Gay Dad Life

No Day But Today: On Cancer, Adoption, and Family

It took her until January to tell us, either because she didn't know, or because she wasn't telling. As I was sitting on the side of the road, on a broken-down bus during my commute home from work, I got The Call. I've been waiting for The Call, to be honest, for probably 20 years. I had every reason to think it would come, because I pride myself on being someone who Knows Things.

Hi Ant, it's me. So, I talked to the doctors today and, it's not very good. It's cancer.

When I was a little boy, Mom would read to me at bedtime. My favorite was "The Wizard of Oz." On that night on the side of the road, it was hard not to notice the irony. It was almost as if I was in an Oz all my own, where instead of the world exploding with color, I walked through a door and was left in a world devoid of it, all blacks and whites and grays, left alone in a land without a heart, a brain, or courage.

She had been sick for awhile, and I had been pushing her hard, thinking that she was withholding information from us, to keep us from being scared. I had last seen her at Thanksgiving, but even before that, she had been complaining about head pain, since before the summer. She told us – to note, when I say “us,” I mean my brother, my sister, and me – that the doctors had diagnosed her with a mini-stroke, and that they would continue to monitor her for signs of a worsening condition. The pain eventually spread to her back, worsening to the point where she could no longer work. Scans led to more scans, and bloodwork, and fear, and then waiting. Way, way too much waiting. And then, confirmation.

When Mom told me, I asked her where the cancer was.

The lung.

I asked her how much there was.

I don't know that.

I asked her if it had spread anywhere else.

I'm not sure, they have to do more tests.

I asked her how she was feeling.

What are you gonna do, ya know?

I asked her what course of treatment the doctors had advised her to commence.

Well ... we have to talk about that.

I was calm, in control of the conversation, of my feelings, of my tone, my voice. Not my head. Like a duck paddling on a pond, the surface was calm, and never betrayed the frenzied feet paddling to stay afloat beneath the surface of the water. She told me not to worry, that everything would be okay. I didn't know that, couldn't know that, not in the way I need to Know Things, because it's cancer, and how do you know things about cancer when the only thing we know is that we can't beat it yet?

I told her I loved her, that we would support her in whatever ways she needed, and wanted, and communicated. But me? I wanted her in treatment immediately. I kept that to myself, even when she told me that she had to consider whether or not she would want to receive treatment. My mom has lost a father, a brother, and a sister to cancer. As a two-pack-a-day smoker for better than 40 years, she (I believe) was ashamed of having cancer in her body. She and my stepfather were both very clear, people who don't smoke get lung cancer all the time, and some people who do smoke live perfectly healthy lives; they were clear, this was not a causal relationship.

They drilled this home with me, Anthony, the son who had created an anti-tobacco initiative after having written a grant proposal at 12 years old. Anthony, who had been selected as the only teen on Governor Pataki's "Adolescent Tobacco Use and Prevention Advisory Council" at 16 years old. Anthony, who had been hugged and told by Hillary Clinton "I am so proud of the work you've done in public health" at 19 years old. And the Anthony they feared would just be waiting to say, “I told you so." No, this was a random collection of cells that had found their way into Mom's lung, not the result of smoking, or of an industry that had fed off her youth for profit.

Okay. Then that can be the story. Because the whole framework of our relationship changed in that one phone call. Things were now forever going to be the way Mom wanted, the way Mom remembered, the way Mom needed. “How are you feeling?" became the opening line in every phone call, every text conversation. This wasn't about me, not at all.

My husband and I were, and are, in the middle of the adoption process to start our family. I had never anticipated a world where my Mom wasn't factored into that family equation. My husband said that if I needed to pause the adoption process to focus on Mom, he was 100% on board, that my needs were important. No. We needed a light in a dark room to remind us that there are other places to focus our energy that aren't sad, that don't choke us at night, that don't drive us away from our desk at work to a bathroom to hide tears. And so I continued to write happy articles about adoption, about the prospect of becoming first-time dads, all the while juggling so much inside; writing became a place where I could project the happiest outside, to safeguard a battered, bruised, and unsure inside. Because Mom needed to read cute little stories, with a naughty line here and there for laughs. There needed to be the carrot of a happy ending dangling just out of reach for her, to keep her moving forward, up, away from, and out of.

There was a really tough weekend for her at the end of January, where the pain had gotten so bad that she just laid in bed, moaning and crying, an ice pack wrapped around her head, all the lights off. My stepfather couldn't persuade her to go to the hospital. You have to understand, she had been in and out of the emergency room so many times by the end of January, because of what seemed to be an ever-rising level of pain. She finally consented to going to the hospital, realizing that she couldn’t just outwill the cancer, the pain. She was transported immediately to another hospital. They found that the cancer was not contained to her lung, as per her initial diagnosis. It was in her head, her liver, the base of her spine, her hips, her tailbone.

