Breast cancer left Courtney Macropoulos infertile, but her twin came to her rescue.
When doctors told Courtney Macropoulos, 35, she couldn’t have children because of her gruelling breast cancer treatment, she feared she would never be a mum – until her twin offered to be a surrogate
My fingers froze as I soaped myself in the shower. I closed my eyes, fear thumping through me, hoping I’d made a mistake. But it was there, a hard, round lump in my left breast. I felt it again, and wanted to cry – but no tears came. I was too scared to do anything, except think: ‘Please don’t let it be cancer.’
My maternal grandmother had died of breast cancer at the age of 55 and there was a history of breast cancer in the family. But I was sure this was just a lump, some sort of cyst that would go away on its own. That’s what I wanted it to be, so I made myself believe it – or tried to at least.
Every day I checked, willing it to have disappeared, but each time my fingers would discover that slightly larger than pea-sized lump at the top of my left breast, and a surge of fear would lurch in my chest.
That terror paralysed me – it stopped me going to see my GP or
Because the cancer was feeding off progesterone, the FERTILITY hormone, I could be left infertile. Doctors said the OVARIES may be affected, which could DELAY or even PREVENT me from having kids
confiding in my twin sister. Usually I tell Danielle everything. We are fraternal twins – Danielle is older than me by five minutes. As kids growing up in Rhode Island in the US, we always did everything together.
We are the youngest of four kids including Derek, 44, and Nicole, 39, and we shared everything from friends to clothes. Even now – at 31, after I married Stephen Macropoulos, 33, we still live just a few blocks from each other, and spend all our spare time together. So it was hard hiding this from her. Danielle guessed something was worrying me and one day she asked ‘Is there something wrong?’
‘No, I’m fine,’ I lied, ignoring the guilt biting at me. But after two months of monitoring the lump, I realised I couldn’t ignore it any more and went to see a doctor.
Itold Stephen and he came with me. The doctor did a physical examination and discovered another lump in the same breast. A biopsy was done and when the results came back, the doctor called me and Stephen in. ‘I’m sorry but the lumps are cancerous. You have stage two cancer.’
Suddenly I was reeling, the room spinning, his words sounding far away. I thought I might faint. Or be sick. Then I felt Stephen holding me and I began to sob. We had only been married four months, and had so many plans. ‘I want a baby,’ I thought, panicking. ‘How can I have breast cancer?’
I had to tell my twin so I called her over to the house. She came straight away. ‘What is it?’ she asked. ‘I’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer,’ I sobbed.
It took a minute for the news to sink in for Danielle before she said: ‘You’re going to be OK. Don’t worry. We’ll get through this together. You just need to stay positive.’
But it was hard. I’d wanted to start a family. I had to forget about becoming a mother right now. ‘I will beat this,’ I told myself over and over. Thankfully it was a slow-growing cancer. But the doctor said it was best to start treatment as soon as possible.
First I would need a double mastectomy, followed by eight sessions of chemotherapy.
Because the cancer was feeding off progesterone – the fertility hormone – my doctors said there was a chance I could be left infertile. ‘The ovaries may be affected, which could delay or even prevent you from having children,’ he said.
Stephen and I were left speechless – this was the second blow in less than a month. First the breast cancer diagnosis and now this.
But there was no choice. Of course I needed to get better first, but we wanted children, so we decided to have IVF treatment to harvest my eggs and freeze embryos. I consulted with the doctors, who gave me the go-ahead for this.
I wanted to tell my family about our plans, and knew that they would support us whatever we decided. ‘You don’t have to worry, Courtney,’ Danielle said, taking my hand. That was so like her, always there for me. But she was still talking.
‘If you can’t have children I will help you,’ she said. ‘I’ll carry them for you.’
As a married mother of two boys, Mackenzie, seven, and Benjamin, four, Danielle had been through it all, but I was taken aback by her proposal. I looked at her, stunned by her selflessness. ‘I love you so much,’ I said, standing up to hug her for a very long time.
I looked at Stephen, who was with us in the room, and he was welling up. We never talked about it again. But knowing that Danielle had made such an incredible offer meant I could focus on getting better. In October 2011, two months after my initial diagnosis, I had a double mastectomy.
Of course I was terrified, but waking up knowing that the malignant lumps had gone made me happy.
