THE BLOG

I Survived Childhood Cancer - And Spent Two Decades Thinking I'd Never Be A Mum

12/12/2016 16:47 GMT | Updated 12/12/2016 16:47 GMT

I was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer aged 10 and my chances of survival were slim, so the treatment I needed to save my life was very intensive - chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy. But I got through it, and although recurrence rates are high, it has never come back.

I'm 39 now, and I've had a lot of late effects as a result of cancer treatment, for example, it weakened my heart. But for me, by far the most devastating effect of treatment was the impact that it had on my fertility.

I was just 13 when a doctor casually informed me I'd never have children. The big part of my future that I assumed I would have had was taken away.

I felt that people thought I should just be grateful to be alive, so I kept all my feelings about it to myself and it really affected my teenage years, and at university too. It was a big secret that I carried around on my own. Psychologically, not talking about it was devastating.

Young cancer patients need support and information to understand how treatment might affect their fertility, and medical professionals need to discuss the options open to them if they do want to try and preserve their fertility, or have children in a different way.

This is why I'm telling my story here, and in cancer support charity CLIC Sargent's new online guide for young people about cancer and fertility issues.

When I was young there was no internet, no CLIC Sargent, nobody to talk to. It wasn't until I was 21, after breaking down in tears at an appointment, that I told a doctor I was worried that nobody would ever want to marry me, because I couldn't have children.

Sadly she didn't know how to react and said something tactless but well meaning like - 'well I've got two toddlers and it's not all it's cracked up to be.'

A doctor I met with a couple of years later gave me my first shred of hope. He talked about egg donation and surrogacy, which wasn't as well known about at that time. Other doctors I met after that seemed to think the idea was a little far-fetched. But I clutched on to that little bit of hope that doctor gave me.

Over the next few years I travelled the world, worked as a scientist and even gained a PhD. However, none of these things could make up for the pain of being unable to have children.

I met my partner, Nisar, through work. I was open with him from the start. I remember early on saying to him that I couldn't have children, but that I planned to have children in the future with the help of an egg donor. Luckily he was incredibly positive and supportive, I needn't have worried.

It got harder and harder in my 30's watching other people have children, and my medical history would have potentially ruled me out of adoption. Then in 2010, out of the blue, my younger sister Jennie said that if I wanted eggs that she'd be a donor as she wasn't planning to use them! She was offering me a truly life changing gift.

At the beginning of 2010 I arranged to have an appointment with Professor Ledger, a fertility specialist at a late effects clinic for cancer survivors in Sheffield. He spent an hour with us. He said: 'it's not your fault you had cancer, you have a right to pursue your dream be a mum and I'm sure you'll be wonderful at it.'

To hear that when you've spent two decades thinking that you're never going to be a mum is amazing.

We had counselling to make sure my sister was 100% sure about being a donor and then we looked at the options for surrogacy.

We were helped by an organisation called Surrogacy UK. They support surrogacy journeys based on building friendships and relationships first, and that appealed to us. We wanted to make sure what we were doing was entirely altruistic and ethical and that our surrogate would be well supported and was doing it for the right reasons.

We met Mikki after three months of attending Surrogacy UK social events. We got chatting and clicked straightaway. A few weeks later we got a call to say she wanted to get to know us - we were over the moon!

We spent months getting to know each other before having an agreement session where we went over all the details. We were overwhelmed that someone would be willing to go through all this to help us become parents.

The embryos had been frozen ahead of time and we fell pregnant the first time - with twins! It was amazing news. We were thrilled to bits. One would have been a miracle, to have two was beyond my wildest dreams.

We were there to watch our babies enter the world. I cut my son Rafi's cord and Nisar cut our daughter Amina's cord then we had precious skin to skin with our twins. I'd waited so long to become a mum and Mikki was so proud to see our first moments together as a family.

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We will be forever grateful to everyone who helped make our dream of parenthood come true especially my wonderful sister, Jennie, and our incredible friend, Mikki.

More healthcare professionals need to know where to point young cancer patients and survivors for support and information about fertility which is why CLIC Sargent's new information for young people, which I've been filmed for is so important.

It is rare not to be able to carry a child, like me. It's the gift of egg or sperm donation that's more commonly needed. But if you are in my situation, know that there are people and groups out there that can help and don't give up hope.

CLIC Sargent is the UK's leading cancer support charity for young cancer patients, to find out more about cancer treatment and fertility visit www.clicsargent.org.uk/fertility

Surrogacy UK offers support and information to anyone with an interest in surrogacy within the UK www.surrogacyuk.org