Patient experience of fertility preservation following cancer diagnosis

In honour of World Cancer Day this Sunday 4th February, we caught up with Lister patient Jen who, after her breast cancer diagnosis, decided to freeze her embryos with us. Eight years later, following her successful cancer treatment, Jen returned to the Lister for her embryo transfer.

I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in April 2010 just a few weeks after Rich and I had sat down and had "The Talk". We had had each other to ourselves for 10 beautiful years, were still crazy in love and it was time to get married, buy a home and start a family with whom we could share all of that loveliness with. We were so excited for what the future has in store, and to be told I would be lucky to survive, let alone have any of the things we had so recently planned, was utterly devastating.  

I was told I would almost certainly be thrown into premature menopause by the treatment I required. Unwilling to accept this and sacrifice every single thing that mattered to me before this horrible disease, I got myself an urgent referral to an obs and gynae consultant at my local hospital. After listening to my case, he advised me that I should do a round of IVF as soon as possible and freeze our embryos before proceeding with my chemotherapy.  I knew immediately this was the right thing for me to do.

We were recommend The Lister Fertility Clinic and advised to get in touch with consultant James Nicopoullos. James came back to me almost immediately, and I felt that we were in safe hands from the very first conversation. He understood that this wasn't an ordinary case and that taking the right course quickly was paramount. I felt completely confident that James understood the importance of protecting my safety from a cancer point of view, whilst still striving to get the best possible outcome from the IVF.

James advised that we proceed with the treatment straight away, with a view to freezing as many embryos as possible prior to my chemo, using aromatase inhibitors to protect me from any hormone overload. A huge cloud instantly lifted and our road was light again with hope and enthusiasm, we soon had 5 embryos safely frozen and a very good reason to get better!

By taking the action to freeze our embryos, what had presented itself as potentially the worst period of our lives, transformed into a period full of triumphs. Incredibly, with hindsight this period holds some truly happy and magical memories, and the journey certainly crushed any uncertainty we may have had about what we wanted for our future, we definitely processed the love and courage needed to offer a wonderful family to the babies we wanted so much.

We have wonderful photos in and outside The Lister on the day of egg collection, we have kept them safe to show our babies when they finally arrive, I look so happy and excited in them it’s hard to believe I was in the early stages of a cancer diagnosis.

Following surgery to remove the multiple tumours, FECT chemotherapy and two years on Tamoxifen and one year of Herceptin. The cancer treatment was deemed to be a complete success and 8 years on from diagnosis I have had no reoccurrence.

Our 8 year journey came to a wonderful conclusion in the transfer room at the Lister last Tuesday surrounded by people that seemed to care so genuinely. It was a really beautiful experience and Rich was able to hold my hand whilst we watched our precious ones on the screen and saw them safety guided into my uterus. (2 in and 1 frozen) We even got a photo!

We were lucky enough to find ourselves in the safe hands of beautiful Dr Jaya Parikh, she was so lovely and filled us with immediate confidence and so kind and patient answering all our questions. We were also privileged to have lovely Victoria, Embryologist, in the room, who was nearly as excited as we were that she had also frozen our little ones some 8 years earlier!

I can't say enough good things about the entire team at the Lister, every single person we have encountered has been wonderful, including all the nurses and receptionists and in particular the incredibly professional lab staff that have the job of phoning you with news on your precious embryos progress, it takes a special type of personality to deliver news by phone when people are so anxious!

Obviously we do not have enough praise for James Nicopoullos he has shown us empathy, understanding and kindness whilst always managing our expectations (under promising, over delivering!). A genuine and lovely man who instils complete confidence and was just what we needed when we were feeling so vulnerable.

I am of course extremely lucky and grateful to have had such a good outcome in every sense, but outcome aside,  the help and care I received from The Lister and the other doctors that supported me in getting there,  completely changed how I felt and how I dealt with the cancer and my treatments. I will never regret our decision to try and preserve what was so dear to us and would recommend the wonderful team at The Lister to anyone who finds themselves in a similar position.

Our aim here at the Lister is to eliminate some of the barriers to preservation by providing a simple pathway for rapid referral. HCA UK are the only private provider to cover the entire cancer pathway seamlessly, from diagnosis and treatment, through to survivorship and aftercare. We offer all relevant patients counselling on their reproductive health and the impact that cancer can have on their fertility.