I also had breast reconstruction done at the same time and through it all Danielle and Stephen were with me. A month later I started chemotherapy and they both took turns taking me to appointments. Each chemo session lasted eight hours, which left me feeling exhausted. Then my shoulderlength blonde hair began to fall out. My head became so sensitive it felt as if someone was sticking a pin inside each hair follicle as the strands dropped out.
‘You look beautiful,’ Stephen would tell me, but I didn’t feel beautiful. I
WAITING in the ward, Stephen and I were DESPERATE for some GOOD NEWS. But the doctor looked GRIM when she called us into her office. ‘I’m afraid we’ve LOST ONE of the BABIES,’ she told us
couldn’t recognise myself anymore, and going bald felt like a slow torture. Finally I decided to shave it off. Danielle didn’t say anything as I sobbed, staring at my bald reflection, but it hurt her too. For the first time ever we didn’t look alike. ‘We’re going shopping for wigs,’ she said. We laughed as we tried on a myriad colours and styles, and finally settled for a brunette one. It made me feel less self-conscious. ‘I might have to go dark too,’ Danielle said. ‘You look so glamorous.’
But I didn’t feel like that when I finished my eighth and final round of chemo and started 30 days of radiation.
The chemo sessions were painful and exhausting but I was glad to get the cancer out of my system. Finally I could start planning for my future, I thought. But the news was bittersweet. The cancer was gone, but doctors had another bombshell for me.
‘After so much chemo, it won’t be safe for you to have children,’ my doctor confirmed. ‘At least not right now.
Chemotherapy, he said, can decrease fertility and it was too early for me to take medication for that because I was taking medication for cancer. Also, getting pregnant would require me to stop taking the oestrogen-blocker Tamoxifen, used to help prevent the cancer from coming back.
Stephen and I were devastated. We knew it was a possibility all along, but hearing the words made it real. Of course, I was grateful to be alive, but also heartbroken knowing I would never be a mum.
I wasn’t that brave this time – and sobbed at home whenever I thought about not having a child. ‘You’re healthy, that’s what matters,’ Stephen would say. But I’d shake my head.
‘I can never ever have children,’ I cried. Danielle heard me one day and frowned.
‘Who says you can’t have children?’ she asked. ‘Remember my promise? I’ll do it for you. I’ll be your surrogate.’
Although she had told me she would, I had never thought to ask her to carry that promise through. It was asking too much. But Danielle insisted. ‘I told you I would and I will,’ she said. Guilt pinched. She and her husband Eric had always planned to have three children – but after talking it over, they agreed to give up that dream to help us.
‘I can’t thank you enough,’ I said, hugging them.
In September 2013, Danielle said she was ready to start IVF. She had undergone nearly three months of testing and trials to ensure she was fine and would be able to carry my surrogate baby.
‘In just a few months you will be holding your child,’ she said. I hugged her.
Danielle went through her first round of IVF using the embryos that we had frozen. Back home, I kept counting the days when she could take the test to confirm the pregnancy.
But unfortunately she didn’t get pregnant on the first try. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said almost apologetically when the first IVF failed. It was another shock to both Stephen and we nearly burst out in tears.
But Danielle was strong. ‘Don’t worry,’ she said. ‘We can try again.’ I began to get nervous. Having exhausted five of our 10 embryos, I worried it wasn’t going to happen. The doctors, though, were encouraging. ‘Sometimes, such things do happen,’ he told me. ‘Relax, Danielle can try a second time.’
A month later they implanted the remaining embryos in Danielle.
Then began the two-week wait to see if she was a pregnant. This time I was very nervous and kept hoping desperately that I would be lucky.
Finally I got the call that I was waiting for.
‘We’re pregnant,’ Danielle shouted over the phone. ‘You’re going to be a mum.’ She’d done a pregnancy test at home and it was positive.
Icalled Stephen immediately and told him the good news. I was crying, screaming, and laughing all at the same time. rushed over to her house and grabbed her hand. ‘Are you fine?’ I asked. She nodded, then hugged me.
A month later, I went with Danielle for her first ultrasound and scans revealed we were having twins.
Hearing my babies’ heartbeat inside my sister’s womb was the most incredible gift I could ever imagine.
All my life I’d dreamt of having twins. I loved how special my relationship was with Danielle and I so badly wanted that for my own kids. Now it was coming true.
