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For the first episode of That Cancer Conversation, we explore infertility and cancer.

From teenage body worries to an intercontinental surrogacy story, we chat to Max, Kreena and Eleanor – 3 people whose cancer journeys affected their fertility in some way.

Is freezing sperm and egg cells the only option? Not necessarily.

We sit down with Professor Richard Anderson, Deputy Director of the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Reproductive Health, to explore options that are available and what the future of fertility medicine could look like.

If you would like to learn more about cancer and fertility, here are some resources:

If you’d like to talk to someone, our nurses are available Monday to Friday 9-5pm on freephone 0808 800 4040.

You can listen and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and wherever you get your podcasts.

Show the transcript

HOST: Welcome to That Cancer Conversation, the new podcast from Cancer Research UK.

Here’s a little stat for you: every two minutes, someone in the UK is diagnosed with cancer but survival here has doubled in the last 40 years. However, that’s not the be all and end all because the cancer journey that people go on can affect their lives in ways that a lot of people do not think about.

Something that you might not know is that we’ve got an online form called cancer chat. It’s often the first place that people end up when they’re looking for more information on cancer. And one topic comes up again and again – fertility. Or more commonly, the question: ‘will cancer make me infertile’.

Obviously, that is a huge topic. So to find out a little bit more about what that actually means. I spoke to Richard Anderson, Professor of Clinical Reproductive Science at the University of Edinburgh.

Richard: So infertility is the inability to conceive after a certain amount of time of trying without contraception, of course. And generally speaking, people use one year of trying to conceive as the starting point for that definition, it’s generally the treatment for cancer that causes the infertility rather than the disease itself. And that treatment can be commonly chemotherapy, or it could be radiotherapy, or it could actually be surgery that’s involved in removing the tumour that also causes the infertility. But probably the most common is the different sorts of chemotherapy regimens that are damaging to the ovaries and testes.

HOST: So that makes sense. Damage the ovaries or testes, whether by treatment or the cancer itself can affect fertility. But what does that mean for someone diagnosed with cancer early in their life?

Max: It was a really weird experience, because the first word that popped into my head was “cancer”. And I wasn’t sure how to deal with that. And I pushed that aside and said “No, it can’t be me”. I did literally have this conversation in my head with myself.

HOST: This is Max, he’s a 22 year old medical student at the University of Oxford. In 2011, he discovered a lump on one of his testicles.

Max: And keep in mind, you know, I was about 14 at this point. So going through quite a lot, both physically and mentally. In terms of puberty and stuff, and I that’s what I kind of put it down to I just said, Well, you know, my body’s supposed to be changing. Maybe this is normal.

And I think that on top of the kind of like, general embarrassment about finding a lump downstairs, and not really being sure how to talk to my friends or my family. That meant that I kind of sat on my symptoms for about six months. And I did just let this thing grow and I was kind of every now and again, I’d check, keep an eye on it, would forget about it again. Try and keep it as kind of like a background thought basically. And until eventually, this is about six months after I’d found the first lump. So I think that was roughly by April 2012. When I found the first one, then about an October, then I felt a real change. And it got really, like way bigger really quickly. And that was really when I kind of thought, Okay, this needs to be investigated now. Because now I definitely know it’s not anything but something worrying.

HOST: So after going to his GP and being referred to his local hospital for a series of scans and other tests, Max was diagnosed with testicular cancer at the age of 15. He was then moved to Cambridge, home to one of the biggest centres for Children’s Cancer in the UK. And this is where he had most of his treatments. This involved multiple operations to remove the lump in his testicles and the lymph nodes to where the cancer had spread.

Max: Yeah, this was April 2013. So I was 15 and a half. Yeah. And it was quite a big operation and quite a long time in hospital trying to get this sorted. Not too bad, but fairly big. I think it’s about four nights. And then a few months of physio trying to get me back walking, stuff like that again. Yeah, it was okay. That was my whole experience, those six months. Six months condensed into a lot of pain, a lot of hardship, also a lot of high points every now and again. And now I’m seven years in remission. I am infertile now partly because of my treatment but mostly because of the last surgery I had a big operation which affects my sexual health in some ways. It just means that I can’t have kids myself through “natural” methods. Sex basically.

HOST: Was that something that you’re really thinking about? Because I’m remembering the age of 13/14/15. I wasn’t really thinking about my fertility at that point. So what was it like for you?

