In 2019, as a 35-year-old mom to a 3-year-old little girl, I was diagnosed with aggressive appendix cancer. I had begun feeling super bloated all the time and my once flat stomach seemed to slowly be growing. An urgent CT scan revealed a large ovarian tumor and an abdomen full of fluid.  I was lucky to have Emory in my backyard and my diagnosis came quickly. My treatment plan included removing several organs including my ovaries and chemotherapy. This brought up a difficult question – did I want to be able to have any more children? I was given about a week to decide if I would like to undergo fertility preservation prior to treatment and the decision was a no-brainer for me – I had always planned on having more than one child.  

I was quickly sent off to reproductive endocrinology to get the egg retrieval process going.  Thankfully, through the support of several oncofertility non-profits (Team Maggie, LiveStrong, Walgreen’s Heartbeats) and the help of my family, I was able to pay for such an expensive, last-minute treatment. My physician was amazing – she understood the urgency of my situation and we began my medication protocol right away.  This included 2-3 injections per day and almost daily transvaginal ultrasounds and bloodwork over 14 days to determine if I had any growing follicles that may contain mature eggs. The entire process felt overwhelming when combined with multiple visits to see my surgical oncologist and pre-op to make sure I would be ready for what they liked to call “the mother of all surgeries.”  2 days before surgery, I completed my egg retrieval and was able to freeze 7 eggs.

Healing post-surgery was a beast – I spent 9 days total in the hospital and about 3 months to feel like myself again. Normal things I took for granted – eating, sleeping, walking, and using the bathroom were all debilitating.  At the 6 month mark, my oncologist gave me his blessing to proceed with IVF and we moved forward with creating embryos. If you’ve ever gone through IVF then you understand the attrition rate is high which can be hard mentally. Your goal is always as many day 5-6 blastocysts as possible as they have the best chance at implantation.  Sadly, only 4 of my eggs fertilized, and only 2 made it to day 2.  My physician gave me the choice to transfer both of them as we worried they would stop growing in the lab. It was my last chance at having any more biological children and of course, I took it. 10 days later it was confirmed the embryo transfer had been unsuccessful. My world felt like it had come crashing down and the life I had imagined had been taken away from me.  Although it wasn’t a miscarriage, it felt very much like a loss. 

My reproductive endocrinologist had been honest with me from the beginning and had given me 3 potential outcomes – multiple embryos, one embryo, or none but with the option to use egg donation to create more. I never truly considered the 3rd scenario yet here we were. Luckily my younger sister, Katie, a mother to a 1-year-old, had already agreed to be my egg donor!  Having this backup option allowed me to move forward from our loss.  We quickly got the ball rolling – diagnostic testing, psychiatric evaluation and counseling, legal requirements, and in early 2020 my brave and selfless sister put her body through hell for me so that we could try for one more child.  Nearly a year to the day from my cancer diagnosis I was told my embryo transfer had been successful! The timing couldn’t have been sweeter. I delivered my second daughter, red-headed just like her cousin, in the middle of the pandemic. She is joy personified and we will never be able to thank Katie enough for this gift!

We thought our story ended there but my sister, despite having had a healthy pregnancy, ended up experiencing several miscarriages and 2 failed IUI’s. She then decided to move forward with IVF herself.  In the craziest twist of fate – I became a fertility nurse at the same clinic where I had been a patient and was able to be the one to call Katie to tell her the news that her embryo transfer had worked. What a full-circle moment!  Her beautiful daughter just turned 1 last week and we all celebrated as a family. 

Neither of us ever imagined IVF as being part of our story but we are forever grateful for all the hands, hearts, and minds that were involved in saving my life and creating the lives of our daughters.  Families are conceived in all different ways and to think the opportunity to have children could be taken away from so many is frightening. Limiting access to reproductive care is the opposite of progress and I hope those reading our story consider the implications of the recent ruling of the Alabama court.