We spent the holidays making plans, shopping and decorating a nursery to bring our babies home to. But 11 weeks into the pregnancy we received devastating news.
During Danielle’s second ultrasound the doctor could only detect one heartbeat. Although I was with her at the time, I didn’t realise it until the doctor took me aside and told me about it and said that Danielle had to be admitted into hospital.
Waiting in the ward, Stephen and I were desperate for some good news. But the doctor looked grim when she called us into her office. ‘I’m afraid we’ve lost one of the babies,’ she told us. Stephen and I
I’ ll never be able to RE PAY my sister for helping fulfil my DREAM of becoming a MUM. Being twins and best friends I didn’ t think we could be any closer. But this experience has strengthened our BOND even more
were heartbroken and Danielle felt awful. There was no real explanation for why one of the babies didn’t make it. But rather than be angry we agreed to focus on the positive.
It was a miracle we were even pregnant in the first place. ‘I’m not going to leave your side for the next six months,’ I told Danielle. went to every appointment, took her shopping for maternity clothes and checked on her multiple times a day. Although I was still nervous, Danielle kept reassuring me to relax.
In March Stephen and I took Danielle and her family on a vacation to Florida before the baby arrived.
For years our husbands have always joked they each have two wives because Danielle and I are always together, but having a baby made us inseparable.
I loved placing my hands on her bump and feeling my baby kicking, and was proud when Danielle told people she was having the baby for me.
Of course there were times I was jealous of Danielle, like when she could feel the baby kick and I couldn’t.
Or when people would congratulate my sister on her pregnancy even though I was the mum-to-be.
There was always a small part of disappointment, wishing I was the one who could experience the pregnancy. But Danielle corrected everyone to say she was carrying for me. It was always fun to see people’s reactions when they learned it was actually my baby she was having.
Since Danielle had C-sections with both of her children, her delivery date was scheduled for August 4, 2014.
Arriving at the hospital, we were all overwhelmed with nerves and excitement.
I couldn’t stop hugging Danielle and thanking her over and over again for the incredible gift that she was giving us.
Unfortunately Stephen and I couldn’t be inside the delivery room with Danielle and Eric – hospital rules – but the nurse took a camera in there to take photos for us.
We were in the corridor waiting eagerly for news from the doctor. I was so excited and nervous and happy that I couldn’t stand still. About an hour later, the door opened and a doctor came out. ‘You’ve just had a lovely baby girl,’ she smiled.
We’d known it was a girl, but I felt dizzy with joy. ‘We’ve got a baby,’ I almost screamed, hugging Stephen. ‘How’s Danielle?’ I asked the doctor. ‘She’s fine,’ she said. ‘You can go in and see them both.’
I couldn’t wait. ‘She’s here,’ Danielle smiled to us, nodding towards the cot. ‘Your beautiful baby girl.’
We had decided to call her Isabel Grace and Danielle insisted that I be the first to hold Isabel, which I was very grateful for.
As the nurse handed over the baby to me, I could hardly contain myself. It was the most beautiful moment in my life – something I feared I would never ever experience.
Holding little Isabel close to my chest, I stared into her face. Her eyes were closed and she looked like the most beautiful child I’d ever seen. I could have stared at her all day.
Stephen came over and gently touched her little hands. ‘She’s so beautiful,’ he said, eyes shining with happiness.
Handing her over to him, I went over to Danielle and gently kissed her forehead.
‘Thank you, Dani,’ I said. ‘I’ll never forget this.’ She looked weak after the C-section but she gently squeezed my hand. ‘Love you,’ she mouthed. I’ll never be able to repay my sister for giving me the most amazing gift and helping fulfil my dream of becoming a mum.
Being twins and best friends I didn’t really think we could be any closer.
But this experience has brought us closer than I ever imagined and made our bond truly unbreakable.
Courtney Macropoulos, 35, lives in Rhode Island with her husband Stephen and their one-year-old daughter Isabel
Danielle was there for me while I was battling breast cancer and faced the prospect of never having children
Danielle and I were always together, sharing everything from friends to clothes – but I never imagined she would offer to carry a baby for me
I felt grateful to be alive, but when doctors told me that after all the chemo it wouldn’t be safe to have kids, I was devastated
Danielle even insisted that I be the first to hold my daughter. It was such a beautiful moment