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Kyle and Ali Drake with Jace, left, and Joslynn. “This will be the first Mother’s Day in three years that I won’t have sad tears,” she said.

JOEL KOYAMA • joel koyama@startribune.com,

Rosenblum: Cancer survivor feels doubly blessed

  • Article by: GAIL ROSENBLUM
  • Star Tribune
  • May 13, 2013 - 8:50 AM

Ali Drake usually spends Mother’s Day fishing on Prior Lake with her husband, Kyle. This year, she’ll stay closer to home for two good reasons.

Joslynn and Jace.

The twins, a girl and a boy, were born March 23 at Abbott Northwestern’s Mother Baby Center. Drake, 29, was once afraid to imagine this happy, albeit sleepless, scenario. Four years ago, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

After surgery to remove her one cancerous ovary, Drake worried that she’d never be able to conceive, even though her remaining ovary was healthy. That’s when her dream was answered.

Drake grew up in Prior Lake and is a graduate of Prior Lake High School, where she played volleyball and softball and ran track. “I used to joke that I was the healthiest person I knew,” she said. “I said I would never get cancer.”

She earned a double major in microbiology and genetics at the University of Minnesota and, when not on maternity leave, works in an organ donation lab.

She and Kyle, 30, a project manager for a construction company, married in 2008 and were eager to start a family. After more than a year of trying, Drake began to worry. She wondered if the “uncomfortable pressure” she felt on her bladder in the mornings was related.

In November of 2009, doctors discovered the cancerous tumor on her ovary, which they removed right after New Year’s. Drake did not need chemotherapy or radiation.

“The blessing is that everything happened really fast,” she said. Three months after her surgery, the former marathoner was back to running shorter distances. That summer, she pushed herself to run a half marathon. “My victory run,” she said.

Profoundly grateful to be alive, she dared again to wonder about that long-desired family. Doctors told her there was nothing stopping her from getting pregnant.

But when she finally did, the pregnancy was ectopic, which caused scarring on her remaining ovary. This made conceiving naturally less likely. Drake was “devastated.” Kyle, she said, “was a rock. He dealt with this spiritually.”

When doctors suggested in-vitro fertilization (IVF), Drake balked. “If God wanted us to have babies, I wouldn’t need IVF,” she thought. “Through a long process of praying, I understood that it was my stubbornness that was keeping me from getting pregnant. I really wanted babies, and I would do anything that would help toward that goal.”

In 2011, Drake applied for a Minnesota Ovarian Cancer Association (www.mnovarian.org) “Dream Award.” The awards began in 2008 and have granted women with ovarian cancer a range of experiences. One woman used her award to take her family to Disneyland. Another built a four-season porch, which she dubbed her “cancer-free room.”

Another used the money toward adopting a little girl. One bought a laptop and video recorder to make movie memories for her children after she was gone.

Funding for the Dream Awards comes from a single donor “who really understands the capriciousness of ovarian cancer,” said MOCA Executive Director Kathleen Gavin.

The donor also understands “that cancer is a really expensive disease.” Recipients can request up to $5,000. Since 2008, MOCA has given out 43 awards totaling $140,000.

The awards are not based on financial need, Gavin said. Even women who are comfortable financially tend to ignore their own dreams “and will more likely use their money for a kids’ college fund than to take a trip to Italy for themselves. The donor wanted to give women the opportunity to do some of those things they may have been putting off.”

Drake used her $4,000 award toward IVF, which can cost four to five times that amount. The gift, she said, “helped make it possible.” Eight months and four IVF rounds later, the Drakes returned from an August 2012 camping trip during which Ali felt “really crappy.” She took a pregnancy test, even though, she said with a laugh, “they always tell you not to do that.”

She loved being pregnant, for more than the obvious reason. “I had no cravings, I was not moody,” she said. “At least, my husband says I wasn’t moody.”

The twins were born by Caesarean section at just under 35 weeks, with no complications. Joslynn Taylor weighed in at 4 pounds, 13 ounces; her brother, Jace Thomas, at 5 pounds, 9 ounces. After a week and a half in the hospital for observation, they went home.

Now seven weeks old, they’re sleeping four hours at a stretch, which is more sleep than Mom is getting.

“I don’t mind the lack of sleep,” she said, cradling Jace in her arms in the living room of her Prior Lake home. A stack of “Little Bitty Baby” thank-you notes sits on her table. Drake has crossed out “Baby” and written “Babies.”

On Mother’s Day, they’ll attend church, then have brunch with Kyle’s family, followed by dinner with her family. Everyone lives within a mile or two, which is helpful, though Drake jokes, “we may have to change the code on our door.”

She checks in with her doctor every six months. A singer since childhood, Drake sings at MOCA events, including its Silent No More walks. This summer, she will sing at the group’s gala, most likely something with the theme, “hope.”

“This will be the first Mother’s Day in three years that I won’t have sad tears,” Drake said. “I’ll have happy tears. It’s just going to be a fun day.”

 

gail.rosenblum@startribune.com

612-673-7350

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