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Family's past troubles fade in their happy new reality

Jan. 4, 2010

West Allis — At this point, Stephanie and Mike Adrihan have to be hoping for an uneventful 2010.

Consider the events that have marked the past three years, a period in which the West Allis couple first tried to start a family only to be sidetracked by the discovery of cancer in Mike and his treatment, then the renewal of their family ambitions through in vitro fertilization.

The saga has a happy ending - actually, twice as happy as anticipated.

In May, twin girls were born to the Adrihans.

So as 2010 began last week, a family that found itself in the center of major personal events could hope for a year that's a bit more peaceful, or at least as peaceful as having two infants around the house can be.

"You just really see the joy of having to be up with babies at three in the morning," Stephanie said, "because a year prior I was up worrying about my husband."

Finding an unsettling problem

The Adrihans knew they wanted to start a family almost as soon as they married in 2006, but after a year of trying to conceive, they went to see a doctor to find out where the problem lay.

Stephanie thought it was her because of a family history of such problems, but doctors also ran tests on Mike to be sure.

That's when they discovered a mass in his testes that was likely cancerous and would need to be removed. It was part of the reason why doctors could not readily find sperm in Mike.

Suddenly, instead of planning for a family, the Adrihans had to turn their focus away from infertility and toward Mike's cancer.

"We went in because we wanted a baby," Stephanie said. "We walked out with cancer."

A blessing in disguise

Strangely enough, the couple's fertility problems could also be looked at as a blessing. If they had not sought out doctors to find out why they hadn't conceived, the Adrihans would not likely have learned about the cancer until much later, when it worsened.

Thankfully, the Adrihans also learned that type of cancer is highly curable.

"We were able to assure them from the beginning that we were very likely to cure the cancer," said their doctor, Jay Sandlow, urologist at Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin.

In the process, doctors froze some of Mike's sperm to be used later for in vitro fertilization. And that's one of two lessons men of any age can take from the Adrihans' story, Sandlow said.

Even if a man is young or not thinking about having kids, it's a good idea to have sperm frozen in those types of situations, he said.

In addition, any male infertility problem can be a sign of a more serious problem. In Mike's case it was testes cancer, which Sandlow sees six to eight times per year, but it could also be prostate cancer, diabetes or other diseases.

"Cancer patients and their physicians tend to focus on 'Let's cure the cancer,' which obviously is the number one thing," he said. "But often it's at the detriment of that patient's fertility."

In a scientific family way

With cancer gone, the Adrihans could concentrate on the next step toward starting a family: in vitro fertilization, where the egg and sperm are combined in a lab.

Women have about a 50 percent chance of conceiving through this process, depending on their age - the odds decrease as a woman gets older.

In September 2008, after undergoing three shots per day for two weeks and countless hours of wondering and worrying, Stephanie found out she was pregnant.

A few weeks later, the Adrihans discovered they would, in fact, be parents - of two. Just like that, their little house seemed like a little box, Stephanie said, and plans to buy a Toyota Prius were changed to a minivan.

"I almost fell off the chair," Mike said. "It was like rags to riches."

After their two healthy girls, Alizee and Ezri, were born, Stephanie knew she could hardly ever take her family for granted, given what they went through to achieve their hopes.

She has friends in these types of situation and knows other couples will not be as fortunate.

"There's no guarantee it's going to happen," she said. "We were lucky."

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