That's What Friends Are For
- Lorna Cattle, 35, had to terminate her pregnancy after receiving her cervical cancer diagnosis. Thankfully, her best friend stepped in to make her motherhood dreams comes true by offering to be her surrogate.
- Cervical cancer begins in the cells lining the cervix – the lower part of the womb (uterus). Treatment options for cervical cancer include surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. HPV (human papillomavirus), a sexually-transmitted virus, causes more than 70% of cervical cancer cases.
- Doctors should bring up fertility preservation with every woman of childbearing age before she starts cancer treatment.
Cattle, a 35 year old HR worker from England, was diagnosed with cervical cancer when the newlywed was six to eight weeks pregnant in November 2016, so her doctors needed to decide if her pregnancy was viable.Read More
She then made the heartbreaking decision to terminate her pregnancy and start treatment. She underwent an ovarian transposition where the ovaries are moved to lower the amount of radiation they are exposed to during radiation therapy along with radiotherapy, chemotherapy and a hysterectomy.
“When I was going through treatment, I was just focusing on getting better and didn’t want to worry about anything else, so our plans of being parents were put on hold whilst I recovered,” she said.
She was finally given the all clear in November 2017 after months of treatment. And while doctors told her she would be unable to carry a child, Cattle never lost hope for starting a family.
“I’m a very optimistic person and never gave up hope on being a mum,” she said. “I always knew we would have a family one way or another, whether that was through adopting or surrogacy.”
Cattle and her husband Dan, 40, were looking into fertility treatments when Cattle’s best friend, Steph Stretton, 36, stepped in to make their dreams come true.
“2019 was when we first went to visit fertility doctors and spoke about our options, and, in 2020, Steph came forward and said she would be our surrogate, which I couldn’t have been more grateful for,” Cattle said. “There are no words to explain the gratitude and awe I have for her.”
Stretton successfully became pregnant in February 2021 following a frozen embryo transfer, commonly referred to as FET. The frozen embryo came from a previous IVF (in vitro fertilization) cycle where mature eggs are collected from ovaries and fertilized by sperm in a lab.
“We froze the embryos in December 2020 and did our first transfer in February 2021,” she explained. “I never expected a friend to come forward and offer to do that for us.”
Stretton gave birth to a beautiful baby boy in September 2021. But leading up to baby Joshua’s birth was stressful since Stretton developed preeclampsia – a pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure and signs of damage to another organ system, most often the liver and kidneys. Still, everything worked out in the end and “he came out perfect.”
“Being a mum is surreal,” Cattle said. “Joshua is amazing and I feel extremely fortunate and grateful to have him in my life.”
Understanding Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer begins in the cells lining the cervix – the lower part of the womb (uterus). Treatment options for cervical cancer include surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. HPV (human papillomavirus), a sexually-transmitted virus, causes more than 70% of cervical cancer cases. It’s important to note, however, that other risk factors like smoking can make you about twice as likely to get cervical cancer as those who don’t smoke.
The American Cancer Society estimates that the United States will see about 14,100 new cases of invasive cervical cancer in 2022. Cervical cancer screening is critically important because an earlier diagnosis can mean a better prognosis with broader treatment options. The American Cancer Society recommends that cervical cancer screening begins at age 25, and people aged 25 to 65 should have a primary HPV test, an HPV test done by itself for screening, every 5 years. If primary HPV testing is not available, however, screening may be done with either a co-test that combines an HPV test with a Papanicolaou (Pap) test every 5 years or a Pap test alone every 3 years.
“I would highly encourage all women to go for their annual smear tests and push for answers if something doesn’t feel right,” Cattle said. “I’d rather five minutes of embarrassment than months of treatment.”
The most common symptoms of cervical cancer can include:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding, such as bleeding after vaginal sex, bleeding after menopause, after douching, bleeding and spotting in between periods or having heavier or longer (menstrual) periods than usual.
- Unusual discharge from the vagina that may contain some blood and may occur between your periods or after menopause.
- Pain during sex.
- Pain in the pelvic region.
Cancer Treatment and Fertility
Some types of chemotherapy can destroy eggs in your ovaries. This can make it impossible or difficult to get pregnant later. Whether or not chemotherapy makes you infertile depends on the type of drug and your age – since your egg supply decreases with age.
“The risk is greater the older you are,” Knopman says. “If you’re 39 and you get chemo that’s toxic to the ovaries, it’s most likely to make you menopausal. But, if you’re 29, your ovaries may recover because they have a higher baseline supply.”
Radiation to the pelvis can also destroy eggs. It can damage the uterus, too. Surgery to your ovaries or uterus can hurt fertility as well.
If you are having a treatment that includes infertility as a possible side effect, your doctor won’t be able to tell you for sure whether you will have this side effect. That’s why you should discuss your options for fertility preservation before starting treatment.
Research shows that women who have fertility preservation prior to breast cancer treatment, in particular, are more than twice as likely to give birth after treatment than those who don’t take fertility preserving measures.
Preserving Your Fertility Before Cancer Treatment
Most women who preserve their fertility before cancer treatment do so by freezing their eggs or embryos.
After you finish your cancer treatment, a doctor who specializes in reproductive medicine can implant one or more embryos in your uterus – or the uterus of a surrogate – with the hope that it will result in pregnancy. If you freeze eggs only before treatment, a fertility specialist can use sperm and your eggs to create embryos in vitro and transfer them to your uterus.
When freezing eggs or embryos is not an option, doctors may try these less common approaches:
- Ovarian tissue freezing, an experimental approach for girls who haven’t yet reached puberty and don’t have mature eggs or for women who must begin treatment right away and don’t have time to harvest eggs.
- Ovarian suppression to prevent the eggs from maturing so that they cannot be damaged during treatment.
- Ovarian transposition, for women getting radiation to the pelvis, to move the ovaries out of the line of treatment.