East Tennessee couple defies the odds in journey to parenthood

Nov. 10, 2016: An East Tennessee husband and wife are refusing to let cancer and infertility hardships keep them from being parents.

Matt and Stephanie Strutner decided to start a family in 2012, and despite several setbacks, the couple refused to let it keep them from becoming parents.

The Strutners have been together for 14 years.

“Earlier in our marriage we wanted to enjoy each other,” Matt Strutner said.

The two have enjoyed many adventures together, including skiing and traveling. However, perhaps none of their previous endeavors together is as exciting as the journey ahead.

“The Strutners have a big learning curve,” Stephanie Strutner said.

The couple will become first-time parents in January.

“It’s a whole new start,” Matt Strutner said. “It’s hard to think of myself in those terms.”

The couple always planned to have children.

“There are baby clothes and little things that are starting to fill our house,” Stephanie Strutner said. “Those conversations became a little more real and then life happens. Our infertility journey started with his first cancer diagnosis.”

RELATED: Couples struggling to become parents find comfort in infertility support group

In 2012, Matt Strutner’s appendix ruptured and doctors discovered appendiceal cancer. Then, at age 31, he endured emergency surgery followed by six months of chemotherapy.

“He went to work and did about as much as he could tethered to a backpack with chemotherapy in it,” Stephanie Strutner said.

After a clear, three-month scan, they began fertility treatments using frozen sperm taken before Matt Strutner’s chemo.

“What we didn’t know was that I was going to come to the table with some fertility issues myself,” Stephanie Strutner said.

It took 11 months to get Stephanie’s body ready for a procedure called Intra-utérine insémination - or IUI.

“It just didn’t go the way that we had hoped it would go,” she said. “At that point, we weren’t sure it was ever going to be a possibility.”

Then, another cancer diagnosis.

“We were handed a deck of cards. Our hand isn’t what we had planned on it to be,” Stephanie Strutner said.  “At the end of the day we just had to decide we are not going to let cancer define our lives.”

The couple continued fertility treatments.

“That gave us hope,” Matt Strutner said.

“The stars aligned one day. And, after three years of negative tests, it was just the most amazing feeling to see those lines on that strip and we were just elated,” Stephanie Strutner said. 

However, it was short-lived. The pregnancy didn’t last.

“From the moment I knew that pregnancy was over, all I could do was just focus on where are we going to go from here,” Stephanie Strutner said.

In Vitro Fertilization was their last chance.

Through research, Stephanie Strutner discovered the Livestrong Foundation.

“A lot of the shots and fertility medications we had to take in preparation for IVF were covered for us through the foundation,” she said.

In early 2016, they began IVF.

“All I could do was pray. The stats weren’t on our side. The odds weren’t in our favor,” Matt Strutner said. “It didn’t look good, but we just kept holding out for that one miracle and we got it!”

Stephanie Strutner almost didn’t believe the news.

“She said, ‘Stephanie, it’s good news, you’re pregnant,’ and the tears just erupted,” she said.

Stephanie wouldn’t let herself think about it for nearly five months out of fear and distraction. Matt’s cancer returned once again. Another 10-hour surgery followed and, this time, complications.

“All the pain specialists at the hospital continue to be amazed by his ability to just endure,” Stephanie Strutner said of her husband. “I just feel blessed to be able to witness his strength and I’m able to draw from that.”

Matt said he feels “great” three months later, and now the couple is ready to meet their bundle of joy.

“We’ve reached the light at the end of the tunnel,” Matt Strutner said.

“We are having a girl. I’m so thrilled,” Stephanie Strutner said. “There are so many things that have been so painful, but when I look back now it has really been a positive journey and we’ve really been blessed along the way.”

(© 2016 WBIR)


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