I chose to be a single mom at 36 and had 3 kids. When I got cancer, I worried about what would happen if I died.

  • I wanted kids, and decided to have them on my own via an anonymous sperm donor.

  • I wasn't worried about being a single mother until I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

  • My friends helped me through it and said they'd take care of them. Thankfully, I'm now cancer-free.

I wanted children more than anything. I wanted a partner too, and I dated a fair amount, but "the one" I'd envisioned was not showing up. I wanted a spark. And that wasn't happening.

During every first date, I went through my checklist for a potential father for my children: a job, a sense of humor, and a timeline for marriage and babies similar to mine. Date after date, my fertility was decreasing, and I started to feel desperate. Finally, after months on Match.com, I decided I could wait for a man, but I couldn't wait much longer for a family. So I used donor sperm from a sperm bank.

Three successful pregnancies later, I had my brood. A man I'd dated and have remained friends with told me what I was doing wasn't fair to the children. "You're depriving them of a father," he said.

"For now," I replied, sure a great man would come along. It wasn't until my children were 9, 12, and 14 that I understood the depth of his words.

A cancer diagnosis made me start thinking about the future

The summer after I turned 51, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I went through chemo and lost my hair. I relied on my friends to take care of me and my children, something their father, had they had one, would have done. My friends shuttled me to doctor appointments and chemo. They took notes for me so I would remember the details of my treatment. They dropped off food for my family. They drove my children to and from school.

As I lay holed up in bed, nauseated and exhausted, I started to feel like having kids without a partner wasn't fair. I'd heard the five-year survival rate for stage 3 ovarian cancer wasn't all that great. (According to the Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance (OCRA), I had a 41% chance of pulling it off.) If I died, my kids would be parentless.

A few rounds of chemo in, my friend Kerrie asked about my plans for the future in case of the worst. "Have you thought about what happens to the kids?"

I didn't want to think about this, of course. Dying was not on my agenda. Still, it was time to consider the possibility and the potential fallout.

My dad lived nearby, but he was in his 80s and not capable of jumping in full-time. My mom lived in North Carolina, and she had just been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). I couldn't burden her husband with my children, too. A few of my friends volunteered to take them, which blew me away then and blows me away now. Who in their right mind offers to adopt someone's three little kids? My youngest has such bad behavioral problems that I sometimes didn't even want him.

My friends showed up for me, and I learned to accept help

I've always been independent, so accepting help from friends was not easy. I thought I'd be a burden, too needy, someone they'd want to avoid. The funny thing is that instead of pulling away from me, my friends signed up to spend hours sitting with me while I was attached to a chemo drip. They put away their phones and looked me in the eyes. We caught up on our careers, our children, and our personal lives.

Some of these friends live blocks away, and yet I hadn't spent quality face-to-face time with them since before we had kids. We'd texted and run into each other at parties, but taking time out in the middle of the day to talk had never happened. I went to high school with most of these women, so we've been through the biggies: loss, divorce, political opposition. And we love each other anyway. Like family, these friends showed up. Maybe they showed up because I didn't have a partner, but whatever the reason, I was grateful.

I'm now cancer-free

I went through 16 rounds of chemo. It was brutal, but three months after chemo ended, I had a clean PET scan. My friends came for dinner, and we celebrated.

It's been four and a half years since my diagnosis, and although we don't see each other regularly, my friends and I get together to play cards, do yoga, celebrate a milestone birthday, or attend a child's wedding. We take trips when we can or send pictures of new grandbabies. They may not be on my mind every day, but I know they're there.

I'm still clean and healthy and back to shuttling my kids from school to the doctor to the dentist. I attend their school events and cook dinner most nights. I play pickleball and take walks. I'm doing the best I can to stay alive, so I can enjoy my life and my children. I also realize I might do everything right and still wake up dead.

My oldest turns 19 this year, and I have four more years until my youngest is 18. At that point, he won't need to be adopted, but he'll still need to be loved, supported, and guided. I never thought I'd be single this long. I wanted to give my children a dad, a man who loves them as much as I do, but that hasn't happened. If you ask my kids — and I have — they are doing just fine without a father. They have their grandpa, their grandma's husband, their friends' dads, and they also have my friends, who love them as much as they love me.

There are a zillion platitudes about how quickly life can change and how fleeting time is, how we need to appreciate every second. I'd like to live long enough to meet my kids' babies. If my life ends before then, I won't be satisfied, but I'll die knowing my kids will have what they need in my friends, and I'm glad I can give them that.

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