When Kevin from Cambridgeshire hugs his two young children, he feels as though he has a multitude of reasons to count his blessings.
A childhood cancer survivor, Kevin was told as a teenager that he would never be able to father children of his own but thanks to pioneering treatment at Bourn Hall Clinic he has gone on to become a dad – not once but twice. He also recently conquered cancer for a second time and is looking to the future with a renewed sense of optimism.
“Being a Dad is something I thought would never happen and now I have two beautiful children,” says Kevin, aged 40, as he plays with two-year-old Arthur and cradles latest arrival, nine-month-old Evelyn. “I have also just been given the all-clear from cancer, having had a second shock diagnosis last year, so I feel ‘extra double’ lucky!”
Kevin was four when he was diagnosed with non Hodgkin lymphoma, a rare cancer that affects the body’s lymphatic system. He battled the disease for two years and had chemotherapy, which can cause a man to become infertile.
Kevin had always accepted that he wouldn’t be able to father a child until he met his future wife Natalie, a midwife. She remembers: “I had to think hard about whether we had a future together if we couldn’t have a family. Being a midwife, surrounded by pregnant women and babies, it could become difficult to cope with. I loved Kevin and wanted to be with him, so we chose to cross any difficult bridges when we came to them.”
TESE procedure enabled IVF
When a sperm analysis showed a zero sperm count, Kevin and wife Natalie were referred to Bourn Hall Clinic in 2011. They saw the clinic’s male fertility specialist Dr Oliver Wiseman who encouraged them to try a procedure called TESE – which would involve retrieving viable sperm from tissue extracted from Kevin’s testes. The couple agreed and the procedure was successful, enabling Natalie to undergo IVF treatment using Kevin’s sperm. Arthur was born in 2013 and a further embryo was frozen.
For the couple baby Arthur was a miracle and although they held little hope that this would be repeated, they both felt they needed to try again with the single frozen embryo.
Natalie says: “Despite the chances of success being slimmer with literally just one frozen embryo for treatment, we decided to go ahead. I didn’t build my hopes up too much but Kevin and my mum were absolutely convinced it was going to work.
“My treatment second time around was much less stressful as I didn’t have to have the hormone injections to stimulate my egg production. Three days after treatment we moved house and so I managed to keep my mind busy on other things and tried not to think about the pregnancy test. I was amazed when it came back positive. In fact I re-took the test ten more times just to double-check! We were absolutely over the moon!”
Another battle with cancer
Unfortunately their elation was to be short-lived. Kevin became unwell. Initially thinking he had food poisoning he got more and more ill over a six-week period until he couldn’t keep any food or drink down and lost two stone in the process.
After being admitted to hospital and undergoing tests Kevin was stunned to be given the news that 35 years after his first diagnosis he once again had cancer.
“I was absolutely shocked and devastated that this had happened right in the middle of something which should have been so amazing,” he says. “My primary concern was for Natalie, our unborn child and Arthur. I kept asking myself whether I was going to see my children grow up”.
Kevin underwent a 10-hour operation to remove parts of his pancreas, bowel and stomach, which was then followed by six months of chemotherapy. Throughout this period, Natalie had to remain strong for everyone.
“When Kevin came home after his operation, Arthur and I were so pleased to see him and it felt as though things might get back to normal,” says Natalie. “Then one Friday I went off into Ely to have a beauty treatment, got back that evening and settled down on the sofa with Kevin to watch England play in the Rugby World Cup. We were half-way through the National Anthem when my waters broke, I was only 28 weeks pregnant!”
A neighbour was drafted in to look after Arthur whilst Natalie and Kevin rushed to Addenbrooke’s Hospital, where Natalie works. She then proceeded to go in to premature labour.
The couple are convinced that the stress of the previous few months played a part in the turn of events and so having thought they would be having a Christmas baby welcomed daughter Evelyn in to the world much earlier than planned on 29 September 2015.
“Working at Addenbrooke’s I knew that I was in the best possible place to have a premature baby,” says Natalie. “I didn’t doubt for one minute that she would be okay but I was frightened at how tiny she was. She came out with a full head of hair and screamed and screamed, she made far more noise than Arthur ever made! We fell in love with her straight away.”
Natalie was sent home after a few days but Evelyn stayed in Addenbrooke’s until the middle of November and so Natalie spent vast amounts of her time at the hospital either with Kevin whilst he underwent chemotherapy or visiting Evelyn.
Although Evelyn was allowed home for Christmas, with Kevin’s cancer still hanging over them, it was a muted affair. “Arthur had presents but he was the only one who did and we just about managed to get a Christmas tree up,” says Natalie. “We just wanted to get to the end of the year and see the back of it.”
Looking to the future with optimism
2016 was shaping up to be a good year with Kevin being given the all clear from his cancer in March.
“I am now just looking forward to what lies ahead, seeing the children grow up and watching how they turn out and hopefully having a healthy, happy future for myself,” he says. “I am just so grateful that I am still here and that I have got a complete family with two beautiful children who I once thought I would never have. I am just so lucky to have them both and to have my health back.”
Natalie is also looking to the future with optimism:
“I am going back to work and trying to get back to normal,” she says. “We are trying to put everything behind us and move forward and enjoy our children that we have thanks to Bourn Hall.
“We are so grateful to Oliver Wiseman at Bourn Hall for his efforts at the very beginning andlooking at whether Kevin would be able to father his own children. We are a complete family now and I would say to anyone that even if the odds are stacked against you, if you want something, keep going forward and fight for it and hopefully you will achieve your dreams.”