Heartbreak to miracle: Marysville couple shares journey through cancer battle, infertility

After a long battle, Doug and Courtney Reed were finally able to welcome Brisco into the world. (Right photo credit: Lori Baskin Photography)
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MARYSVILLE, Ohio — Doug and Courtney Reed have had more than their fair share of heartbreak. But the journey has been paved with hope, love and determination.

The high school sweethearts got engaged after about six years of dating. On June 1, 2014, Doug took Courtney and their young filly to a park, where the whole family would be waiting to celebrate the big proposal.

"I can’t imagine finding anyone else as special as he is," Courtney said. "It’d be hard to find someone else like him."

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On September 26, 2015, the two were married. And they were looking forward to a life of wedded bliss.

But their carefree happiness was short-lived. Just months into their marriage, Doug started to have trouble breathing. A trip to the doctor led to the discovery of a large mass in his chest.

"You can kinda compare it to the size of a football, and it was partially in my lung and then partially wrapped around my heart," he said.

The diagnosis was Hodgkin's Lymphoma.

"They almost call it more of a disease than a cancer 'cause it’s so curable — for most people." Doug said. "My situation, as we went through, ended up being a little bit more difficult than most people."

Just about one month after the diagnosis, on April 23, 2016, Doug started chemotherapy. Before that though, Doug and Courtney had decided to bank some of his sperm, just in case he ended up in treatments that would wipe out his fertility.

And it turned out to be a blessing that they did because the first treatment was not effective.

"The next one was a lot more intense, but it also had other side effects that were a lot worse," Doug said. " I mean, some of the medicine I was taking are derivatives of mustard gas."

After Doug's last chemo treatment on Sept. 8, the two celebrated their first anniversary, which they documented with photos showing the clear effects of Doug's treatment — total hair loss.

By November, Doug had finished radiation.

However, just a couple of months later, the cancer was back — in his lymph nodes.

"That was devastating," Doug said. "So basically, you had been told you were cured, and then, two months later you’re told, uh, no, sorry, it’s not done."

The one positive thing is that Doug would then qualify for experimental treatments and trials. He found one that would work to prepare him for a stem cell transplant.

For that, he was admitted to The James on Sept. 21, 2017. While in the hospital, the two celebrated their 2nd wedding anniversary and Doug's 28th birthday.

On Oct. 9, he went home.

But hope was still a bit hard to find.

"To a certain extent, your future was something that made you upset because you didn’t know if you were gonna get there, if you were gonna achieve anything in the future, so your future almost made you upset rather than excited," Doug said.

But, on Dec. 7, Doug got his cancer-free scan. And the two could finally start to look ahead to the next step — children.

But that presented a huge challenge.

Doug had banked four vials of sperm before his initial treatment. But, it turns out, his cancer was already so far advanced at the time that the vials were nearly unusable. In fact, doctors told them that only two were even true possibilities.

So, they decided to take a gamble on in vitro fertilization, or IVF. Doctors harvested 12 eggs from Courtney. Four were fertilized. But, in the end, none of the embryos was viable.

"I didn’t feel like I could complain because what he went through was so hard, so I didn’t feel like this was hard, compared to what he went through, so it really wasn’t hard for me to go through it," Courtney said.

When it came to the next usable vial, the odds seemed even more stacked against them. They said the lab tech working to find usable sperm in Doug's sample found only 13 after three hours of work. But doctors did harvest 13 eggs from Courtney this time as well. That led to five fertilized eggs.

But when all was said and done, only one egg was viable. So, the couple had one chance for a biological child.

The timing was leading up to their third wedding anniversary. So, Courtney booked a professional photographers to take some photos. During the shoot, she revealed the big news — she was pregnant. Doug's tearful reaction is now captured forever in pictures.

"When he turned around, he just bawled," Courtney said. "So, it was kind of like a release of like the whole time, just something finally like — you might feel normal, or we get to have a normal life like everybody else."

The baby was due June 1, four years to the day they got engaged.

About a month before the due date, Courtney was diagnosed with preeclampsia and admitted to the high-risk unit at OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital.

Plus, the baby was suffering from fetal growth retardation, which means the baby was not growing properly — essentially switching from growing mode to survival mode.

So, at around 35 weeks, the two decided to induce. That was on a Monday. But, by Wednesday, Courtney still had not entered active labor, so the decision was made to perform a cesarean section.

Brisco Harper Reed was born on May 1, exactly one month early, weighing 3 lbs. and 11 oz. He was immediately admitted to the NICU.

"That was probably the hardest thing," Courtney said. "As a mom, to not get to hold your baby when — or just like all those moments you expected to be a certain way — and none of that was the case. That was probably the hardest thing on me for the whole two or three years. That was really hard."

Baby Brisco spent two weeks in the NICU. During that time, Doug said he actually got a boost of hope, seeing that other families were facing much more serious circumstances.

"When I saw our son in the NICU — and he was completely fine, happy — he was eating, drinking, he was swallowing the milk all himself, everything. That was when it clicked. It was like, we’re gonna be okay," Doug said.

On May 14, Brisco left the hospital with mom and dad. He weighed just 4 lbs. and 3 oz. and barely fit into his car seat.

But the three finally made it home as a complete family. Courtney booked another photographer to capture those special moments.

"When we got to take those pictures is when I felt like, 'Okay, this is done, like, it’s all done, it’s done,'"she said. "We’re normal again, like, you know, that’s when I felt like that."

The two are now free to start planning a future, even if that simply means knowing they can attend a wedding or book a camping trip.

And they are holding out hope for possibly having future children. Right now, Doug says that there is only a 5 percent to 10 percent chance that he will regain his fertility. And the two vials of sperm they have left are not considered usable under the current standards of science and technology.

But the two have beaten the odds before.



A Marysville couple's battle with cancer and infertility