Amy Weber - Savvy Survivor
A Cervical Cancer survivor, Amy Weber shares her journey of leaving her hometown to pursue her dreams in the entertain- ment industry, battling cancer twice and experiencing infertil- ity challenges. Through dedication and persistence, Amy was able to become a mom of energetic twins.
Share a little background about yourself.
I had a Midwestern upbringing on a small farm in Illinois. I had chores and many things I had to do on a daily basis, which I thought was unfair at the time. But the good thing about that now is that it instilled a really tough work ethic in me.
I had an abusive childhood, which caused me to become a people pleaser. I didn’t want to make any mistakes and I just wanted to make everyone happy. As a child, I used to race motorcycles, which was really born out of trying to make my father happy. It was really not a passion that I had. I just didn’t want to make my father angry.
When I was young, I was always per- forming for our neighborhood or doing fine arts contests. There was something inside of me that really wanted to tell stories and perform.
What was your journey that led you to the entertainment industry?
When I was 22 years old, I made a big move to Los Angeles, CA on my own to pursue an entertainment industry career. I had no support from my family. I remember my mother saying to me that I wasn’t good enough and that I was going to fail. If I returned home, they would not be there for me.
But I really knew at around 20 years old or so that this was something I wanted to do and I was smart enough to know that I wasn’t going to move to a big city without some sort of savings. So, I took on 3 jobs and saved as much money as I could.
At that time, I felt that I really didn’t have much to lose. I didn’t have much of a supportive family. So, I figured if my move didn’t work out, I wasn’t going to be worse off than I was at that time. Pursuing my dream was in my heart and I wanted it so badly that it gave me this strong drive inside of me. It surpassed the fear of not knowing anyone or not knowing where I was going to live when I left.
After moving to L.A., I did a lot of research, reading and phone calls. Within the first few weeks, I ended up getting an agency that started sending me out to theatrical and commercial jobs. I was also able to quickly get my SAG (Screen Actors Guild) card. I then met a photographer on a commercial audition and ended up doing a photo shoot with him. He sent my pictures to this really big modeling agency that took me on for a lot of print modeling work, which is how I was able to afford to pay my rent and bills if acting jobs weren’t coming in.
I love acting because you see these words on paper that you can bring to life, tell the story and share a great mes- sage within the story. I believe entertainment should be about an escape for people who are watching. It’s supposed to connect and move people.
When you moved to Los Angeles, how did you find out you had cancer?
Prior to moving to Los Angeles, I knew that I was at risk, because my mom told me that she was pretty sure she was given this drug called DES (diethylstil- bestrol) when she was pregnant with me. (According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, DES was used clinically to prevent certain complications of pregnancy, but was later found to be associated with many reproductive problems and an increased risk of certain cancers and pre-cancerous conditions for women exposed to the drug while in the womb.)
I already started to show signs when I was getting checked. I was having these really weird menstrual cycles, which were never regular. They were keeping an eye on me, because I was always having these irregular cells and things were always changing.
When I moved to L.A., I found a new OBGYN who didn’t just want to keep on eye on it. She really wanted to go in there and see what was going on. After she did a couple of procedures, she found Cervical Cancer and I was scheduled for emergency surgery.
I had only been in L.A. for 5-6 months and was gaining momentum in my career, but suddenly this put the brakes on everything. It was difficult for me, because I was going through this alone. I really tried to involve my family at that point, but that turned out to be a mistake. I ended up having to take care of them instead of taking care of me.
It was tough going through all that, but I have to tell you that now I don’t take anything for granted. Nowadays, I always tell people what I think and how I’m feeling, because I never know if I will ever have the chance to do that.
How were you able to go through all that without a good support system?
I had a strong will. In L.A., I was loving my life and what I was doing. I was really happy and my heart was fulfilled with this fire inside of me that was burning so brightly. I think when you pursue what you love, everything just feels right.
However, there were days when I was going through chemo and I wanted to utter the words, “I want to die,” because I was feeling extremely sick and losing my hair. But I didn’t ever want to say it out loud, because that could potentially happen. I didn’t want to manifest that. So, I just got through it.
Each day became a little easier and better; the days turned into weeks. Then pretty soon I was through the other side.
My experience with cancer changed me. When you wake up and parts of your eyelashes are lying on your pillow, it puts a whole new spin on what is beautiful. I’ve realized that it doesn’t matter how beautiful you are on the outside. If you are a negative person, have a bad attitude or are not kind to other people, it’s so hard to see that outward beauty. Especially for women, we’re going to evolve and change, but the core of you as a person, your values, your empathy for others is what makes a beautiful heart, which always make you beautiful no matter how old you are. You can look into someone’s eyes and you can see that kind of beauty always shining.
