Decision to freeze sperm before chemo has made me a dad

After a shock cancer diagnosis in his twenties, having children was the last thing on Nick’s mind, but he is so grateful now that he agreed to freeze sperm prior to chemotherapy.

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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