‘Los­ing my fer­til­ity at 27 was dev­as­tat­ing’

Chemo­ther­apy robbed Laura Moses of her chance of con­ceiv­ing, but now she’s cancer-free, she’s de­ter­mined to be­come a mother

Grazia (UK) - - Contents -

when the con­sul­tant told me the bloated tummy, back pain and ex­haus­tion I’d been ex­pe­ri­enc­ing was down to cancer in my ovaries, I didn’t think about my fer­til­ity. I heard the word ‘chemo’ and thought sim­ply of my hair. Would it all fall out? Go­ing bald was a more im­me­di­ate, di­gestible fear than the enor­mity of never hav­ing my own child. And any­way, the key thing at this point – the con­sul­tant re­it­er­ated – was to sur­vive the treat­ment.

I was 27 and my ovaries were rid­dled with cancer, so har­vest­ing eggs to freeze pre-chemo was out of the ques­tion. There was no time; I had the most ag­gres­sive fe­male cancer there is. So by the end of the 30-minute meet­ing, the de­ci­sion was made. My first cy­cle of chemo­ther­apy started three days later and, as I felt the cool, poi­sonous liq­uid travel into my veins, I went into sur­vival mode, think­ing only of en­durance.

I had tested pos­i­tive for the BRCA1 gene mu­ta­tion in 2015, so I knew I was high risk for breast and ovar­ian cancer, but the lat­ter tends to af­fect women over 45, so the focus had al­ways been on my breasts, with reg­u­lar six-monthly checks. And yet here I was, be­ing told my hys­terec­tomy was go­ing to in­clude re­mov­ing my cervix, fal­lop­ian tubes, ovaries, womb, two-thirds of my di­aphragm, most of my peri­toneum (the lin­ing that cov­ers the or­gans in­side your ab­domen) as well as some can­cer­ous bits sit­ting on my liver and bowel. If the chemo­ther­apy hadn’t al­ready wiped out my fer­til­ity, this op­er­a­tion cer­tainly would.

At the time, I was teach­ing at a pri­mary school in North Lon­don and, like most sin­gle 20-some­things, hav­ing chil­dren wasn’t on my radar. But now I was sud­denly forced to think about it, sim­ply be­cause the choice was be­ing taken away. I was never go­ing to know what it was like to be preg­nant and that was dev­as­tat­ing.

But up­most in my mind was sim­ply want­ing to live. My fam­ily and friends were amaz­ing, al­low­ing me to talk about my fears and loss, but their big­gest kind­ness to me was treat­ing me just the same; never avoid­ing talking about preg­nancy or ba­bies.

Over time, I ac­cepted I didn’t need to give birth to be a mother. I started watch­ing adop­tion videos, see­ing ba­bies be­ing lifted into tear­ful cou­ples’ arms or a grin split­ting a child’s face while en­closed in a hug by new par­ents. It gave me hope, know­ing fam­i­lies could be con­structed in all sorts of ways pro­vided there was one in­gre­di­ent: love.

Af­ter the op­er­a­tion, I was plunged into the menopause. I couldn’t sleep, al­ter­nat­ing be­tween sweat­ing un­der the cov­ers then shiv­er­ing with­out them. I’d com­pare symp­toms with other menopausal fe­male re­la­tions in their fifties, jok­ing how I was a young per­son trapped in an old woman’s body. But be­neath the laugh­ter, I strug­gled. Some days I was too ex­hausted to move from bed and my bones and joints ached so much they couldn’t bear my weight. I had to keep re­mind­ing my­self my body was in this state for a rea­son: it had saved my life.

When I was well enough, I had another three cy­cles of chemo­ther­apy to make sure ev­ery trace of ‘Cyril’ (my name for my cancer) was oblit­er­ated. Then in Novem­ber 2016 I heard that magic word: re­mis­sion.

I wrote about it on my blog and a guy called Alex mes­saged me, ask­ing if I wanted to meet. We had friends in com­mon and I knew he’d been di­ag­nosed with NonHodgkin lym­phoma in his early twen­ties, so when we met for a cof­fee we didn’t stop chat­ting. I was still hav­ing main­te­nance chemo­ther­apy treat­ment and he’d come with me, keep­ing me calm, know­ing how it felt. That was the thing about Alex. He was six years cancer-free but he to­tally got it: the wor­ry­ing about ev­ery twinge for fear the cancer had re­turned; the sad­ness at los­ing your fer­til­ity – chemo­ther­apy had made him ster­ile at 22. We had so much in com­mon – not just cancer, but also our love of food, the­atre and swim­ming. We fell in love and, af­ter 18 months, he asked me to marry him. It was a no-brainer. We talked about our dreams of hav­ing a fam­ily with ease. Adop­tion was al­ways some­thing Alex had wanted to do, so the idea that we could pur­sue it to­gether be­came an ex­cit­ing focus.

I’m two years in re­mis­sion now and there is a pre­ven­ta­tive dou­ble mas­tec­tomy on the cards – to get rid of the breasts that might one day kill me – but we’re talking se­ri­ously about adop­tion. We might have lost our fer­til­ity to cancer but we’re hop­ing to gain some­thing in­cred­i­ble one day very soon. Read Laura’s blog at find­ing­cyril.com

alex had al­ways wanted to adopt – pur­su­ing it to­gether be­came an ex­cit­ing focus

pho­to­graphs jenny Lewis

Left: Laura and Alex are busy mak­ing plans to cre­ate their fam­ily

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