It never occurred to me I would need fertility treatment
Kerry was diagnosed with myeloma in December 2021 at the age of 34. She was offered fertility treatment before she started treatment for the myeloma and talks frankly about the experience.
Towards the end of 2021, I went to the doctor because I had a period that went on for 10 days, which was very unusual for me. After a range of tests, I found out I had myeloma, a type of blood cancer that’s treatable, but not curable.
I was due to get married in 2022 and we planned to start a family. It didn’t even cross my mind at first that myeloma treatment could affect my fertility and I wouldn’t have thought to ask. It was the haematology nurse who took care of it all.
She basically sorted everything out and then said to us, “Look, there's absolutely no pressure. But if you want to, I've arranged fertility treatment for you. All you have to do is say yes or no.” For us, it was a no brainer.
Luckily, the consultant didn’t want to treat the myeloma immediately. If I had been high risk, I wouldn’t have had time for fertility treatment.
Preparing for egg collection
The first step is to suppress your normal menstrual cycle and stimulate egg production. The fertility nurse showed me how to inject myself and for two weeks, I gave myself hormone injections. I also had three ultrasound scans and two blood tests to check how things were going.
With each of your ovaries producing multiple eggs, it can feel a bit uncomfortable. After two weeks I felt very bloated and looked 3 months pregnant.
Then, at a specified time (11 o’clock at night!), I injected myself with the pregnancy hormone HCG, to mature the eggs.
On the morning of collection day, I was nil by mouth and took an antibiotic. Then I did a pregnancy test. They told me that it would come back positive but assured me that wouldn’t mean I was pregnant.
At that point it hit me how devastating it must be to get a false positive pregnancy test if you’ve been trying for a baby – knowing that’s all you want to see. I wasn’t in that position, but it made me feel for others who are.
I went into the clinic an hour before the procedure. They put a cannula in my arm, I said my goodbyes and then they took me into the procedure room.
There was a big hatch in the wall and behind that was the science team. Because of course when they take the eggs out, they've got to go straight into the science department. It's just fascinating. Such a well-oiled machine.
The last thing I remember is talking about gin and tonic before the anaesthetic kicked in.
What happened next
The plan was to freeze embryos rather than eggs, because they have a better success rate. So in the first cycle, they collected eight eggs, and we got four embryos from ICSI (Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection), where they inject the sperm directly into the eggs.
They leave the embryos to develop over three to five days. And then they're graded to see how viable they are. They were hoping to get more eggs from that first cycle, so they offered us a second one.
After the first procedure, I had coffee and cake and went home. Unfortunately, I had a lot of pain in the night, and ended up in A&E. That’s unusual – just very bad luck. For the second cycle, everything went fine.
We now have nine frozen embryos. They will be kept for up to 55 years. We just have to give our consent again every 10 years.
Because I have a cancer diagnosis, we will be able to use all our embryos if needed – we can carry on until we get a live birth.
Signing up for fertility treatment
One thing to be aware of is that signing up for fertility treatment is a very formal process. You have to request the forms in writing, they can’t just give them to you.
They also ask some questions that you might find upsetting, such as if you die do you give permission for your partner to use the embryos with another person or a surrogate. Bear in mind they have to ask everybody, it’s not personal.
Considering other options
Having frozen embryos gives us a good safety net. But we are talking about other options. We have to consider that if I go on lenalidomide maintenance treatment after my current treatment is finished, I can’t get pregnant because lenalidomide can cause birth defects. We don’t know if I will have maintenance treatment, but we have to be prepared.
The fertility team talked about surrogacy, but even though it’s our own DNA we would have to apply to the courts for legal parenthood after the baby is born. Until then, the surrogate has parental rights, and nine months of worrying about that may be too much for me.
Adoption is another possibility. We have friends who foster and perhaps we could foster then adopt. It’s something I want to look into.
Thinking about all this is difficult when you’re contending with a diagnosis of blood cancer at the same time.
The emotional impact
I have tormented myself with thoughts like, was I selfish? Should I have had a baby sooner? But I know I wouldn’t have wanted to start a family too early and I wanted to get married first.
Hearing about other people having babies can be upsetting. I messaged a friend on Facebook to say congratulations on the birth of her baby and it hit me like a brick. That caught me completely off guard. When you’re going through fertility treatment you start to see pregnant women and babies everywhere you look!
But at least we’ve had the chance keep our options open by having the fertility treatment. And I’m very glad we were able to do that.
Ask your hospital team about fertility treatment as soon as you can after diagnosis.
For more information about different types of fertility treatments, visit the Human Embryology and Fertilisation Authority website.