Max: Yeah. So actually, when I got moved to Cambridge, that was, I was lucky. That was the first time I got brought up. And I was very lucky, because it’s not the case for everyone. It’s the case for most people now, but that’s relatively recent.

And so the first kind of conversation was “well, listen, we’re gonna have to be taking it out. And that means a worry for fertility and potential worries about you know, chemo and stuff in the future. probably best if you start thinking about the long term plans now, so that we can have a plan, you know, in place for when you get through this.”

And that kind of sperm banksin case things don’t work out in terms of fertility. There is no easy way of telling a teenage boy that they’re going to have to masturbate into a cup, and have it stored with the parents in the room. Three hours after the formal diagnosis of cancer. It’s just a completely insurmountable task to do like easily. It’s funny actually, like thinking back, I was weirdly kind of calm about the whole thing. I think I was clearly in like, you know, just state, okay, just get me through this. And trying to kind of process I guess,

HOST: Max was fortunate enough to have been able to store his sperm for the future, in case he decides that he wants to have children. But in order for people to be able to freeze their sperm or their eggs, or their embryos, but more on that later, they’ve got to be able to actually produce them. So if a person isn’t old enough, or has other health conditions that prevent this, what are their options?

For eggs, it’s a case of removing tissue from the ovaries. That part of the reproductive system that produces the egg and storing it. Later on, this healthy tissue can be re implanted and used to produce eggs, restoring fertility. But if Max were not able to store sperm, would he have had a similar alternative? I asked Professor Anderson.

Richard: Yes. So those options of freezing eggs and sperm are really only appropriate for adults, for post pubertal men and women. Storing testicular tissue for boys or potentially adult men is a lot less developed, actually, than storing ovarian tissue.

There are centres around Europe and around the world that are offering storage of testis tissue for pre pubertal boys facing cancer treatment that is very likely to damage their fertility. But it’s still very experimental, because we don’t know how really to use this tissue effectively, to be able to develop the cells within it into mature sperm and to create pregnancies.

HOST: Has that ever actually happened? Because I’ve never really heard any news about this. And this seems quite a big thing, right?

Richard: It actually was achieved quite recently in a monkey and had a bit of testis frozen and grafted back and it was able to produce sperm and they generated a baby monkey from that using IVF. But it’s never been done in humans. So although some centres, as I say, are offering this, it is still very experimental. And we really don’t know whether it will work basically, or not yet.

HOST: Unlike this, the same technique using ovarian tissue has been far more positive. Reimplanting tissue has been shown to restore fertility and lead to successful pregnancies.

For many, including Max, conversations about fertility and the impact that cancer or the treatment could have begin after diagnosis. But for Eleanor, her story begins with a pregnancy test.

Eleanor: Yeah, so I was pregnant over Christmas 2016. You know, I’ll be really honest, and say that when I first did the pregnancy test, I kind of sat on a bathroom floor and sort of mouthed the F word. Just kind of probably had a bit of a blank expression on my face for like, maybe two minutes.

HOST: This is Eleanor. She fell pregnant for the first time in November 2016. But for the 27 year old, something wasn’t right.

Eleanor: And I just felt super sick. So me getting myself dressed for work in the morning was taking me like two hours. But it was my first pregnancy. I thought it was normal. I think the Duchess of Cambridge, not that long before had been very publicly admitted to hospital for her morning sickness. And I thought, well, you know, if the Duchess of Cambridge got hospitalised for hers, then this must be normal.

And so I carried on. My boobs were getting enormous, my belly was getting enormous. I was feeling very tired, you know, just things that you would expect to happen as part of a pregnancy. I had had a bleed, which I wasn’t necessarily freaking out about. But I went to go and get that checked out.

HOST: But it wasn’t their pregnancy, not at least in the way that she thought.

Richard: So a molar pregnancy is basically a tumour of the placental tissue. So the placenta develops cancerous characteristics and proliferates, and therefore, can become very serious and potentially, of course, life threatening.

HOST: Okay, so this was a molar pregnancy. So it’s not actually a real pregnancy, at least not the way we think about it, then why was the pregnancy test positive?

Richard: A standard pregnancy test measures a hormone called HCG, which is produced by the placenta. That’s the basis for you know, every pregnancy test that you do, whether we buy it from the chemist or you send a blood sample or a urine sample into a hospital lab.