Stage 4 cancer is defined as cancer growth that has spread from the originating location to distant organs. It is the worst stage of cancer, the last stage. There is no stage 5.

She made the decision to pursue treatment. She completed three days of chemotherapy. She started losing her hair immediately. Her appetite was destroyed. After that first week of chemotherapy, her pain level rose to an unbearable level yet again. She went back to the hospital, and they decided to stop chemotherapy, to switch to radiation, in the hopes that reducing the size of her cancer growths (described by her oncologist as "dime-sized patches") would reduce her pain. We started talking on the phone every night, something we'd not done before the diagnosis. She would describe the smallest acts of kindness in big ways.

Ant, let me tell you, the girl who does my radiation is so sweet. I complained that it smelled like burning when they were doing it to the two spots in my head, so the girl took a swab of gauze and put peppermint oil on it, and then put it under the nose in the mask I have to wear. Now it's like getting a spa treatment. It's okay.

I would listen as best as I could, and I would cry as quietly as I could, and I would counsel as best as I could. But in all the effort to conceal, there was no effort needed to tell her how proud I was. Mom has always been the kind of woman who doesn't get told what to do, by anyone, by anything. She sets the rules, and you follow them. And there is no room for negotiation. Cancer doesn't seem to know that, though, and if it does, it's one disrespectful son of a bitch. To my surprise, she has engaged this fight with more determination and bravery than I knew she had.

But in a way, there are two women here. There's the woman on the phone, who is strong, and fighting, and sounds only slightly different from the woman I've known for 30 years. She is Mom Light, but she is still there, here, with us. And then there's the other woman, a woman I do not know. The woman in the head scarves and what has become an oversized sweater. She's the woman who weighs 84 pounds and cannot use stairs or the bathtub, who needs assistance to stand from the toilet, and uses two hands to push the vacuum. The woman who still vacuums, and the woman who cannot. Two women, inexorably at war, with an outcome that is too certain to be interesting. It is the degradation of spirit, of will, and of ability. And now I know what it looks like. It hides just behind Mom's eyes, taunting us all.

Anthony dancing with his mom at his wedding

But because of this fight, this persistence to beat back an indomitable, invincible foe, it seems somehow impolite to have a conversation that points to a time that could come after. A time where we might be left without. It’s that time, the time when Mom won't be here, that makes me feel small again, the little boy who just wants Mom to read another chapter of "The Wizard of Oz" before the lights go out, to end on a happy note before the darkness comes.

In March, there was a phone call, Mom telling me that she had completed radiation, and would soon resume chemotherapy. But they told her that the road to the end was likely only "months to a year."

I needed help, to be able to process the layers upon layers of this thing that dropped into the laps of the unsuspecting, or at the very least, the unready. Broadway actor Anthony Rapp, from the original cast of “Rent,” has a solo album called “Without You.” The album chronicles his time launching the show with his colleagues, and his mother's own fight with cancer. It is poignant, and heartbreaking, and inspiring. And I never thought I'd need it in the way that I've needed and used it. I reached out to Anthony on Twitter, thanking him for the album; he wrote back and suggested that I might draw some strength from attending a meeting of Friends Indeed, a support group in SoHo for those who were diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses, and for those overwhelmed by caregiving and grief.

We too often stigmatize those who ask for help. I have said for years that asking for help is one of the most difficult things a person can do, a sign of strength, to recognize that sometimes we can't do it alone. I needed to take my own advice, and try to find help in processing and dealing with the grieving process that I had begun. And so after waiting outside the door for 40 minutes, gripped with anxiety, I forced myself to go in. Mom was going through hell, I could walk through a door and listen.

And so I did. I listened. I listened so much, with my ears and with my heart and with my soul. It was hard listening, and my heart was pounding for an hour and a half. I knew that I needed to believe in all of those places, ears and heart and soul, that Mom's bad days weren't worth more than her good days, not really. Because all of those days, the good and the bad, are still Days Here, with me. I can still pick up the phone to call her, and so many people cannot. I don't have the luxury of having as much time as I'd want, but who does, really? Mom has made it to 58 years old, and that is not old. But today, with her, is worth just as much as a day 20 years from now. Both days weigh the same. And to jump to that place in my heart where she has already died, to feel that pain now, is to devalue the time that we have together, it quite literally gives time to cancer that cancer has not earned, and will not take.

