In August 2016, Josh and Fabi Powell learned that Josh’s cancer had metastasized and he wouldn't survive until their planned May 2017 wedding date. They faced tough conversations no young couple wants to have. Should they still get married with Josh only having months to live? Where would Josh want his final resting place to be? Josh eventually shared something about their future that gave Fabi a new purpose.
“He was very intentional about having this conversation — that’s when he shared about (wanting) babies and he said, ‘How cool would it be to have a little piece of me live on forever and you would be the best mom,’” Fabi, 35, of Tennessee tells TODAY.com. “He intentionally planted the seed … it was the only time in our relationship that we talked about him possibly not being here."
The couple moved their wedding to November and Josh died in December 2016. Four years later, Fabi started in-vitro fertilization to hopefully conceive her late husband’s baby. She has faced a lot of challenges in her attempt to become a mom, but she’s sharing her experience on social media to help others pursuing IVF feel less alone.
“Most people suffer in silence while going through IVF,” she says. “That’s been so rewarding, having messages from other IVF warriors thanking me for being so transparent with the journey so that other people can really understand what we all go through.”
Girls’ weekend ends with a serious connection
Fabi, who lived in California, was with friends visiting Nashville for a weekend in 2014 when she met Josh at a bar. She says 'witty banter' immediately connected them.
After Fabi returned home, they continued talking with FaceTime conversations. Fabi says it wasn't long into their relationship when she realized she wanted to marry him.
“We just were so aligned in so many ways. We have the same morals, and we were both family oriented,” she says. “He had checked boxes that I had dreamed of finding in my forever person.”
Two months after they met, Josh — a West Point graduate who was still on active duty — received some bad health news.
“He was diagnosed with synovial sarcoma,” Fabi says of Josh's cancer diagnosis. “That took us on a wild and crazy rollercoaster ride.”
Fabi said doctors didn’t stage Josh’s cancer but told them it “was contained, which was a really positive thing.” Synovial sarcoma is a type of cancer that forms in the body’s soft tissues, such as muscles or ligaments, according to National Cancer Institute. Of all the soft tissue tumor diagnoses, it makes up about 5% to 10% of them. Josh underwent chemotherapy, radiation and surgeries to treat the cancer.
Fabi moved to Nashville to support Josh, and while the two navigated the challenges of having cancer, they also had moments of joy.
“What this cancer diagnosis was able to do is bless us with this beautiful full perspective that life is short and to not sweat the small stuff,” she says. “We tried to pack our lives and our days with as much living as we possible could when he did feel well, so that was in between chemo and radiation and surgeries...you name it.”
Josh had surgery to remove a tumor and was in remission when he asked Fabi to marry him in the summer of 2016.
“Unfortunately, shortly after he proposed, we found out that his cancer had metastasized to his lungs,” she says. “There was still hope. After that we still had a couple chemotherapy options to try to slow down the growth.”
Those options didn’t work and by August it became clear that Josh’s time was limited.
Josh had saved some of his sperm before starting cancer treatments, as chemotherapy and radiation can impact fertility. They moved their wedding to November 12, 2016, and everything fell into place — even though Josh was three hours late. He had been in the intensive care unit for much of that week and needed extra time to prepare.
“He was my forever person, the only person that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with,” Fabi says.
Josh died 31 days after the wedding.
“We got on palliative care shortly after our wedding,” Fabi says. “It’s honestly such a blur. Your body just goes into survival mode, and you become very numb.”
Fabi understood that she should avoid making any big choices for the first year after Josh’s death.
“I wanted to give myself time to process my grief and allow life to take its course,” she says.
After some time, she tried dating, thinking that maybe a future partner wouldn’t mind that she wanted to have her late husband’s child or perhaps she’d meet someone who couldn’t have children. But none of those relationships worked out.
“I wanted to give myself a chance at finding love again before jumping into my IVF journey,” she says. “I just never found anybody that I wanted to spend a significant amount of time with let alone be the father of my children.”
The COVID-19 pandemic lockdown refocused her thinking and reminded her how much she valued family.
“I’ve given it more than a fair shot so why am I not just moving forward with IVF to have a baby?” she says.
At the first clinic she went to, Fabi had two egg retrievals and embryo transfers that failed. The embryos undergo a selection process to make sure they don’t carry a gene for cancer, which can be tougher.
“By far, aside from navigating life without my husband, this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my entire life and my heart goes out to anybody who is forced to have to go through this process to try and create their family,” she says. “It’s not only emotionally draining, it’s financially draining ... it’s so physically taxing on your body to go through this.”
Fabi says she takes breaks to allow herself "time to heal.”
“It’s necessary to give your body time and your heart time to heal before you have the energy to get back in and fight for it,” she says. “What gets me through is a lot of prayer and knowing deep down in my heart that this is supposed to happen and the only way that it’s going to is if I keep going.”
Fabi says she has had three eggs retrieved at a new clinic, and one viable embryo is available for transfer when she’s ready.
“Josh laid this dream on my heart and it’s not something that I can just give up,” she says. “I like to live my life where I can look back and have the least amount of regrets I possibly can. I know this baby is supposed to be here and because I feel so strongly about that, that’s what gives me the energy and the courage and the strength to keep fighting.”
This article was originally published on TODAY.com