Surrogacy helped Amanda achieve her dream of having her own child after cancer

Amanda and Jason were childhood sweethearts, they got married in their twenties and started trying for a baby six years later. After trying to conceive for two years they were referred for fertility tests. It was during this time Amanda had devastating news: she was diagnosed with endometrial cancer.

Endometrial cancer

Amanda, who had not had any symptoms, explains: “It was a total shock, I wasn’t ill and felt fine. Luckily the cancer was grade 1a, meaning it hadn’t spread and was completely contained in the womb. The fertility testing had caught it at a very early stage but as a hysterectomy was part of the treatment, it meant I’d never be able to carry a baby.”

It was her surgical oncologist that suggested the possibility of using a surrogate for IVF treatment. As the cancer hadn’t spread and chemotherapy was not required, Amanda’s ovaries were not removed during the hysterectomy. However, as the cancer had been oestrogen dependent (one of the hormones the ovaries produce) the ovaries had to be removed after a year as delaying any longer increased the risk of the cancer returning leaving the couple just a small window of opportunity to make a decision.

Embryo freezing

The couple decided they did want their own child and were given an emergency appointment at Bourn Hall Clinic. “The staff at Bourn Hall were incredibly kind,” says Amanda. “They explained that as my womb had been removed I had to be anaesthetised for every egg collection. After the collection the eggs were fertilised by Jason’s sperm and then frozen. The clinic told us that freezing embryos (the egg and the sperm combined) gave a better chance of a successful pregnancy than eggs alone, and after three rounds of treatment, 14 embryos were frozen.”

Bourn Hall had helped Amanda and Jason hold on to their dream of having a child that was genetically theirs. They now needed to find a surrogate who was willing to carry their baby. For legal reasons this had to be independent of the clinic.

Surrogacy UK

They joined Surrogacy UK, an organisation that believes in surrogacy through friendship and it was here they met Annie. “We were friends with Annie for over a year before she offered to be our surrogate. Trust and a good relationship were the main factors we needed to embark on this journey and we definitely felt this with Annie,” explains Amanda.

Annie had always wanted to experience pregnancy but without the ‘consequences’. “I’m a little bit unusual as I never wanted my own children,” says Annie. “The idea of being a surrogate started off as a bit of a joke, but a few years ago I started researching into the possibility. I met Amanda and Jason at one of the Surrogacy UK socials and we naturally formed a friendship. At the time I was pregnant and on my first journey with another couple. Six months after the birth, I wanted to help another family and Amanda and Jason were the obvious choice.”

In January 2014 the frozen embryos were moved to a clinic nearer to Annie for treatment and she got pregnant on the first try. “It didn’t seem real,” says Amanda. “After all we’d been through we couldn’t believe it was finally happening, we didn’t buy anything for the baby until after the 20 week scan. We saw Annie every two to three weeks, went to every midwife appointment and got to feel our baby kick.”

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Effie is born

“When Effie was born Jason cut the cord and we had our first cuddle. We feel incredibly lucky. She is such a good baby, even sleeping through the night!”

Annie thinks this is the best thing she’s ever done, “To make people’s dreams come true is such a privilege and being able to see the children grow up, knowing I helped, is incredibly rewarding.”

Amanda and Jason are extremely grateful for the gift Annie gave them. “Annie is the most amazing woman and has changed our lives. We still regularly meet up, both at the Surrogacy UK socials and as friends. She is definitely part of our family.”

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Three IVF daughters, successful first time for each

Claire met her husband John through a lonely hearts advert in the ‘Beds on Sunday’ in 1999, before the days of internet dating, and they always assumed that they would have children some day but those dreams were shattered when John was diagnosed with cancer.

Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma

John was diagnosed with non-hodgkins lymphoma and, as treatment with chemotherapy can affect your fertility, he was offered the option of freezing his sperm which he accepted.  After two difficult years which included a stem cell transplant he went in to remission.

Five years later the couple decided to start a family and after fertility testing it was confirmed that they would need IVF treatment. They were offered NHS funding and after some research, chose the world-famous Bourn Hall.

“Like something out of Back to the Future”

John’s sperm had been stored at Hammersmith Hospital and as John didn’t want to risk having the sperm couriered he drove it up to Bourn Hall himself. He says driving with the box of dry ice “was like something out of Back to the Future.”