To grieve now is to refute not only the incredible work that she is doing, but that my stepfather is doing as a caregiver, having become the man I never would have anticipated. His strength and persistence and sense of humor has helped all of us, not just Mom. He's the man she needs, the father we need, and the example from which we can all learn. So grief can wait.

As a goalie, my goal every game is to be perfect, to allow nothing past me. But to look at the need to be perfect for 60 full minutes is too much, it's incomprehensible, just too big. And so you have to break the game down into just the next two minutes; just be good, for two minutes.

There will be sadness ahead of us, this is true. But there is also sadness behind us. But we don't exist in the future, and we don't exist in the past. That's not where we have to live.

And so today, this day, is a day where I am working bit by bit. I am looking forward to going home to visit Mom. To sing for her on Mother's Day. To hug her, maybe not as tightly as I want, or even need, but to hug her as tightly as we can, today. Because she is here, now. And I will work so hard to bring a baby home for me and for my husband, and yes, for our Moms, because there is a time that will come later and it is unavoidable. But there's only now. There's only here. And as proud as I am of Mom, I know how proud she is of me; I've got to keep earning that. And if my husband and I have a chance to let Grandma read a chapter or two of “The Wizard of Oz,” then that will be wonderful, simply.

But as a long-lost writer so eloquently stated, there is no day but today. I love you, Mama. And I'm right here, fighting alongside you.

Because there's no place like home.


My thanks to the amazing team at Friends Indeed, to colleagues and co-workers, to close friends and family, and to my husband, for the support during the process.

But the biggest thanks are to my mom, for the courage to finally allow me the privilege of telling her story. She hasn't wanted anyone to know that she's sick, she's stayed home and out of the public eye. Living with cancer is intensely private, and profoundly difficult, so I was astounded when Mom finally said, "If you write about me, maybe this can help people get through it, if they hear about it. You have to tell people. Someday you're going to write something that's going to really help people, Ant. Maybe this is it."

Maybe, Mama. Maybe this is it.

Love you, Brave Girl.

Show Comments ()
Change the World

Ricky Martin's Kids Design Shirt to Help Victims of Hurricane Maria

Ricky Martin's latest project is aiming to raise funds for Puerto Rico by selling t-shirts designed by his twins, Matteo and Valentino.

Since Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria last year, Ricky Martin has been at the forefront of relief efforts, traveling frequently to his home island to help rebuild houses, raise money, and increase awareness of the continuing struggle there.

Earlier this month, the gay dad of two announced his most recent effort to support the cause, a campaign called "De mi familia a tu familia" (From my family to your family). The project is aiming to raise funds for Puerto Rico by selling t-shirts designed by his twins, Matteo and Valentino.

On the anniversary of the hurricane, the singer took to twitter, writing: "this is stronger than me. I could not wait another day. A year later, we FOLLOW #Allin4PR. The number of deaths after hurricane Maria was high, but the spirit of my people is UNBREAKABLE."

He continued, writing: "As we continue to strengthen hearts and demand hope, we still need your help. Therefore, from my family to yours, I share with you a symbol of hope, our beautiful flag, painted by my children. All proceeds from the limited edition of this shirt help the Ricky Martin Foundation continue to provide sustenance – not only in the reconstruction of homes in Loíza, but for emotional healing and social transformation."

To support the cause by buying the shirt made by Ricky Martin's kids, follow this link.

Gay Dad Life

Dads, What's the Ickiest Thing You've Had to Do as a Parent?

Our latest "Hey Dads, Gay Dads!" video features fun sentences like, "And then he threw up in my face..." and "he pooped in the back of my car, and I didn't have enough wipes...."

From poop explosions and throw-up, to getting creative with the clean-up, we've experienced our fair share of gross. Watch these gay dads recount some of their "ickiest" moments. What's yours?

Gay Dad Family Stories

They Met at NYE Party in 2012. Now, They're Married and About to Be Dads Via Adoption

Mike and Charlie are thrilled to be on the waiting list to become dads through adoption.

Nestled in the sand on a beach in Maui, newlyweds Mike and Charlie Erwin began to discuss the future, and more importantly, when they were going to grow their family. It was 2016, and the couple were on their honeymoon. They met in 2012 at a New Year's Eve party when Charlie fixed Mike's bow tie. "We were total strangers," said Charlie, "but he was lopsided; it was adorable." But back to the beach. It was on the sandy shore that they decided to be married for two years before beginning their road to fatherhood.

It'll be two years to the day on October 8, and they're already on their way to becoming dads through adoption.