These molar pregnancies because they’re made essentially from the same cells, they also produce the same hormone HCG, but in very large quantities. So if you do a pregnancy test with a molar pregnancy, it will come back positive, just as if it was a negative or just a normal pregnancy. Where the difference lies is the amount. So sometimes, if you do a blood test on a woman with a molar pregnancy, the level of this hormone is enormously high. And sometimes that can be the first clue that things are not right.

Eleanor: And interestingly, in A & E, they got me to do a urine pregnancy test. And that actually came back negative. Now the reason for that is, during a normal pregnancy, your pregnancy hormone level would peak at about 250,000 at the 9 to 12 weeks stage. So mine had gone to over a million because that made it off the scale that they could measure. That test then came back negative and it was only when they did a test on my blood later on, that they were like “Oh, hang on, these levels aren’t right. And we think it could be this other thing, which doesn’t happen very often.”

HOST: Okay, so what did you think had happened? Because at this point, you’d only been in A & E for a few hours, right? Just a little while in. What was the first clue you had that something was up?

Eleanor: They didn’t say very much to me. I think there was just a lot to explain. So, the night that I was there, I kind of said “oh, well, do you think I’ve had a miscarriage?”

And the doctor that was dealing with me just kind of quietly nodded, I think kind of suspecting what the bigger picture might be. But it was just too much to get into until they were able to scam me confirm some things explain everything properly.

So that was the Friday night that I was in A & E. They had me in for a scan on Sunday morning. And that scan confirmed that, yeah, there’s no baby in there. And we think it’s this other thing. And then I think on the Tuesday, they booked me in for an evacuation procedure where they remove hopefully, all the cells from the motor pregnancy.

And now following that operation, you’re given a 1 in 10 chance that you will go on to need chemotherapy following that. So whilst you’ve been through this very weird, not very nice ordeal. You’re like, okay, well, there’s a 90% chance that all is good, and I’ve just got to go home and rest up. Unfortunately, I was that kind of 10% that then goes on to have further complications. And it’s at that stage when they identify you as needing further treatment following the evacuation procedure that you’re then kind of put into a cancer treatment programme.

HOST: How long were you on that treatment programme for?

Eleanor: I was probably involved with that medical department all in all for almost a year. I fell pregnant November 2016. I think they reviewed me and finished my treatment in October 2017. And, and following that, you’re then told that you’re then not able to get pregnant for 12 months.

HOST: Unlike some others, Eleanor isn’t actually infertile. Instead, her treatment period put a temporary halt on falling pregnant. But once her treatment was over, why was she told to avoid getting pregnant, and was what she went through very common?

Richard: Well, molar pregnancies aren’t terribly rare, but complicated ones that need chemotherapy are, they’re mostly settled down just with removal of the of the surgical removal of the of the tissue. And then it usually settles down very straightforwardly, for the great majority of women. So going on to need chemotherapy and particularly relapsing chemotherapy that is rare.

Women are often recommended not to fall pregnant for a while after any cancer treatments, particularly. And there are two main reasons for that. One is to make sure that all the cancer drugs are out of their system. And any effects that those drugs may have had on their developing eggs will have results. Because that these effects tend to affect the growing eggs over the course of a few months, not the ones that haven’t started to grow. So that is one aspect. There’s also the need to make sure that the patient really is well and over her treatments, and that you know, she’s on the way to putting this well behind her. From the point of view of a molar pregnancy, there is more of a risk of a further molar pregnancy or relapse, if a subsequent pregnancy happens after too short a period. So there’s a separate slight issue for that specific diagnosis.

HOST: Eleanor, you’ve gone through this treatment, and do all the emotion of that. And now you’re at a point, and they’ve told you that you cannot get pregnant for one more year.

Eleanor: And that’s a difficult thing for for women to make decisions about on factoring. Because, you know, potentially you’re wiped out of any baby making for two years. Ladies do have to think about this biological clock thing, unfortunately. And if you’re somebody that’s perhaps getting further towards the end of what might be your baby making years, you know, that that’s really hard to be told that you’re then going to be out of action from that point of view for a 24 month period.

So yeah, there’s just an awful lot of things to consider, and a lot of angles. My husband did struggle with it. And I think he was very sad about the fact that, you know, we weren’t having a child, but also very conscious of the best ways that he could support me. And I think in him thinking about supporting me all the time, there was a level of that kind of self care for himself that got lost. And maybe threw up some issues there.