Delivering the good news

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The first cycle of treatment was successful and the couple broke the news to both sets of prospective grandparents at the same time in a local restaurant.

“We decided to photocopy the baby scan on to the back of the menu and then sat the parents opposite each other. It took them a while to realise and we had to spell it out to them!” laughs Claire. “They were all over the moon – tears, especially John’s parents who had envisaged he would never have a family.”

Sydney, Robynne and Kennedy

Claire gave birth to a little girl, Sydney. It was the first grandchild for Claire’s mum and stepdad and on John’s side it was the first granddaughter.

The couple then went on to have two further IVF babies funding the treatment themselves.  Robynne was born two years after Sydney, and Kennedy, their third daughter, is now 14 weeks old.

Each child was born following their first IVF attempt.

“For all three children we didn’t tell anyone we were having treatment as it took the pressure off,” says John. “With each scan you go up the ladder but the further up the ladder you go you know that you have further to fall and you have to keep your hopes up. We have been so lucky. Parenting is the most challenging and rewarding job.

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“Bourn Hall staff are fantastic”

“Bourn Hall staff are fantastic. They were open and honest and managed expectations. We took Sydney and Robynne when Claire was being treated for Kennedy and they were so delighted to see the fruits of their work. And that was everyone starting from the ladies on reception.”

Claire is now a self-employed dressmaker, which allows her to balance motherhood and work.

“We are so proud of the girls, we have been through so much to get here,” she beams.

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Fertility preservation gives cancer patient hope of parenthood

While losing weight to improve her chances of having a baby, Fiona was devastated to discover a lump in her breast.  To protect her dream of a family, Fiona didn’t hesitate for a second when asked if she wanted to delay her first round of chemotherapy so that she could have some embryos frozen for future fertility treatment.

Chemotherapy affects both female and male fertility: in women it can stop the ovaries from working and can cause an early menopause; in men it can reduce the number of sperm produced or affect the sperm’s ability to fertilise an egg.

Fiona and her partner Ian knew that Fiona’s fertility could be destroyed once she had begun her chemotherapy and were in complete agreement about what to do next.

Delaying chemotherapy

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“I discovered the lump as I started to lose weight as we wanted to start a family, so it was a double kick to find that not only had I got cancer, my chance of having a baby was threatened,” says Fiona. “My consultant said early on that as this was a hormone-led cancer that I had to be pushed into a menopause and that the only way that I could get pregnant was with IVF.

“We both wanted a family and knew that if I started my chemotherapy straight away we might not get the chance to have children at all,” she says.

The specialists treating Fiona for her cancer completely supported her decision to delay chemotherapy and the couple went along to Bourn Hall Clinic in Colchester for tests. Fiona was then given drugs to stimulate her egg production.

“The team at Bourn Hall had to monitor me closely because my cancer was oestrogen-driven and I could be affected by the extra hormones in my body,” Fiona explains.

Fertility preservation

Eight of Fiona’s eggs were harvested and fertilised with Ian’s sperm using a process called ICSI and then frozen for when Fiona is well enough for fertility treatment.

Fiona’s original diagnosis of Stage 3 breast cancer had already resulted in a mastectomy on her left breast followed by reconstructive surgery.

“Within three weeks after egg collection I was receiving chemotherapy and then after three months started the anti-cancer drugs tamoxifen which I had to take for two years and need to have been off it for 6 months before the next IVF stage,” explains Fiona. “During the same time I celebrated turning 40.”

In the last 18 months Bourn Hall Clinic has collected and frozen sperm, embryos or eggs for more than 100 cancer patients before they embarked on a course of chemotherapy.

“Fertility treatment can be a very emotional journey,” says Sarah Pallett, Clinic Manager at Bourn Hall in Colchester, “so to throw the curve-ball of cancer in to the mix makes it even more so. We find that many of the cancer patients who come to us for sperm, embryo or egg freezing get a reassuring sense of asserting some control of one aspect of their life when they might be facing some really tough times ahead.”

Optimistic for the future

Fiona is grateful that the cancer team treating her encouraged her decision to briefly delay her chemotherapy so that her eggs could be collected, fertilised and frozen for her future use.

