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(http://www NULL.achildafter40 NULL.com/midlife-mother-cancer-survivor/diane-shulert/)Diane Hartford-Shulert—a midlife mother from Michigan who will turn 45 on Valentine’s Day—is living proof that what doesn’t kill you will make you strong.
In fact, her story is so rife with seemingly insuperable challenges that it reads like the opening scene to The Princess Bride (1987 film):
“Are you kidding? Fencing. Fighting. Torture. Revenge. Giants. Monsters. Chases. Escapes. True love. Miracles!”
Although in her case, the fighting, torture and monsters all derived from the enemy within. By her 40’s, Hartford-Shulert had survived breast cancer, leukemia, miscarriage, brain infection, and a near-death coma, all topped off with a debilitating respiratory disease.
While her survival made “Miracle Max” look like a rank amateur, true love had been there all along. The love of a mother who would not give up on having her child.
In fact, Hartford-Shulert believes it was her harrowing journey through cancer that united her with her now 4-year-old adopted daughter, Deidre Sang Shulert.
During her 20’s and 30’s, she’d been focused on her career as a medical assistant and an illusionist in a magic show, before graduating summa cum laude with a BA from the University of Detroit, MI.
“It wasn’t until I was 30-something that I yearned for children,” she admits. “But I had no idea what God had in mind for me.”
In 2000, after being accepted by 5 out of the 6 schools she’d applied to for her doctorate in psychology, Hartford-Shulert had to put education on hold. She was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer at 35.
After several lumpectomies and more than six weeks of chemotherapy, she was deemed a “survivor” and given the thumbs-up to try for pregnancy.
When efforts at natural conception consistently failed, the Shulerts opted for intrauterine insemination (IUI) and learned they had conceived in September 2002.
“It was a dream to be pregnant,” she says. “This was a child that my husband and I really, really wanted.”
But just over a month later, after she had been running a low-grade fever for over a week, Hartford-Shulert was ordered to the emergency room by her internist.
After drawing one vial of blood, they knew that something was wrong.
Her husband, a magician, was at work when they called him with the news. He was at her bedside in 30 minutes.
“I had acute mylogenous leukemia (https://health NULL.google NULL.com/health/ref/Acute+myeloid+leukemia)—sometimes a complication from breast cancer treatment,” she says.
Hartford-Shulert was immediately admitted to St. Joseph Hospital in Pontiac, MI, where she urgently required chemotherapy and, later, a bone marrow transplant.
The baby she was carrying in her womb—the one she had longed for—was now doomed.
“St. Joe’s Hospital was very helpful,” she says kindly. “They let my husband see ultrasounds of the baby.”
“He thought it looked like it was waving its arms and saying ‘Hi!’”
After the hospital commenced chemotherapy, the grieving mother lapsed into a coma, while running a fever of 105 degrees.
She was then transferred to Karmanos Cancer Institute by ambulance and her family began funeral preparations.
Hartford-Shulert remained in a coma for nearly a month—during which she miscarried her baby.
“My husband said that when he told me about it, I frowned (while comatose).”
Then, a day or two before she was expected to die, the infectious disease doctor at the Institute observed that her body “just kicked back in.”
What had been mistaken for cancer having metastasized to her brain was now actually diagnosed as “brain infection.”
The Shulerts believe that her survival was the result of divine intervention.
“They said they had me on every antiviral, antifungal and antibiotic and done all they could.”
“My family had people in 5 or 6 states praying for me. Through it all, I believe God was with me.”
When her cancer treatments required a bone marrow transplant—after searching “the world,” doctors found only one match out of 4.7 million donors, when most patients can expect tens or hundreds of matches.
“Another miracle from God,” she says.
After waking from the coma, Hartford-Shulert had to learn to walk and write all over again.
But this did not deter her from her goal of motherhood.
“What I really wanted was a baby—I needed to fulfill my dream,” she insists.
The Shulerts decided to adopt. However, after submitting all the necessary paperwork to adopt a child from Viet Nam, they were—one after another—given 5 photographs of different babies and promised: “This will be your child.”
And, each time, they were heart-broken when the adoption fell through.
At last, they were given a referral for an 11-pound baby girl, named Sang Ngoc Vo, whom they renamed Deidre.
But when Hartford-Shulert few to Viet Nam with her mother to pick up the baby, she began to have difficulty breathing.
“I had trouble carrying her across the street,” she says, “finding myself out of breath after walking short distances.”
It wasn’t until the following May that she was diagnosed with the debilitating lung disease bronchiolitis obliterans (http://en NULL.wikipedia NULL.org/wiki/Bronchiolitis_obliterans), a medical complication of her bone marrow transplant.
Doctors treated her condition with steroids in an effort to help facilitate her breathing. Yet, by the time little Diedre was 2-years-old, Hartford-Shulert “went into steroid-induced diabetes and muscle mass loss.”
“I literally crawled up the stairs to put her (Diedre) in bed at night,” she remembers.
Today—with only 35% lung capacity remaining and a month shy of her 45th birthday—Harford-Shulert is almost blessedly sanguine about being a cancer survivor and enduring her current physical disability. Her joy at being a mother far outweighs her physical suffering.
“I know the value of life and I’m passing these lessons on daily to my daughter.”
“Our family motto is ‘we are not quitters!’”
“Through it all—breast cancer treatments, bone marrow transplants, adoption, waiting for my baby—it seemed such a long time.”
“Then I turn around and she is 4-years-old already. All of my dreams have come true because of her.”
“The cancer brought me precious daughter, Deidre Sang. For that, I am extremely grateful.”
What greater testament to a mother’s love can there be?
Notes for this blog:
Angel La Liberte is the founder of the website Flower Power Mom—The Truth About Motherhood After 40 (http://www NULL.achildafter40 NULL.com/) (www.flowerpowermom.com (http://www NULL.achildafter40 NULL.com/)), a regular blog featuring news, commentary, real mom stories and expert advice about motherhood after 40.
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