HOST:  All right. So you and I are talking in late 2020. So that is two years since you finished that. No getting pregnant for 12 months period. So what have things been like since then? What have things been for you this year?

Eleanor: I turned 30. So I just wanted to like have a bit of a jolly doing that I decided because I thought I deserved one. And then a couple of months after I turned 30 My husband and I started trying. And I had a miscarriage beginning of March, which is actually how the relapse of the original cancer got picked up. And so again, joys of being a woman, you know, you have this miscarriage, you then send in again for a really unpleasant evacuation procedure again, this one I was awake for. So that was that wasn’t nice, but you know, just stuff that ladies have to do, unfortunately.

And following that they were monitoring me on my levels just weren’t doing what they were supposed to be doing which unfortunately, you know, is an indicator of, of this council resurfacing. And so yeah, I you know, end of February, beginning of March, I was I was hopeful again, I’m feeling a bit more ready for it this time, maybe being that you know, I’m a bit older. But it’s not to be for 2020 which is a bummer because I think if you’re stuck at home with your husband like he might as well try and make a baby. There’s only so much TV we can watch.

Well, yeah, I mean, obviously, I’m allowed to have sex, just to clarify to people, I am allowed to have sex. But I am having to use contraception. And yeah, I mean, just practically, as I say, I think lockdown is quite a useful patch of time for people to think about making a baby if that’s something that they want.

HOST: Unlike Max, whose fertility was affected by his treatment, Eleanor had hers paused while going through treatments. But are situations like hers really that unusual?

Richard: What’s a more common situation is women with breast cancer, who also have a long delay, because when they’re recommended to have hormone treatments, after their chemotherapy, and that nowadays can be a recommendation to take that for up to 10 years. So if your fertility has already been a bit reduced by your chemotherapy, and then you’re being asked to take hormone treatment for another 10 years, that really is going to limit your reproductive options and your ability to then have children. So the discussions and decisions about stopping that treatment partway through to take a break effectively and have a pregnancy and then go back on it. These are really difficult decisions that women with breast cancer increasingly have to face.

Kreena: I kind of ignored it for a few weeks, I thought I’d worn a bra that really was very ill fitting and caused my nipple to invert. I mean, when I think about that, now, I’m just like, how ridiculous was I at that point in time, you know, with my thoughts. But, but that’s genuinely where my head went, like I didn’t for a minute, think that it could be anything wrong with me. And then it didn’t, it didn’t, you know, it didn’t remedy itself, it sort of kind of started to get a bit worse. And I think, you know, hold on this is this is looking worse than I did a week or two ago. And my husband said to me, maybe you should get that checked out, because it doesn’t really look very normal. And, and I think when a guy sort of tells you to check something out, you probably take it more seriously.

HOST: This is Kreena. In 2013, at the age of 33, she began to notice that something wasn’t quite right with her breast. After going to the GP and later being referred for tests, Kreena was diagnosed with breast cancer. After having a mastectomy and radiotherapy her cancer required chemotherapy – a longer treatment that she hadn’t expected.

Kreena: When I initially thought I was just gonna have a mastectomy and radiotherapy, I foolishly thought that I would, you know, go on this journey with cancer for three months, get my breast removed, get my radiotherapy done, and then revert to the career driven woman that I always was. Who focused really on just success in my workplace.

And that was what I was programmed to do/ I even said to my boss “look, I’ll be back within four months and, and things will be back to normal.” And I think he probably thought I was crazy at the time. That’s kind of where I was in my head. And then this guy tells me I need chemotherapy. And I just thought “oh my gosh, this is going to be a lot longer than I ever planned for and it’s going to be a lot tougher, and it’s going to be a lot more public.” And I think that latter thing is what I wasn’t ready for.

HOST: This sort of unexpected change, you weren’t quite ready for that. So where was your head at this point? Like, what were you thinking?

Kreena: It was really, really difficult. And, you know, as I saw my oncologist, and he told me what would happen and he told me about, issues with my fertility. And he told me about being put into a medical menopause and all of these things that were gonna happen to me, I just felt more and more stripped of my femininity, and I just felt hollow. I just thought “well, I’m now just a body”. Well, where does that leave me? Like, does this guy who’s my husband’s still find me attractive in any way? Am I still the wife He wants me to be? Or is his family just gonna say “well, do you know what trade her in. We can get you a better model.”

