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.
“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.
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.