PUBLISHED ON: 18 August 2021

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. Now out of active treatment, she is excited for what lies ahead.

Em, whose hair short following chemotherapy, smiles with her husband and their dog

I got the news months after getting married

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.

I had to trust the doctors with my fertility

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.

I was lucky with some of the side effects

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!

It’s been harder since I finished treatment

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.

We had to consider other options for parenthood

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. And, at the time of writing, we are 27 weeks pregnant!

I’m excited for what’s coming next

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 two years have been pretty awful, especially as I also lost my dad to leukaemia while I was in treatment. Becoming a parent will be 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.

There is hope, even if – at the beginning – it may seem like there is none.

 

If you are concerned about your fertility during breast cancer treatment, we have information and support that you may find helpful.

Find out more