HOST: I guess at this point you’re making so many decisions, like things are happening quite quickly for you. Did you think about what you wanted in regard to having children? Talking about your fertility, did you talk to your oncologist about this?

Kreena: Before I started chemotherapy, I did – it was deemed as – urgent IVF because we knew I would potentially lose my fertility. And again, you know, it’s probably a cultural thing. I didn’t know really any Indian couples who didn’t have babies, and I’d always wanted babies, I’d always see my future as a mum, and I am and always will be quite maternal. And so I sort of had a chat with my oncologist at the time and I said “look, I want to preserve my fertility. My personal choice would be to do a round of IVF and harvest some eggs”.

He turned around and he said to me “look, my job here is to save your life. Not to create new life. And your life is at risk. But I will give you two weeks. And if you can make it work in two weeks, then that is fine, you can go ahead and do it. But if your cycle doesn’t come in, in those two weeks, we’re not waiting any longer. We you need to get onto chemo”.

HOST: When it comes to preserving fertility, often times, people do not have much time to make quick choices after they’re diagnosed. I asked Professor Anderson to explain just how important quick decision making is in this process.

Richard : So this is indeed a very time sensitive aspect of it, and really relies on all sorts of aspects of the way their care is organised to make this work. So you need to have the opportunity to be informed that your fertility might be at risk. And to start off with, that conversation is from your oncology team. So the whole topic to start with just needs to be raised. And if it isn’t, then nothing’s going to happen, unfortunately. But if it is raised, and you will then need to have time to think about it and decide whether or not something you are needing to try and pursue. Then of course, it means a referral to the reproductive medicine treatments, Reproductive Medicine centre, and then ongoing care from there.

HOST: Okay, so I know about freezing sperm, because Max mentioned that and, you know, a lot of people heard about freezing eggs, but freezing embryos. That’s a thing, right?

Richard: So freezing eggs and freezing embryos. Both involve the same starting process of basically, they both involve the first half of an IVF cycle, where the woman has daily injections for about two weeks to stimulate her ovaries, and then the eggs are recovered. And then the eggs can either be frozen just straight away, and that’s egg freezing, or the eggs can be fertilised with a man’s sperm, and that turns them into embryos and the embryos can then be frozen.

And embryo freezing is technically easier than egg freezing. So it’s been around for a lot longer. But the problem is that it isn’t just the woman’s property, that embryo. It also, in law, belongs to her partner if he provided the sperm. And that can produce difficulties down the road. Because of course, both partners then need to agree to use those embryos. So it’s in many ways simpler to freeze eggs, because then it’s just the woman’s decision on using them and many years may pass and her situation may change and that keeps her options open as to how she wants to use them.

HOST: So in order for Kreena to be able to preserve her fertility in any way, she’d have to quickly start injecting herself with something known as follicle stimulating hormone. This hormone is usually produced during the menstrual cycle and is what leads the production of follicles in the ovary and increased oestrogen levels, starting the process of egg harvesting. But for her to actually preserve her fertility, she would have to complete this side of a process in just 14 days. Fortunately, she had luck on her side.

Kreena: My period came in the very next day and the timing couldn’t have been more divine because I needed to be on day one of my cycle to start medication to stimulate my follicles so that we could collect eggs.

I started then, two days after that appointment on my 34th birthday, I started IVF treatment and spent the next 10 to 12 days injecting myself with hormones. And then within two weeks had collected 13 eggs, of which 12 fertilised and were put in the freezer. And on that day, a lady and embryologist called me and she said “oh Kreena, I just wanted to let you know you’ve had a really good result we’ve collected 13, we harvested 12 embryos because one broke as we as we went to freeze it, but it’s a brilliant result. And you should be so proud of yourself for getting through that.”

And she was so empathetic on the phone and so happy for me. But I was just filled with sadness.

HOST: How come?

Kreena: You see a lot of couples going through IVF and I just think they’re doing it with hope and they’re doing it with love and they’re doing it to create this life that they’ve longed for for so long. And for me, I felt like I went through IVF for the sake of going through IVF because something else was gonna take it away. It wasn’t a conscious decision that my husband had made to try and try for a baby at that point in time. It was “well there’s no other option”.

HOST: I mean, that must have been really tough because you’re injecting yourself with a hormone that’s making your body produce more oestrogen. And you’ve got a cancer that sensitive to oestrogen so it’s that balance of risk versus reward. I mean, how did that make you feel at that point?