In 2002, the cancer returned. Luckily, it hadn’t reached the margins and it wasn’t spreading. The doctors were able to surgically remove it and I didn’t need additional treatment.
I am cancer free now.
What top advice would you share with those preparing for or currently undergoing treatment for cancer?
Allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling. You have every right to feel anger, hatred or whatever that is. Don’t deny yourself those feelings. I always say to keep a journal or to write things down so that you’re not taking it out on other people.
As much as you need to care for yourself, try to be aware that people around you have never been through it. They weren’t given a manual either. They don’t know what to say or what to do. Especially before your treatment starts, do your best to think about what you would say to someone or what you would want them to say to you for comfort, because sometimes you’re out of your mind when you’re in the middle of it.
When I’m sick, I’m a different kind of person. I like to be alone. I don’t want someone holding my hair when I’m throwing up. I want to be lying on the bathroom floor, alone. I like to be cold and I don’t want a blanket on me. So, you need to figure out what is going to be best for you and communicate that to people around you, because they’re not mind readers.
Also, I did a lot of visualizations. I felt that was really powerful for me. Every night I would visualize that my cancer was an apple and I would visualize myself biting away that apple and getting rid of it.
Now that your reproductive system was affected, what was your process of becoming pregnant?
I was told when I had cancer that I couldn’t have kids. My husband, David wanted to be a father more than any- thing in the world. So, when we started dating, I told him that he needed to go find somebody else who can give him kids. I loved him enough to let him go. He told me that he loved me and that we would find another way, because was willing to do whatever it took.
Even before we were married, we were researching different ways for me to get pregnant, like acupuncture, taking Clomid, a medication that helps you drop down more than one egg for each cycle, increasing the chances of getting pregnant.
During our wedding, which was being filmed for a show called, Platinum Weddings on the WE channel, I was doing injections, because were trying to retrieve eggs. No one knew that we were doing this. We weren’t ready to share with everyone what we were going through, because we didn’t know if it was going to work and we didn’t want people getting excited and then disappointed.
It was tough, because I had to figure out a way to go upstairs and inject myself with the three injections without anyone being suspicious about anything. So, I decided to change dresses between the ceremony and the reception, which gave me the privacy and some time to do what I needed to do.
After the ceremony, I only had 30 min- utes before the reception, which means I didn’t have time to ice the injection area. Since these injections are intramuscular, the long needle needed to enter the muscle and it was extremely painful. After I did the injections, I had to quickly return to the wedding. When David saw me, it showed on his face that he knew what I had just gone through. We had to do our first dance while I was in so much pain.
When we went through our first cycle, they retrieved 3 or 4 eggs, but none of them fertilized. Unfortunately, when you go through chemotherapy, it kills every- thing. So, it killed a lot of my eggs.
We decided to try again and they were able to retrieve 6 eggs, four of which fertilized. So, we decided to put two in and freeze two. We were so excit- ed, because we were finally pregnant!
Every two weeks, we went to the doctor to see the heartbeats and we started to think of names. But when we went for our 10-week visit, the doctor started the ultra- sound and it remained quiet. She didn’t say anything, but kept on moving around and looking at the ultrasound. At that point, we just all knew. The doctor couldn’t find any heartbeats. So, on my birthday, I had to have a D&C, because they were too far along to pass them on my own.
It was devastating for me. We saw the heartbeats and I felt my body chang- ing and then they’re just gone. One of the toughest things is when they did an autopsy to find out what happened and they found nothing wrong. As a woman, I felt like I failed, my body failed me and that I’m not a woman, because if I was a woman and if I was whole and normal, this wouldn’t be happening. I just really got down on myself and I felt I couldn’t ever do this again.
After a while, we decided to go to a new doctor to try something different. He suggested that I see a Reproductive Immunologist to see what was going on with my body. After they took 16 vials of blood from me and 6 from my husband, they determined that I was producing blood clots and that my body was some- how not producing a protective barrier for the fetuses because my blood was so similar to my husband’s blood and my body was so amped up on “attack mode” from having cancer and going through chemotherapy. My body was attacking the fetuses as if they were cancer.
I was put on blood thinners to prevent any blood clots. They changed my medicine to help me produce the eggs and put me on human growth hormone to try to reverse any damage. The doctor didn’t feel like the eggs were bad, but the liquid they were sitting in was toxic and degenerated the eggs.
In addition, I did a very controversial thing called IVIG therapy, where you take 10-20 thousand of other people’s white blood cells, they clean it and do a transfusion into my body to trick my body into thinking it’s not my body. So, this nurse would come and it would take 6 hours to infuse this bottle of IVIG and it felt like liquid hell going into my veins. The nurse would have an epipen ready in case I would go into cardiac arrest from the procedure.
