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Em has always known she wanted to be a parent, but her plans were disrupted when she discovered she had cancer at the age of 37. Amazingly, with the help of a friend, she was still able to make her dreams of motherhood come true.
Note: a previous version of this blog was shared in August 2021. This is the updated version, including edits made in March 2022.
My husband and I got married in May 2019, went on our honeymoon, and when we came home, realised we were pregnant. It was all going so well. We were so excited.
Then, I had a miscarriage.
A couple of months later, I found a lump on my right breast. I’m not very big-chested and it felt quite sizeable, so I immediately thought that something wasn’t quite right.
As soon as I saw the consultant, he seemed pretty sure it was cancerous. By that point, I think I knew it was, too. It was just a case of waiting for my scan and biopsy results to confirm.
They arrived about a week later. It was cancer, and it looked like it was also in my lymph nodes.
The plan was to have eight sessions of chemotherapy, a single mastectomy, radiotherapy, and then anything else I might need after that. It was all a bit of a whirlwind. When I look back, I’m not sure how I felt, really. Of course, I was devastated and scared, but my biggest fear was that it would spread, or had already. I just wanted to get on with treatment.
At the time of my diagnosis, I was 37. I didn’t have any children, but I knew I wanted them, so it was important for me to try and preserve my fertility. The doctors approached me about undergoing IVF treatment to freeze some embryos. I knew I was so lucky to do this. So many people aren’t ever offered that choice.
I was given drugs to stimulate my egg production, which was a bit concerning for me as my cancer was oestrogen receptor positive. However, the doctors reassured me it was safe and I just had to trust them.
After about 10 days of hormone injections, I was put under general anaesthetic and had 40 eggs removed. For some women, the eggs will be frozen at this point, but we were in a lucky position to be able to fertilize them. This whole process happens in about 24 hours and by the next morning, we were informed that we had 19 viable embryos.
They were put into frozen storage until I wanted to use them, which meant that I could then begin chemotherapy.
Before I started treatment, I wasn’t sure how I would feel about losing my hair. I know it’s so different for every woman but for me, it just felt like hair. Something that didn’t define me as a woman so I felt better than expected when it all came off.
I felt in a similar way about my boob. I just wanted it to go, really. I wanted them both to go, but the doctors wouldn’t do that so I had to accept their decision.
Throughout chemotherapy, I feel that I was relatively lucky. I had some terrible days, but overall managed to get through treatment without too many days being bed bound!
I was fortunate that I had a very close-knit network of family and friends. We were able to speak about what was happening which helped.
Every stage felt like a huge milestone, and I always had this focus of wanting to get to the next one. I was so lucky to pass through treatment really quickly and will be forever grateful to the NHS who supported me throughout.
For me, the harder parts are starting to happen now.
Now I’m out of so-called 'active treatment' and not under regular review by the hospital, there’s more of a chance for the panic to set in. I want them to scan me regularly and reassure me that the cancer hasn’t spread, but I know they’re not going to do that.
Every ache and pain sets off a new anxiety that the cancer is back. I definitely didn’t have that level of anxiety while I was in the thick of treatment.
As my cancer is ER+ and HER2+, it was decided that after radiotherapy, I would be on the drug trastuzumab emtansine (Kadcyla) for eight months.
Then, in 2021, I started tamoxifen, which I’ll need to take for 10 years. I’ve also started ovarian suppression and I take zoledronic acid, which is basically to stop cancer from spreading to my bones. They say at this point that you’re out of active treatment, but it doesn’t feel that way sometimes!
As you are not able to get pregnant on tamoxifen, we knew very quickly that we had to consider our other options for having a child. After much soul searching, we decided to turn to surrogacy. That way, it wouldn’t be a risk to me, and we wouldn’t have to wait 10 years which would be too late.
Thankfully my best, oldest friend offered to be our surrogate, which was incredible.
Our beautiful bundle Ella arrived on 3 November 2021.
I was a little worried about how I would feel once she arrived, particularly as I didn’t carry her, but I loved her instantly (thank goodness!) and that feeling has only grown since then.
Taking care of a baby combined with my ongoing treatment can really make sleep a challenge. I’ve also been thrown into a peri-menopause, so the menopausal symptoms are also coming on strong. I don’t think anyone can ever prepare you for the tiredness that comes with a newborn, but it's so worth it!
Honestly, I think every part of my life has changed. It’s amazing how much I can get done in 30 minutes whilst Ella naps!
I think she has given me a new perspective on time, as it's going so fast - she's four months old already! Every day I feel grateful that I’ve been given the chance to be a mum after everything that's happened.
Cancer is always going to be a part of my life, and, as much as I can try to put it in a box, I’m never going to forget it. The last few years have been pretty awful, especially as I also lost my dad to leukaemia while I was in treatment. But becoming a parent is a new chapter. I’ve always wanted to be a mum, so I’m excited about what’s coming next.
To anyone else who has a diagnosis of breast cancer before they are able to have children, I want to reassure them that there are options. You need to speak to the professionals about it before you start treatment, especially as oncologists might not be considering it as a priority.
I hate to think this is a postcode lottery depending on the hospital or specific specialist, but I’m proof that there is hope even when the odds are stacked against you.
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