Keep reading... Show less

One Surrogate's Experience Carrying Twins for Gay and HIV+ Intended Parents

Checking the "yes" box to serve as a surrogate in the Special Program for Assisted Reproduction (SPAR) program, she says, was one of the most rewarding decisions she's ever made

Photo credit: Cassandra Photo

In partnership with Circle Surrogacy. Written by a Circle surrogate who carried twins for an international gay couple in the SPAR program.

The word serendipity is such a magical word, and one that's rarely used. But so far, it's the best word I can think of to describe my surrogacy experience, carrying twins for a gay HIV positive couple in the SPAR program.

I came to surrogacy because I have been drawn to help others my whole life. Because of a medical condition, my sister is unable to have her own children. I witnessed first-hand the painful questions young women are asked all too often: "When are you going to have kids?" Hearing my sister reply, "I won't be" helped shape me into who I am today, and my decision to become a surrogate.

I was looking for something exceptional in my surrogacy, but I didn't know exactly what that was. When I applied to be a surrogate, I had never thought of all the different walks of life waiting and hoping for someone to come along and help create a family for them.

Saying "yes" to the Special Program for Assisted Reproduction (SPAR).

During the application process I was asked if I would consider carrying a baby for intended parents in SPAR. I initially checked off the "NO" box; originally, I wasn't interested in working with someone in the SPAR program who was HIV+. Honestly, I did not fully understand what I read about it, and it seemed complicated and frightening. Checking off "No" seemed easier. But I sat there for a moment, trying to open up my mind. I thought to myself, 'What's the harm in checking "Yes" and getting more information?' Becoming a surrogate was going to be the biggest learning experience of my life, and I wanted to be all in! I changed my answer to "Yes," which I now feel was serendipity.

Soon after submitting my application, I received my first intended parent profile almost immediately. I was so excited I could burst! There were names and faces behind all this paperwork—an international gay couple in the SPAR program. Wow!

Their pictures were happy and handsome. At first, I felt a little overwhelmed. For some reason I expected a cookie-cutter heterosexual couple from Iowa or another U.S. state. My husband and I discussed the couple's profile extensively.

I had so much going through my head. What if these intended parents got sick from HIV and were not able to take care of their babies? I wondered what their lives looked like day to day, what medications they were taking, and their overall health. Most of these questions came from my lack of knowledge of HIV, and the advancements that have been made over the past few decades. So I did more research.

My husband and I learned that men in the SPAR program must be actively treating their HIV. My IPs were just as "healthy" as anyone else I could carry for. We also spoke with Dr. Kiessling about the science behind the program, and how it has been made possible that a man can be a bio dad without passing on HIV to the carrier of the baby. Dr. Kiessling explained the process of making all of this possible and safe; she is an expert in her field and has devoted her life to this research and development. With that knowledge, I felt completely comfortable that I was not at risk.

When we Skyped with our intended parents, I never once thought about SPAR or HIV. These two men were intriguing. It came down to the fact that I felt that they should have the same right as anyone else to experience parenthood. Both my husband and I knew they were the right match for us. From then on, I can honestly say joining SPAR became a non-issue for me.

SPAR didn't define the dads, parenthood did.

During my journey, I only shared with my husband and a few close friends of mine that my intended parents were HIV positive. After I first met my intended parents, I really never thought about it. I did not want HIV to define them. I wanted to get to know them as soon-to-be dads. I wanted them to have a surrogacy experience just as anyone else would. This is the most exciting time of their lives and one of the most exciting times of mine! I did not feel like it was my business to share personal information about my IPs to others. No one else goes around introducing people as a medical diagnosis so why should they be treated that way? We just felt joy!

While I never focused on the fact that my IPs were HIV+, I felt more connected to them because they were in the SPAR program. I knew they didn't have the same number of gestational carrier match options that gay men who weren't part of the SPAR program had. It felt even more gratifying for me to be able to be the person who helped make their dreams come true.

Love is love.

I wholeheartedly believe that checking the "Yes" box was a defining moment in my life. I expanded my mind to something so pure and brand new. The concept, however, was one that was very familiar to me: Love is love, and everyone deserves to have their wildest dreams come true. These two men who walked into my life now have two flawless, healthy baby boys and will forever be a family.

I still keep in touch with the dads, and they send me photos and updates of the babies. Even though I carried their babies, I'm the one who is grateful that they came into our lives. I learned so much on my surrogacy journey, and grew as a person, and I have them to thank.


