Babies, cancer give new meaning to life
July 14, 2011
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- When David and Andrea McRae left Madigan Healthcare System just over a year ago, neither had any idea what to expect as new parents.
The Army majors " Andrea, a nurse assigned to the Warrior Transition Battalion, and David, an Army force generation execution officer with I Corps " had years of unsuccessful attempts to have a child when they turned to in vitro fertilization. Months later, their Family was completed with not just a few, but four infants.
Andrea gave birth to three boys and one girl May 12, 2010, making them the first quadruplets delivered at Madigan in more than 12 years.
Born at just 29 and a half weeks gestation and each weighing less than three pounds, the McRaes were wary of challenges their babies could face as their little bodies developed.
After spending about two months in the neonatal intensive care unit, doctors were confident enough to send Nathan, Peyton, Mason and Molly home.
The last year has been one of trials and uncertainty, but not the kind the McRaes imagined with having four babies.
Andrea learned she had stage III colon cancer just days before the babies were released from the hospital.
She recalled experiencing issues during pregnancy, but assumed the symptoms were merely side effects of having multiple babies.
When the doctor ran tests and delivered the results, Andrea and David were shocked.
“(The doctor) just walked in and said, ‘I have bad news. You have cancer,’ Andrea said. “The first thing that goes through my mind is, ‘Well, OK, what’s the prognosis?’”
Stage III cancer " the most severe without having spread to other organs " was not what Andrea expected to hear.
“It was so upsetting,” she said. “I thought, ‘I just had these babies, and now they’re throwing this at me.’”
Equally distressed, David knew he had to be strong for his wife and their newborns.
“I was just trying to reassure her it would be OK in the end, then it was a matter of coming up with a plan,” David said.
Andrea immediately began brainstorming an action plan that would result in the best care possible for their children, who weren’t even two months old yet.
She said her surgeon reassured her with his confidence that her cancer would be cured.
“He talked to me the same day I got the news, and he was upbeat about everything, so that kind of eased my nerves a little bit,” Andrea said.
She has since had her colon removed and is now finishing up chemotherapy.
With reconstructive surgery scheduled for next month followed by a final surgery, Andrea is looking forward to putting the ordeal behind her and moving on.
Allowing her to do that is the support she receives from her Family and the Army, both instrumental in her recovery.
Family members visiting from Florida have scheduled extended stays around Andrea’s surgery dates, and the Army transferred her from Madigan to the WTB so she could spend more time focusing on her health and the babies.
She often misses working as a labor and delivery nurse, but understands the Army’s reasons for moving her.
“I wasn’t happy about it at first because I felt like they were trying to push me out, but now I’m over it because I know I’m better off,” Andrea said.
“I can focus on my treatments, so it’s been really nice to be home with (the babies) and not have to worry about that part.”
“With the chemo and everything taking its toll on her body, there are times it would be nearly impossible for her to work,” David said.
As for the quadruplets, they are healthy and each weighs about 20 pounds.
“They’re right on track as far as their non-adjusted age,” Andrea said.
“They’re doing really well.”
Andrea spends most of her days at home with the children, and her sister-in-law helps out at night.
The McRaes make it a point to go out as a Family at least once a week " something David said has proven to be an easier task than they expected.
“You have to get out of the house,” he said. “It may take a while to get there, but you have to do it. You can’t sit in the house all day.”
“It’s getting a little easier now that they’re older, but we haven’t gone on a long trip yet,” Andrea said.
One challenge the couple has overcome " most of the time " is telling the children apart.
Molly is easy to distinguish as the only girl, but the boys are identical with only slight differences.
Peyton has hemangioma on his arm, Mason has tiny marks on his nose, and Nathan has a small distinguishing mark on the back of his leg.
Other than the marks, the McRaes have personality differences to go on.
“Nathan and Mason are more curious and adventurous,” David said, “where Peyton just kind of goes with the flow, and Molly just watches.”
Looking back on the last couple years, amidst obvious hardships, David and Andrea agreed their lives are full and they are where they’re meant to be.
“We’ve had to really change around our priorities, but through it all, we know things are going to work out in the end,” David said. “Sometimes you just have to hang in there.”
“People often say, ‘How do you do it?’” Andrea said. “We get up everyday, and we do what we have to do. These kids keep me going. I’m not deprived " I just go.”
Laura M. Levering: firstname.lastname@example.org