Decision to freeze sperm before chemo has made me a dad

A lump in my neck

“I was 24 and single when I developed lumps in my neck and was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma,” says Nick, now 33.

“A hospital scan revealed that the cancer was pretty much everywhere, including my lungs and bone marrow. I was going to need a particularly ‘nasty’ regimen of chemo treatment and my cancer consultant basically told me that I wouldn’t be able to have children afterwards”

Chemotherapy affects both male and female fertility – for men it damage the sperm and for women the eggs.

Nick’s consultant discussed the option of going to Bourn Hall to have some sperm frozen before the treatment began.

“I’d always known that I would like to have children one day but at that point in my life it wasn’t even on the radar,” says Nick. “Being given the news that I would likely end up infertile was pretty gut-wrenching but the option of sperm freezing for IVF in the future was really amazing as a fall-back.”

Freeze sperm option before chemo

Nick, who was living in Ipswich and working as a software engineer, was sent to Bourn Hall’s Colchester clinic to have samples of his sperm frozen, paid for by the NHS.

“I was quite open with my colleagues about where I had gone and why,” says Nick. “My way of dealing with it was to make a joke of it, otherwise I would have cried; I even sent a photo to one of my friends of the room where I had to produce the sample. He said ‘wow that’s very “clinical”’ which made me laugh.

“It doesn’t hurt, you just have to show up at the clinic, you have an ‘awkward moment’ in a room which isn’t brilliant, but then that is it. So yeah I think if the option is there you should totally go for it.

“Although for some people their fertility might recover there is absolutely no reason to not do it. You have got no commitment to using it.”

Nick had nine vials of his sperm frozen.

He then had four and a half months of chemotherapy followed by an operation to remove his spleen.

“Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is a cancer which is actually very treatable,” says Nick. “The treatment was quite gruelling because my cancer had metastasized in my major organs but it was effective and I recovered. I had monitoring for six or seven years afterwards but I am now fully discharged.”

Upfront about the need for IVF

In 2016 Nick met Gergana (Geri) and they married four years later.

“We had discussed the whole subject of children and my situation early on,” says Nick. “I was quite upfront about it because it is such a serious issue. I hadn’t wanted it to be a huge problem further down the line.

Private fertility tests at Bourn Hall had confirmed a zero sperm count, but to gain NHS funding for IVF, the couple needed to have a hospital referral.

“We gave my results to our GP who then referred us to Ipswich Hospital,” says Nick. “Geri also had some tests but it was already obvious from my results why we couldn’t conceive.”

IVF with sperm frozen eight years before

Nick and Geri opted to have their NHS-funded IVF at Bourn Hall, where Nick’s fertility journey had first begun, and the couple were treated at the Bourn Hall Essex Clinic in Wickford, which was an hour’s drive from their home. The frozen sperm was transferred to the clinic.

The couple had IVF with ICSI, where one of the sperm Nick had frozen eight years before is injected into an egg. This resulted in three embryos.

“We had one embryo for a fresh embryo transfer but the other two were not of good enough quality to freeze so this embryo was our only chance,” says Nick. “If it didn’t work we’d have to start the whole process again so we were really nervous going in for the embryo transfer.” The couple were pregnant first time.

“It didn’t seem real – we kept re-testing every three or four days!” laughs Nick, who says the viability scan was an emotional experience.

“There was this teeny tiny thing on the screen which, after everything we had been through, was just amazing to see, it made it seem real. The whole IVF process is just unbelievable, words just can’t describe it, it is insane!”

So glad I did it

The couple’s son, Branimir (Bran), was born at Ipswich Hospital in November and Geri says that Nick and Bran are inseparable, describing every day as ‘Father’s Day’ in their house.

“Nick used to talk to him when he was still in my womb and say ‘hello’ to my bump and Bran recognised Nick’s voice after he was born,” she says. “Every morning when he sees his Dad he gets so excited, more so than with anyone else. They have such a special bond, it is incredible.”

Freeze sperm, its a no brainer

Looking back now Nick says he is eternally grateful to his cancer specialist for giving him the option nine years ago to freeze sperm and has the following advice for other young men faced with a cancer diagnosis and asked to make a quick decision prior to starting chemo about fertility preservation:

“Freeze your sperm, it is a no brainer,” he says.

“If I hadn’t said yes to sperm freezing when I was 24 I wouldn’t have my fantastic little boy.”

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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


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.


“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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