“Thirteen years after my first cancer diagnosis, at the age of 39 and against all odds, I’m finally a mum.”
In 2007 at the age of twenty-five, I was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer called Osteosarcoma in my right knee. To say that being diagnosed with cancer came as a thunderbolt would be an understatement; it was more like an almighty bulldozer that came crashing down right in the middle of my life, smashing it apart. I remember being terrified of how ill the chemotherapy would make me feel, I was scared of losing my hair and seeing myself bald for the first time, I hated saying the words "I've got cancer" and I feared my life would never be the same again. I will never forget the sense of fear and complete terror of the unknown that crept into my life the day I received my diagnosis. There is no right or wrong way to deal with a cancer diagnosis, but for me trying to focus on staying positive, looking to the future and shopping certainly helped.
Within five minutes of my first meeting with my oncologist, it felt as though my world collapsed around me. Apart from being told about all of the usual side effects of the chemotherapy, I was also told that there was a chance that the treatment would make me infertile, that my mobility would never be the same again and that I was unlikely to return to my job. Everything that I had worked, aimed and hoped for was now in doubt. I left that meeting feeling scared, confused and helpless; I had always taken it for granted that one day I would have children and the prospect that the chemo may leave me infertile was devastating.
My treatment consisted of eight months of chemotherapy and limb salvage surgery to my right leg. I was very lucky that my leg was able to be saved and I had a full knee joint replacement, so a large proportion of my right leg is metal and I now walk with a limp, so I’ve had to adapt to life with a walking disability. I was really fortunate that I was able to preserve my fertility before starting chemotherapy at CARE Fertility Birmingham, freezing ten eggs, which back in 2007 was a relatively new process. The fact that I was able to do this gave me so much hope during what was a dark and uncertain time in my life; I found the whole process hugely positive and I’d always encourage other people diagnosed with cancer to look into their options surrounding fertility preservation, as I didn’t realise how important my decision to do this would become until many years later.
I spent seventeen months in remission rebuilding my life, enjoying having luxuries like hair again and I naively thought my cancer nightmare had come to an end, when my world was turned upside down all over again. In March 2009 at one of my routine check-ups, I was told that there was something suspicious in my left lung. Four days later, a CT scan confirmed my worst fears: I had tumours in each lung. The cancer was back and this time it had spread.
I find it impossible to put into words just how devastating it was to hear and later say the words “it's back”, having been in remission for so many months. Shock and anger were my immediate emotions, and thoughts of being attached to a drip machine, long nights in hospital, more chemo and the idea of losing my hair again made me feel physically sick. It seemed so cruel that just when I'd begun to enjoy being back at work, rebuilt my confidence and was relishing having my independence back, that cancer seemed intent on ruining everything for me all over again, but I was beyond fortunate that I had all of the tumours removed successfully in April 2009 and I’ve been in remission ever since. I've learnt to live day by day, week by week and, to be honest, having cancer has taught me that there is no other way to live life.
I had a difficult couple of years after my relapse for a variety of reasons and it wasn’t until 2013 that I met my future husband Rick. In 2017, we began trying for a baby and I was referred to the Infertility Clinic at our local Women’s hospital where I received the devastating confirmation that the chemotherapy had indeed affected my fertility. I was diagnosed with ovarian failure and told I had a very low AMH. After many unsuccessful months of trying to conceive naturally, we were told that IVF was our best and only realistic option of having a baby. So, in 2018 I started fertility treatment, with the plan being to use the eggs I had frozen eleven years previously. However, miraculously during that first round of IVF, following a blood test the day before my eggs were due to be thawed, my consultant delivered utterly unbelievable news that somehow I had conceived naturally. We were absolutely gobsmacked, beyond delighted and truly believed we had been gifted a miracle.
Devastatingly, our joy was short-lived, as at our first scan we discovered that my pregnancy had ended in a missed miscarriage; we were heartbroken and it will always be one of the saddest periods of my life. The support and friendship I received from the online Instagram TTC (trying to conceive) community certainly helped me through many dark days, and connecting with other women and couples who understood exactly what we were going through made me feel much less alone.
In July 2019, we started IVF again, and this time all ten of the eggs I had had frozen back in 2007 were thawed; again over a very tense two days. We received more bad news, that only three of the eggs had survived the thaw and fertilised and, out of those we were left with, just one viable embryo, which I had transferred on Day three. The odds were heavily stacked against us and, although I tried not to lose hope, that cycle resulted in a BFN (big fat negative). With no frozen eggs left and such a low AMH, the prospect of having my own biological child seemed more and more unlikely with each passing week.
At our follow up meeting a few weeks later, our fertility specialist suggested we start thinking about “other options”, such as donor eggs. But I didn’t feel ready to give up on having our own biological child and was determined to give a fresh cycle a shot, whatever the statistics of it working were. So, when the results of a second AMH test showed an improvement in the one I had had over a year earlier, we decided to start another IVF cycle immediately.
It’s fair to say that I went into that cycle with zero expectations, just as I had learnt to do with my cancer diagnosis. I took one day at a time, never looking further than to the end of that week. I saw each step of the treatment as a hurdle I had to cross and, to my amazement, I kept clearing the hurdles. In fact, on egg collection day, I was gobsmacked when I was told that six eggs had been retrieved, a number I could only ever have dreamed of. Out of those eggs, two fertilised and on Day Four, both were transferred. On test day I saw a strong positive line and, although over the moon, after the heartbreak of our miscarriage, we didn’t get excited and there were no celebrations. Our first scan revealed a strong heartbeat and also another empty sac; although sad that one of our embryos hadn’t survived, we were ecstatic to see that one heartbeat and I finally dared to believe that I was actually going to have a baby.
In short, I had a wonderful, healthy pregnancy and, on 11th July this year, our longed-for daughter was born; thirteen years after my first cancer diagnosis, at the age of 39 and against all odds, I’m finally a mum.