When you first get diagnosed with cancer, you assume that this is the worst day of your life: the fear, the unknown, the feeling that the word “cancer” surely can’t be related to you. I was 32 years old, and being told that I had cervical cancer was absolutely impossible to understand.
That shock and pain is immediate and terrifying – but in actual fact, it’s over pretty quickly. Once you know how far it has spread and your treatment plan has been agreed, then the night terrors tend to stop and you find yourself caught up in a whirl of hospital visits, a lot of waiting around and an awful lot of trying to take your mind off it, by any means.
The dull ache you’re left with is much harder to deal with. You know that those closest to you have been shaken to the core and feel powerless to help you – and you can’t help but feel responsible. The fear I saw in my husband’s eyes is something that I will always carry with me.
Immediately after your diagnosis, no one really knows how to treat you, or what to say. There is a lot of talk about “fighting” and staying strong. As an only child, I felt pressure to get through to the other side as I knew what the alternative would do to my parents.
I have always known that I wanted to be a mother. I’m ashamed to say that it was something that I took for granted – I assumed that my time would inevitably come. In the days and weeks immediately after my diagnosis, I was so focused on staying alive that I didn’t really consider the long-term implications of losing my fertility.
Initially I had a procedure called a trachelectomy, which is the removal of the cervix and tumour. It leaves the uterus in place, in an attempt to preserve fertility. Sadly, this wasn’t successful and I had to have a hysterectomy as the cancer was particularly aggressive.
Physically I recovered quite quickly from the surgery and all I am left with is a few scars on my abdomen. I have been lucky to escape the potential side effects, which for many can be devastating. Emotionally, things have proved a lot tougher. I was determined to “be OK” as soon as possible – but this meant I pretended that I was all right until I reached the point where I couldn’t pretend any longer.
Sometimes I feel angry about all of the things that I have lost, but mostly it’s just a sadness that is ever-present. I will never get to share the moment with my husband when I tell him that I am pregnant. We will never go to our first scan with the excitement and anticipation that new parents have. I won’t get to experience pregnancy and feel that sense of pride at growing a new life. I will never see the look on my husband’s face as he holds our child for the first time; all of this breaks my heart.
The long-term emotional impact of losing your fertility is a huge thing to carry around. Friends are kind and encourage you to think about adoption and while this of course is a way to become a parent (notwithstanding the rigorous process), it dismisses the anguish you feel about not being able to carry your own child.
As time moves on, the pain doesn’t lessen – but the way in which I deal with it changes. I hope one day to reach a point of acceptance, but it’s a while off at the moment.
I avidly follow all new published research relating to fertility and I think the developments that have occurred this week provide hope and comfort to women who find themselves in my position. It is encouraging to know that the unlucky cards I have been dealt will not necessarily mean that the chance of being a parent has been taken away. The fact that human eggs have been grown in a laboratory for the first time gives me hope that advances are being made which will mean more options in the future.
However, it’s important to note that if I could have a baby tomorrow that was genetically mine and my husband’s, that still wouldn’t lessen the pain of not being able to conceive, carry and give birth to that child naturally. That is and will remain particularly hard.