Fiona has just returned to Bourn Hall Clinic in Colchester with the view to starting her fertility treatment shortly and is looking forward to what may lay ahead:

“We have always held onto the hope of a “normal” life after cancer, and to be blessed with a baby would be the fantastic positive after the hell of last three years, but I am aware that it could be a lot worse,” she says.

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One scan and we knew he was ours

With baby Freddie gurgling away in Lisa’s arms, she recounts the emotional journey she and her husband John have been on, including John overcoming cancer and three unsuccessful IVF attempts, to get to this happy stage in their lives.

“We’d known each other for a while but John and I had our first date two days before Christmas 2007 and our relationship took off from there. Due to our ages, John 38 and I 32, we started thinking about trying for a family quite soon, especially as we knew it would be difficult.

“I’d always had irregular ovulation and this was impacting our chances of getting pregnant. We went down the route of seeing our GP and getting referred for tests and fertility drugs. We eventually got referred to Bourn Hall for IVF treatment on the NHS but this was to be delayed.

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Diagnosed with testicular cancer

“On Valentine’s Day, of all days, John was diagnosed with testicular cancer and basically told he was infertile. This put a real spanner in the works.

“John hadn’t been well for a while so we knew something was wrong but it still took a while for his cancer to be diagnosed and when it was it was already quite advanced. As John was so ill at the time the medics couldn’t retrieve any sperm from him and our aim shifted focus to getting him better and we’d think about anything else after that.

“At the time Bourn Hall wrote a really supportive letter; hoping John’s treatment went well and to get in touch when the time was right. We really appreciated that letter and glimmer of hope.

“Miraculously six months later John was given the all clear and we got married. We also felt the time was right to think again about having a family and so we approached Bourn Hall.

Sperm donation 

“We particularly spoke with Dr Kay Elder, who was very helpful and gave us some good advice. We also spoke to Oliver Wiseman a specialist in sperm retrieval.

“Unfortunately following John’s cancer the chances of sperm retrieval were very low. The specialist did offer us the procedure as well as the option of donated sperm.

“John had already kind of come to terms with the fact that he might not be able to provide sperm and father a child when he was diagnosed with cancer but the choice wasn’t to be taken lightly.

“After a week’s agonising we decided that because of our lives and circumstances that the best route was to use a sperm donor as we wanted to give ourselves the best chance to have a family.

“Once we had made that decision and told the Clinic, they were brilliant and told us to come in for a consultation and offered us counselling. This was great as it gave us an insight into the process of IVF, the implications of donated sperm and the process of selecting a sperm donor.

“Following blood tests to check that I was compatible with several potential donors we were sent five profiles to review. We went through their descriptions and selected the one that we thought seemed the best for us and the one that John also liked the sound of, which was very important to us.”

Lisa was given a course of fertility drugs to stimulate ovulation and her eggs were collected. Her first cycle was very successful and she produced 18 eggs of which 16 were mature enough for treatment and 10 resulted in embryos, of which five were frozen.

IVF with ICSI 

The couple had IVF with Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI), which involves injecting a single sperm into each mature egg, to help fertilisation to occur.

One or two of the resulting embryos can be transferred to the womb in the same way as in a conventional IVF cycle. Any additional suitable embryos not transferred in this cycle can be frozen for future use.

“I had one embryo transferred but unfortunately it didn’t work so we decided to try again. The next cycle also had a negative result. For the third time we hoped our luck might have changed and we’d be lucky.

“I did become pregnant and was so excited but it was short lived. When we tested the second time it was negative. It seems it was just a chemical pregnancy.

“Following three failed attempts I was emotionally drained and on the brink of a break down and so we decided to take a break from trying. I even gave up work to reduce the stress in our lives and then a few months later we were ready to try again.”

Pregnant with the fourth attempt

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The couple returned to Bourn Hall for their fourth attempt and Lisa began a fresh cycle in August 2013. She successfully fell pregnant and baby Freddie was born on 15th April 2014.

“During the pregnancy I did have a few concerns about whether we would both feel Freddie was part of us. However from the moment we had our first scan he was definitely ours.

“We are ecstatic about Freddie and can’t believe our luck. It is the best thing in the world when John walks in the room and you see Freddie smiling at him.

“It’s been worth every moment for us as it was about being parents and loving our child. Thanks to our sperm donor and hopefully telling our story will help others experience the joy we have.”

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