The dining room in the Tauer home in St. Paul has become a makeshift living room. A major renovation is underway, symbolic of sweeping life changes coming fast at the family.
Johnny Tauer, men's basketball coach at St. Thomas, has a semi-new job with the school making a quantum leap from Division III to D-I this fall. With a higher profile comes much tougher competition.
The oldest of his three sons is graduating and heading off to college in the fall.
Tauer's wife, Chancey Anderson Tauer, is busy growing a charter school that she co-founded. They married last June and Chancey is now almost fully recovered from breast cancer, her second bout of cancer in two years.
Life is hectic and about to become even more so thanks to a phone call in a moment of sorrow that in the end felt like light illuminating darkness.
What was supposed to be a conversation with a best friend about breast cancer took an unexpected turn that left Chancey feeling as if she were in a fog. A beautiful, amazing fog.
She had been diagnosed a few weeks earlier and had texted her best friend since high school, Lauren Colburn, when she received the news, but this was their first phone conversation about it. Colburn still lives in Seattle, their hometown.
Chancey told her friend that the hardest part would be not being able to give birth. She joked that she would have a billion babies if she could. She always dreamed of carrying a baby and having a large family.
She had everything mapped out to get pregnant for the first time in the fall. Per doctor's orders, she needed to wait two years to try pregnancy after being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2018.
She recovered from that ordeal. Now this. Breast cancer in April 2020. The start of a global pandemic.
She cried into the phone with Colburn as she tried to process it all. The two were in Brownies together as kids and became besties in high school. They lean on each other for support as adults.
Colburn waited for a pause in the conversation, then spoke words that sounded too remarkable to be true.
She would carry a baby for Chancey and Johnny.
"I still get emotional about it," Chancey said last week.
Tears welled up in her eyes as she shared the story.
On a computer screen 1,600 miles away, her best friend was listening and smiling. She is happily pregnant.
Colburn is serving as the Tauers' gestational carrier, a surrogate mother who had Chancey's embryo implanted into her uterus. The procedure took place in early October and her due date is June 23.
They are having a girl.
Colburn is a 39-year-old vice president at a Seattle health care startup. She is married with two children, ages 7 and 4. She came up with the idea to carry the baby the day Chancey texted her about her breast cancer diagnosis. Her husband, Greg, loved the idea, too.
"It just feels like such a fun gesture to be able to provide to someone you care so much about," Colburn said.
The joy that overcame Chancey was almost indescribable.
"I no longer felt sad," she said. "I just felt so grateful."
Gift of a lifetime
Tauer met his future wife in 2013 when a mutual friend set them up. Neither one was crazy about the idea. Tauer was in the middle of his basketball season. Chancey, now 39 years old, was starting a charter school, Prodeo Academy in Columbia Heights.
Back then, she went door-to-door in Minneapolis neighborhoods recruiting parents with pre-kindergartners for her new school. She had an idea: Ask St. Thomas' basketball players to help her.
Tauer went along to learn more, albeit reluctantly. He was blown away by Chancey's zest for life, how she will fly to Italy on a whim or open a school. The coach jokes that he wanted to recruit her.
Tauer led St. Thomas to the Division III national title in 2016 and twice has earned national coach of the year recognition. Chancey's school opened in 2013 with 60 kindergartners and has seen enrollment soar since then, currently at 800 students on two campuses.
The couple take delight in each other's success. They have confronted life's challenges hand in hand.
In 2018, Chancey went to the doctor to have a bulging vein in her neck examined. The hospital visit lasted three days. She gleaned from conversations that cancer was a likely diagnosis. On the advice of a friend, she quickly made an appointment at a fertility clinic to have her eggs collected.
She delayed chemotherapy for four days to accommodate the egg retrieval process. She had to be rushed to the ER to begin chemo when her body felt like it was shutting down. Her eggs were stored and then fertilized with Tauer's sperm.
Chancey underwent six rounds of chemo. Inpatient treatment spanned 120 consecutive hours. She would wake up and spend the next 12 hours on her laptop doing work, and her doctor questioned whether that was a good idea. She kept on working.
A scan in March 2020 came back clean, and doctors gave her clearance to try to get pregnant in the fall. Then a routine mammogram the following month detected breast cancer. Her oncologist suggested she consider a surrogate if she wanted to have a baby.
"The most devastating part was … OK, I've been through cancer treatment before, I kind of know the drill," Chancey said. "That part felt more surmountable than the other piece. Because it was like, what in the world happens now?"
A friend steps up and gives the gift of a lifetime.
The Tauers already had an embryo in storage. Colburn handled the rest.
The process was complicated. First, doctors had to determine whether she was a good candidate. Then she flew to Minnesota for fertility treatment. She returned last October to have the embryo implanted.
They had to wait nine days to find out whether everything worked successfully. Only an estimated 3,000 babies are born to gestational carriers each year in the United States, according to Dr. Chandra Shenoy, reproductive endocrinologist at Mayo Clinic.
This pregnancy brings different emotions for Colburn. With her children, she felt joy and anticipation with all the unknowns. This time it feels more about protection and knowing the baby is healthy for her friend.
"From the beginning, because I knew it was not my egg and I knew it was not my husband's sperm and I was doing this for Chancey and John and their family, it felt completely different," she said.
The two husbands met for the first time on a Zoom call with their wives and a counselor. The men started cracking jokes within minutes. They are friends now, too.
The Colburns have had many conversations with their two young children about what's happening, aided by a particular book that explains the process.
Chancey and Colburn talk often to share updates but also to support each other's emotions.
"I would want to be part of her baby's life whether it was through this process or without," Colburn said. "I don't have any unrealistic expectations that I should be special."
Chancey chuckled at that one.
"You will be special," she said.
Baby on the way
Tauer doesn't just coach basketball at St. Thomas. He's also a tenured professor in the psychology department with a Ph.D. in social psychology. The topic in one of his classes this past week was stress and different stressors in life.
He could be a case study with the job transition, the house renovation and the oldest son from his first marriage, Jack, headed off to St. Norbert College in Wisconsin this fall. And the new baby will add to all this when she joins this blended family with three brothers ages 18, 16 and 13.
Life is eventful right now. And wonderful.
Chancey is doing well as she recovers from breast cancer, though she suffered a lot between radiation, a mastectomy and two types of chemo.
Motivation to keep fighting came easy.
Their baby will be born in Seattle, then come home to St. Paul a few weeks later. The counselor asked the Tauers if they plan to tell their daughter the circumstances of her birth someday.
Of course, they said. "What an amazing way to come into the world," Tauer told the counselor. "This person was willing to do this incredible thing for you."
They cannot wait to tell their daughter her story.