and had really low iron levels. She had an iron infusion “push” before she was discharged from the hospital, which helped, but she had to continue with iron supplements for a while after she got home until, finally!, her hemoglobin levels returned to normal.

Here’s a selfie with Harold the first night home from the hospital!

I wrote post it notes with inspirational and encouraging Bible verses and affirmations on them and put them up all over their house to encourage them, and frequently reminded Steph that this was just a season–that Paul would be healthy soon and able to hang out with Harold Robert all the time! I’d sleep from 6 or 7pm through 11pm, then did all of the night shifts from 11pm or 12am through 4 or 5am, then I’d sleep from 5am through 7am and do it all again. I had help from my mom Jane and my sister Jennifer with the overnights too! We tag teamed it and rocked it (until I got super sick a week later but helping was more than worth it)!

Sure enough, Paul came out of isolation exactly one week after coming down with COVID and they were off to the races! Here are some photos of that first week of around the clock care and Paul coming out of isolation 🙂

The Miracle of Life with Harold Robert + Faith Across the Generations

It took a few months for me to prepare this post (!), but here we are, just a few days after Harold’s 4 month birthday, celebrating his existence and everyone’s good health!

Harold Robert is named after their paternal grandfathers–Paul’s paternal grandfather Harold, and our paternal grandfather, Robert. I remember when Steph was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019, she had a dream that our grandpa, Robert, affectionately known as Grandpa Bob, visited her, gave her a big hug, and in his characteristic way, told her everything was going to be all right.

Sure enough!, here we are, on the other side of breast cancer treatment with Harold Robert! God is good all the time, and all the time, God is good!

Harold had a few health issues during his first month of life including a yeast infection and eye infection, but always had a super healthy appetite and is loving his Bobbie formula given to Steph for free for a year thanks to a Breasties Breast Cancer Survivor Sponsorship, which I received for Zephaniah as well!

We got rear ended with Zephaniah and Harold and Steph in the backseat when Harry was only 2 weeks old. That was not good. But God is good, protected us all!, and carried us through with no major injuries, Praise God!

Steph and Paul dedicated Harold Robert to the Lord Jesus Christ in April 2023, when Harry was only 3 months old! He has a lifetime of adventures ahead of him with Jesus and we are so excited to have the little man as one of our baby human companions on this journey of life!

Here are some recent photos of Harold (visiting work with Mommy, flexing, and at his dedication at our church with most of the family!). Harold is just the best and we love him so much!

Prayer Requests + Next Steps

1) Prayers for Tamoxifen: Steph restarted Tamoxifen in May 2023, only 3 months postpartum (!), and has a couple of years left before finishing her 5 years of Tamoxifen total and being done with breast cancer treatments forever! Prayers are appreciated for peace and for zero side effects while she finishes her Tamoxifen treatment over the next couple of years. And, as we often pray: For deliverance and protection from cancer forever!

2) Prayers for Ovarian Cancer Screenings: Steph, me, and our baby sister Jenn go to high risk ovarian screenings at Mayo every 6 months to ensure we are all set with ovarian cancer prevention. Prayers appreciated for continued protection in this department, too!

3) Praises for Parenthood + Harold Robert!: Praise God that Steph and Paul have enjoyed life with Harold for almost 6 months already! He’s their life’s greatest joy and prayers are appreciated for them as they continue to grow together in Christ as a family of 3. 🙂

Thank you so much for your prayers for Steph as we prayed, waited, cried, prayed some more, cried some more, then finally got to meet Harold Robert in person! Stay tuned for more updates as he grows and as we get to experience more of Jesus’s daily miracles as we walk the road of breast cancer survivorship–a recent highlight included Baby Harold Robert’s first visit to Mayo Clinic with Steph, pictured below! 🙂 God is good! 🙂

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Ephesians 3:20-21

This blog post is the 45th in a series about my (and twin sister’s) breast cancer journey that began when we were 30 years old in July 2019. In 2019, I also started documenting our younger sister’s breast cancer previvorship journey. Here is a list of all of the posts written about our journey at Mayo Clinic’s Breast Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, to date. To keep tabs on new posts, sign up for the “A Daily Miracle” email list at this link. You can also follow on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

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