It’s not new, but egg freezing is a hot topic at the moment. If you’re a fan of The Bold Type, it’ll definitely be on your radar. (If not, one of the main characters, a twenty-something features writer called Jane, has one of the main story lines of the season – she’s been weighing up egg freezing as a means to safeguard her fertility after having been found to have the BRCA gene.) I don’t have the BRCA gene, but I am a twenty-something. Weirdly, I hope to one day work as a features writer too.
Also? I have cancer. Being faced with the prospect of losing your fertility due to disease is something I can relate to because I’ve lived it. And I have the IVF scars – physical and emotional – to prove it.
In 2014, I was diagnosed with stage III metastatic melanoma. In a nutshell, it sucked. Fast forward through endless appointments, the amputation of a toe (where the cancer had originated), a full lymph node dissection and then onset lymphoedema. Even when I was out of the woods, so to speak, the battle wasn’t over. Every day I thought the same thing – it could come back. But every day that it didn’t I thanked the universe. I had faced death at 20 years old, but I didn’t let it stop me from living. I refused to let fear creep in, so I started a new life at a new university. Then, I went on exchange to Venice. The universe smiled on me – I met and fell in love with my wonderful partner. I came back with a newly discovered zest for life, until one day I was again seated in my oncologist’s office hearing those three terrible words. I was 24, and this time, the cancer had reappeared in my lungs.
The facts on fertility you need to know about.
Naturally, my life fell apart. I wanted to isolate myself and I wanted to break up with my very new boyfriend. I thought about dying and let myself go to the dark side. I felt hopeless and I raged in anger this was happening again. What I didn’t think about then was egg freezing. (I have my mother to thank for that.) Once my oncologist had determined that immunotherapy (a specialised type of chemo) was my best option, I agreed to proceed. But my mum, looking towards the future when I certainly couldn’t, asked what the treatment would do to my fertility. The doctor looked at me with apologetic eyes and, in the saddest voice you’ve ever heard, told me he wasn’t sure. There was no scientific literature to support the idea that I wouldn’t be able to conceive successfully afterwards, but he also couldn’t guarantee immunotherapy wouldn’t destroy the quality of my eggs. The fact was, there were no documented cases of a woman having a child after having immunotherapy. Not one.