As a result, I ended up with 4 eggs, 2 of which were awesome and I still had those 2 that were frozen. Because I switched doctors, I had to go get my frozen eggs from the other infertility clinic, which was about an hour drive. I got this giant canister that contained my frozen “kids” into my car and drove like a crazy person to make sure they didn’t thaw before we got to my doctor’s office. It was crazy!
They were able to put in all 4 eggs in me and that is how Madison and Levi were born.
Throughout this pregnancy, I was always on edge, but my husband always had the faith. He said to me, “Look, they said you could not get pregnant, but not only did you get pregnant, you carried.” It wasn’t a perfect pregnancy. I ended up having a blood clot at one point. So, we thought I had miscarried again. Then at 23 weeks, I had to have an emergency Cerclage, because my cervix was incom- petent from being operated on so much.
But at the end of each day, the babies were growing and doing fine. At 27 weeks, I was taken off bed rest and put on modified bed rest. So, I decided to go out to Target to get more movies and that is where my water broke.
I quickly drove to the hospital; valet parked my car and ran to labor and delivery. I thought for sure that I would deliver, but they checked me into the high-risk department. They kept me pregnant as long as they could, because everyday the babies stayed inside me was a better chance they would survive.
After 3 more weeks, I felt something was wrong and I asked them to call the doctor. They checked and couldn’t find my daughter’s heartbeat. So, I had an emergency C-section. When my daughter came out, she was 2.5 pounds and wouldn’t cry. They had a hard time intubating her and they had to restart her heart. On the other hand, my son was in his little water sac and had no idea what was happening. He was 3 pounds and cried when he came out. They were both in the NICU for about 2 months until they were ready to come home.
Today, the twins are 4 years old and amazing. The doctors thought my daughter was going to have Cerebral Palsy and they both had holes in their hearts. But now my daughter is so fast when she runs and she’s just like mom. She’ll make up a song from just about anything and she’ll say, “Does anyone want to come to my show?!” She’s hilarious, precocious and she loves horses.
My son is just all boy. In the beginning, I thought he had OCD, because he didn’t like food touching each other on his plate. He didn’t like to be dirty and he loved to clean. But now he doesn’t care anymore. He loves tractors, monster trucks, playing in the dirt and anything with a motor. They had their own reality show on E! called, Baby Models that didn’t get picked up. You would never know that there was anything wrong with these kids. It’s just a miracle.
What are you up to now in your career these days?
Of course my kids come first, but I’m all over the map. In the last 4 years, I have been away from them for only 3 nights. I had to do Fox News in New York and I sang at Sundance this year. My singing career has been doing really well lately. I’ve charted twice on the Billboard with two of my different singles. So, I’ve been performing a lot.
I produced a feature film called, Crossroad. It’s an edgy, faith-based movie. They’re calling it the crash of Christian movies. I played Rita, the younger waitress in the diner. I love these types of movies. Just because someone’s spiritual or a Christian, doesn’t mean things are perfect. I like that we can have a movie that deals with infidelity and death, because this is what some people go through whether they’re a Christian or Buddhist or what- ever religion. It doesn’t matter. We are all dealing with the same issues. I love the story of redemption and forgiveness, which applies to everyone no matter what religion they practice.
What does balance mean to you?
Balance to me is doing your best to give what you have to every aspect of your life. For me, my kids will get my 200% each day. As a mom, I may go out and go to the recording studio while they’re in school. When I’m at home with them, I’m on the floor or outside playing with them without my phone or my laptop.
Sometimes, you just need to shift things a little bit to make things work with what you have. One day I may get to make my ribs where I cook them on the barbeque for four hours, but then the next day we may just have tuna sandwiches because of our schedules.
I think it’s important to know that things may shift each day. Everything is not going to be perfect and get equal attention everyday. Each day is not going to be the same, but you need to make sure that your priorities stay the same. Even though I think my kids are perfect, life isn’t going to be perfect, because there are a lot of variables I can’t control. It’s what I make out of each day. That’s balance to me.
What do you do to live a balanced life?
For me, getting some sort of work out or some type of physical activity makes me happy. I like to start my day with that if I can. I don’t necessary like going out and getting manicures and pedicures.
Actually, what makes me happy is when I can do something myself. For example, today I’m going to do my own manicure and wash our cars. I like cleaning my house myself, go grocery shopping, cooking a really good meal and folding the laundry. These are the things that relax me and make me feel independent and strong.
Coming from the life I had as a child, it makes me happy knowing that I’m able to tell my kids that I love them, hug them, and tell them that I’m proud of them everyday. They can do anything they want in this world and I will always be there for them.