Man plans, God laughs. — Yiddish proverb
He sat at the kitchen table of his west Miami-Dade County home, flipping through a binder thick with medical records from the past three years of cancer treatments. “You hear people say, ‘It could never happen to me,'” said Chad, 31. “Well, it happened to me.” On the best of days, being a father can be a challenge. Do you give your kids a pat on the back or a kick in the behind? Will you have to work at all hours to provide a good home, or will you have time for ballgames and dance recitals? Chad has been eager to face these questions and more. Bring ’em on.
“Yes, of course,” he said in late May. “That was always the plan. But if the plan fails, you just make a new one.”
He met Elizabeth in a San Diego bar in March 2003. Chad had just started with the Coast Guard and was celebrating a three-ton cocaine bust. Elizabeth, from Oregon, was in town just 24 hours to see friends. But they kept talking and talking that night. Next thing you know, Chad was stationed in Oahu, Hawaii, and Elizabeth moved there for a nursing job. A few months later, Chad paddled her out into the ocean on a surfboard, knelt on one knee and pulled out a ring. “Yes, I was worried I’d drop it,” he said.
He transferred to South Florida in October 2005, and they bought a four-bedroom house in Cutler Bay, with a roomy yard. The Coast Guard promoted Chad to captain of a 110-foot cutter with a crew of 17.
But in May 2007, their lives veered off course. Chad felt a stabbing pain down there, and the X-ray was so obvious that the lab tech blurted out the bad news: double testicular cancer.
Starting a family suddenly wasn’t the main topic anymore. Staying alive was. He was 28, and other than the cancer, a healthy former college swimmer. No one saw him cry, but the day he was diagnosed he pulled over to the side of the road and let it out. “We go from ‘life is good’ to ‘we’re drowning,'” Chad said.
During a health crisis, people quickly become experts. Elizabeth e-mailed 20 doctors — any name on any Internet study about Chad’s form of cancer — searching for the best one. Many e-mailed back. “I may be the captain out on the water, but in this house, she’s the navigator,” Chad said. The cancer took three surgeries. His testosterone supply now comes from a patch, which he’ll need to apply daily the rest of his life. Their day-to-day life includes medical jargon like beta HCG, tumor markers and alpha fetoprotein. “Like learning a foreign language,” Elizabeth said.
Fortunately, Chad wasn’t the only planner in the world. One doctor saw into the future and directed Chad to save sperm samples. They froze 12 vials at ReproTech in Fort Lauderdale, and about a year after his recovery, the Bricks started to think about what to do with them.
When it came to fertility doctors, Elizabeth chose one in Boca Raton, a 150-mile round trip from Cutler Bay. Nothing. After a poor reaction to medication, doctors had to pump three liters of fluid (about 6 pounds) out of her abdomen. Chad and Elizabeth gulped and reached into their pockets. Insurance companies don’t cover in-vitro procedures. But there’s no price tag on this.
By this point, Elizabeth had her own growing medical binder. They tried again in February 2009 and succeeded. Elizabeth was pregnant with twins. They told everyone. “She was lying right there in the doctor’s office, and we both teared up,” Chad said. “We had no reason not to believe it wasn’t going to happen.” But she was pregnant for only a trimester. Miscarriage.
Chad got the bad news at a pay phone in Gitmo. He was “underway,” as they say in naval talk. “Nothing I could do to help,” he said. Making matters worse, her ovaries were over stimulated, an affliction that happens in less than 5 percent of in-vitro attempts. One more hurdle.
By now, the emotional part was as hard as the physical. Acquaintance after acquaintance, all wellmeaning, asked if she was OK so often that it was like a double-whammy: feeling bad and trying to shield everyone else from feeling bad.
Another try, at a center closer to home, also was unsuccessful. “We felt we were just a case file, and the doctor was talking over us,” Chad said. “So it was obvious we needed to change our protocol.
“If the plan fails, make a new one.”
Elizabeth went back to researching and found the Fertility and IVF Center of Miami. The 12 vials were down to eight. Their bank accounts took a nosedive, too. But when given the option of paying $20,000 for a year’s worth of tries or $15,000 for just one, they forked over the extra $5K. “My whole paycheck would go toward the IVF,” said Chad, who estimated they spent $60,000 overall. “But we’d pay double that if it came to it.”
In the fall — Elizabeth’s binder says Oct. 11 — came a positive pregnancy test. Turn the page, and you see sonogram images, dated Oct. 26, showing two small sacs. “But we’d been through so much, we didn’t celebrate,” Chad said. “It was like, ‘OK, that’s one step. Just one step …”
Elizabeth spent the first four months of pregnancy sleeping downstairs on the couch. Doctors said walking upstairs caused stress. Chad was home about half the time. Before leaving, he would stock up a cooler downstairs with bottles of water and chocolate pudding and remind her to sleep with her legs elevated. “Everything that had a positive to it, we tried it,” Chad said. “By this point, it had taken over our lives. It had to.” Elizabeth added.
Finally in April, when the ultrasound showed two children at more than 6 pounds, Chad got to planning. He hit Craigslist and bought cribs, baby monitors, toys. Forget superstition. Chad then took on the yard. He resodded with Zoysia grass, the stuff so soft you could hit a 5-iron off it. He also planted lemon, mango, lime, avocado and coconut trees. “Nesting,” Elizabeth called it.
“I just got so excited”
Because one baby was breach and the other was on his side, Elizabeth would have to deliver via caesarean section.
Swimmers live by the clock, so Chad can easily recite the timeline of May 29. They pulled into the hospital at 7:42 a.m., later than planned but before their 8 a.m. appointment. By 10 a.m., Elizabeth was in the delivery room, surrounded by doctors and nurses. The obstetrician arrived at 10:24 a.m.
A blue sheet shielded Chad’s view, but when he saw Elizabeth contort her face, “I just got so excited.” He leapt off his stool and peered over. He snapped off 80 photos in the next 15 minutes. Then he put down the camera.
At 10:42 a.m., out popped Alison June Brick, named for his mom and grandma. Five pounds, 9 ounces. Chad cut the cord. Nurses tried to take the scissors back, but he wouldn’t give them up. A minute later: Michael Makai Brick, at 6 pounds, 1 ounce, came out. He’s named for Elizabeth’s dad and a Hawaiian word for “toward the ocean.”
“It all happened just so fast,” Chad said. “Before I knew it I had two crying babies.” These days, Chad’s cancer is gone. His house is full of gift baskets, balloons — and happy milestones: first baths, first feedings. The couple smile as they pass the babies back and forth to each other. If you don’t think we live in an age of medical wonder, Chad Brick and his wife will convince you otherwise. Just have them pull out those three-ring binders and tell their story. Chad still marvels at the foresight of cancer doctors who think of freezing sperm. Chad took off on his ship Friday, but there’ll be a detour today, back into port. The captain gets to plan the schedule.
“I would not miss Father’s Day,” he said. “No way.”