Becki McGuinness was left infertile by aggressive cancer treatment when she was just 23-years-old. Now 30, she’s launching a national campaign to ensure women facing cancer are given all the fertility options she should have had. This is her story…
“I was 21 when I was diagnosed with osteosarcoma – a rare and aggressive form of bone cancer – in my sacrum and spine. Because the cancer was so aggressive, and located around my pelvis, I knew there was a chance my fertility could be affected by treatment. But doctors explained to my mum and I what treatment I’d be having and told us there were no other options for my condition. We took them at their word.
The early days of treatment
I went into treatment believing there was no other option, knowing there was a chance I might come out infertile, but also being advised that infertility “doesn’t happen to everyone” as a result. I had six months of chemotherapy, with all the stereotypical side effects like my hair falling out, and then six weeks of daily radiotherapy.
It was during radiotherapy that my early menopause began; my periods became infrequent and I started getting really bad hot flushes. I’d be on the bus, or at social events, just sweating and sweating – and no one knew why. Initially, we didn’t know if it was a temporary or permanent menopause – so I still had some hope – but I was put on HRT (hormone replacement therapy) to tackle the symptoms.
When my periods didn’t come back after treatment, I was referred to the Reproductive Medicine Unit, who did a blood test to check my hormone levels. I was 23 when the test came back showing that I was infertile.
A painful realisation
As if it wasn’t enough to come to terms with the fact I’d never have biological children of my own, a gynaecologist later told me they could have saved my fertility by freezing eggs or embryos before treatment. I was devastated. If the oncologists had told me there was enough time, even if I’d had to go private, I would have found a way. But that choice was taken away from me.
For me, it’s a pro-choice issue. If you know you don’t want kids, you’re not going to mind going straight to treatment. But if you do want to try to preserve your fertility first then, as long as there’s time, that choice should be there. I’ve even spoken to women whose parents advised them to do freeze their eggs anyway, in case they changed their mind later in life, and they’re so glad now that they have the choice about whether to use those eggs or not. Even if you never go on to have kids, at least you’ve got that safety net. Once it’s taken away, you can’t go back.
The more I researched it, and spoke to other cancer patients, the more I realised my case wasn’t just a sad one-off; it was happening to lots of women. And there was no information or support out there specifically focused on cancer and fertility.
Keen to do something about the situation, I launched Cancer and Fertility UK to be a place online that’s by patients, for patients, to share their experiences – positive and negative – and to discuss the information and options.
I’ve got no eggs to save anymore, and I feel like that loss was just hushed away. For me personally, as hard as the cancer treatment was, losing my fertility was the hardest thing. If anything, it felt worse than the cancer. My fertility was something that was ingrained in me, that I wanted, and it was so hard to see that taken away.
I don’t feel like the same person anymore. My friends are now all at an age where they’re having babies, and I feel like I’m grieving for the life I could have had. That’s just as hard as grieving for the child you could have had, because it changes everything.
Looking forward forward, I don’t know exactly what the future will hold. I worry about relationships, that a man might never want to be with me because I’m infertile. But at the moment I think it would be physically too difficult for me to start a family anyway, because of the ongoing health problems I have as a result of cancer. There are options I’d consider though, like surrogacy or adoption. They’re not right for everyone, but I want to make sure women know they still have a choice, even if their fertility’s been taken away from them.
It’s a hard lesson that I’ve learnt. You could be in remission for 50 years and, despite surviving a life-threatening condition, it’s still possible to feel depressed about any of cancer’s repercussions. The loss of your fertility, an inability to work, or anything else.
Cancer doesn’t just ‘stop’ overnight; its effects can stay with you for the rest of your life.”
Culled from http://www.cosmopolitan.com/