In our bedroom, I wept in Steve's arms, thinking about the child inside me. "My poor baby, my poor baby!" I kept repeating. Finally, Steve blurted out, "What about you, Michelle?"
"What about me?" I thought. "What happens if I die? Casey won't remember me; my baby will never be born; my husband will be alone." For an hour or so, horrifying scenarios spooled through my mind like a VCR on fast-forward. Then I decided there was no time for this kind of angst. I looked my husband in the eye and said, "It's time to kick butt."
Emotionally, I began detaching myself from the pregnancy. I couldn't think about never getting the chance to meet the child I started referring to as "it." I wondered whose life I would try harder to save—mine or "its."
Nine days later, I learned I didn't have to make the choice. I discovered that certain types of chemo are less likely to jeopardize a healthy pregnancy. Yes, there are risks—low birth weight, premature delivery, and restricted growth—but all pregnant women face risks.
Meals for Michelle proved a great antidote to the exhaustion of chemotherapy and anxiety about the baby. One day my friend Kelly Welsh brought over homemade soup that reminded me of my grandma's—big chunks of chicken, carrots, celery, and flat noodles. "I should ask everyone for her recipe and put together a cancer cookbook," I told her.
As the words left my mouth, I knew I would never get it done. Some days, just reading my son a storybook required too much effort. Kelly heard the desire in my voice—and the defeat. So she and a small army of friends collected their recipes—everything from zucchini pizza to tart lemon crisps —and published Reporting the Local Meals , a cookbook created in my honor. As the weeks went by, I no longer referred to the baby as "it" but "my little buddy," my companion throughout the intensive cancer treatment. The baby often kicked and moved as nurses pumped chemo into my system. On April 27, he became Robert, named after Steve's father. I held my breath until the doctor said he was 100 percent healthy.
At a neighborhood party on Memorial Day weekend, the cookbook committee presented me with a check for $3,600, all of it earmarked for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, a national organization dedicated to funding blood cancer research and education. I shared some good news of my own. "I had a PET scan yesterday," I told my friends with a huge smile. "I'm cancer-free."
I miss the visits from the culinary crusaders who fed my body and soul, but I'm reminded of them every time I thumb through my cookbook or look at Robert, now a bouncing 18-pound butterball.