If you'd like more information on Circle's SPAR program, please visit our page on SPAR parenting


Change the World

Jared Polis on Track to Be Nation's First Gay Male (and Gay Dad!) Governor in Colorado

Jared Polis is leading his Republican challenger by comfortable margins according to recent polls

Openly gay Congressman Jared Polis, the Democratic nominee for Governor in Colorado, is currently leading in the polls against his Republican Challenger, Walker Stapleton. Polis shook up the Governor's race last summer in Colorado by throwing his hat into the ring for the Democratic primary. If elected, the dad of two would become the nation's first openly gay male Governor. (Kate Brown, the openly bisexual Governor of Oregon, is the only member of the LGBTQ community to win election to a state's highest Executive office in the country.)

Polis, who was first elected to represent Colorado's Second Congressional District in 2008 and serves as co-chairman of the LGBT Equality Caucus, is no stranger to making history. In 2011, when he and his partner Marlon Reis announced the birth of their son, Caspian Julius, Polis became the first openly gay parent to serve in the United States Congress. The couple welcomed a daughter, named Cora, in 2014.

Despite making history in this way, Polis and his husband have thus far kept private about their family, declining to state publicly whether their children were adopted or born via surrogacy.

Polis, who already beat out a crowded field of fellow Democrats vying for the state's top position, was seen as a strong contended as soon as he entered the race. He has been among the state's more popular Representatives, consistently winning reelection with comfortable margins. Also, thanks to several successful internet ventures prior to his turn as a public servant, he is one of the top 10 wealthiest members of Congress, meaning he's had plenty of cash on hand for his campaign.

Change the World

In a First, Two Male Mice Make Offspring Without Female DNA

Thanks to advances in gene editing and stem cells, scientists in China helped two male mice create offspring together, without any female DNA.

Thanks to advances in gene editing and stem cells, scientists in China helped two male mice create offspring together, without any female DNA. The feat had already been accomplished with two female mice, but this latest advancement marks the first time two male mice have created offspring that were carried to full term.

This marks a major advancement, but it's not time to start lining up at your local fertility clinic just yet, guys: while the mice pups born from two females were healthy, and were even able to conceive their own offspring, those born to two male pups died shortly after their birth.

A recent article in National Geographic helps explain why the feat is more difficult with makes. One of the main barriers is due to a process called "imprinting," during the development of sperm and eggs, when "tags" attach to our chromosomes. In mammals, these tags vary by sex.

"For female mouse pairs, they had to delete three locations to get healthy young," according to the article. "For male mouse pairs, they had to snip seven regions."

For the female pups, snipping just these three regions allowed the pups to grow at a normal rate. Snipping the seven regions in males allows the babies to develop to full term, but it is not enough, yet, to allow the offspring to live much past birth.

An additional barrier: to make an individual, you have to have an egg. "Males don't have eggs," a developmental biologist helpfully points out in the piece.

Read the full article here.

Change the World

Australian Politician Gives Impassioned Defense of Gay Men's Access to Altruistic Surrogacy

A new bill passed by the Western Australian Legislative Assembly aims to make it legal for gay men and couples to use "altruistic" surrogacy to start their families.

This month, the Western Australian Legislative Assembly passed a bill to allow single men and gay couples to access "altruistic surrogacy" to start their families. Previously, only single women, lesbian couples and heterosexual couples were allowed to pursue surrogacy arrangements. (Read more about different types of surrogacy arrangements.)

The legislation passed after a long and at times heated debate, during which John Carey, one of three out gay members of the parliament, made an impassioned defense of gay men's ability to access altruistic surrogacy as a means to start their families.

"I came into politics to believe in the best of people, to appeal to the best our our humanity, to show greater kindness, to understand that despite our differences there is much that brings us together," Carey said at the beginning of the debate, according to Out in Perth, which reported on the proceedings. "This is why I proudly stand here today as a member of parliament, and to support progressive change, to support that humanity in our community.

Carey stressed that children being raised by LGBTQ people, "are loved. They are respected. They are supported in their aspirations and their dreams. They go to school, they visit school, they to to playgroups and they mix with they peers, and they are all raised by same-sex parents, and many of them male couples."

Allowing gay men to access altruistic surrogacy was a substantive win for the local LGBTQ community, which also recently saw gay marriage legalized. But it is also, as Carey noted in his speech, a symbolic one. "Every bit of reform which tackles discrimination, which removes those barriers is critically important," he said. "It's not just for those same-sex couples who want to have a child, but also for all those young generations who will see another part of discrimination dismantled from our legislation."

Read Carey's full defense of the bill, which will next be read and debated in the Legislative Council, here.

Fatherhood, the gay way

Get the latest from Gays With Kids delivered to your inbox!


Follow Gays With Kids

Powered by RebelMouse