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

Friday - - Contents -

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

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