Kreena: Well, I’ve I just created these embryos and if I die, what will happen to them? Will they ever become babies? Would my husband ever find a way of using them to keep a piece of me alive? Or, you know, have I just put myself at more risk because there was a risk of injecting hormone I had an oestrogen sensitive cancer? I thought “have I been foolish and just created more risk to what’s already a bad situation?” If these ever come to life, you know, will I make babies and then die straight afterwards anyway, because my cancer comes back? And so I never really had a huge amount of love towards those embryos. It was just matter of fact, something that I had to do. And I got on with it, and did it and then sort of parked it and let it be and then sort of made my way through the rest of my treatment with breast cancer.

HOST: Okay, so that’s treatment starting in 2013. You were there for three years. So coming out the other side of that in 2016. What was that like for you?

Kreena: You know, heading into sort of the summer of 2016. feeling pretty good. Like, in my, in my mind, in my mental health. I was, in my head, over the worst of my ill health. I was looking to the future, we were we were thinking about those embryos that had been frozen in 2013.

I’d spoken to Professor Smith, my oncologist about it a couple of times. And it was still: “I do want to be a mum, like I now know I’m going to live on cancer is not going to kill me. And I do want to be a mum,” and he just said “look, it’s too early to come off your medication. Let’s review it later. Let’s review it later.”

Every time I’d asked him we’ve been we’ve been putting it on hold. So I started to look into surrogacy. So I sort of got actively involved in some surrogacy forums, and just sort of socialising with people on surrogacy boards and stuff. And in then in the July of 2016, my husband and I took a holiday which celebrated new beginnings, because we’ve got to that point where actually, you know, we’ve made it through cancer. We were still married, somehow, you know, we were still together. We still wanted to be together. And we wanted to look to the future. So we decided to go on this massive holiday, enjoy ourselves, and they come back home and really sort of think about how and what we wanted to do to shape our future and our family. And so off we went.


And so the pair decided to go off to Canada for a well-earned holiday. But unfortunately, Kreena began to feel ill as soon as she got off the plane. So ill that she ended up in hospital.

Kreena: Anytime I laid down, I just felt like I was drowning. I couldn’t just get up, I couldn’t get any breath in my lungs. And so I would sit up when I sat up, I would feel like I was needing to vomit to breathe. The only way I could get breath into my lungs was by massively coughing really, really loudly. And eventually, after every other medic had been in. And you know, every vein in my arms and legs was was filled with cannulas, a cardiology team came in, and they put an ultrasound on to my heart.

And at that point someone from their team whispered in my ear and just said:  “look, I know you can’t talk, I know you can’t breathe. But if you’re you had a chemotherapy that was red in colour, please squeeze my hand.”

So I knew that was I knew I had had epirubicin which was red. So I squeezed his hand. And at the same time, the guy who’s looking at my heart has seen that my heart was in a pretty poor state.

And together they hit this emergency button and they just said she needs to get Cardiac Intensive Care. Now she’s in acute heart failure.

HOST: So here’s what had happened. Kreena’s life saving chemotherapy treatment had damaged her heart, a rare complication of some chemotherapy drugs. While she was being treated in cardiac intensive care, her heart had lost almost 95% of function. Doctors told her family to make arrangements to see her for a final time, her sister flew out to Canada within 24 hours and Kreena recorded messages on her phone for all of her loved ones. But amazingly, she pulled through.

Kreena: To be fair, the people looking after me just couldn’t understand how I was actually still coherent And actually still talking to them. But somehow I was and it just felt like okay, once I was able to breathe in, I thought I’m gonna make it through I’m definitely gonna make it through this.

HOST: But at the same time as something bad happening, something good happened, didn’t it?

Kreena: Ironically, at the same time, when I was in Vancouver – actually when I was in hospital – I’d received a message from a lady from a surrogacy forum. And she just said, “Look, I’ve been following your story. I think you’re incredible. I would love to get you to know you more. And you know, I’m a surrogate, and in the end, we just never know where where this will end. But let’s just get to know each other.”

And I said to her: “well, you might think I’m incredible for getting through cancer, but you’re not going to believe it. I’m in intensive care with heart failure. So you know you I don’t know if I’m ever going to be a mum again.”

And she goes “well, I think you will be and I you know, I’m not I’m not giving up what you say you shouldn’t give up on you. So let’s keep talking.”

And we kept talking and then I got back to England and we talk some more and then we met up and then we became friends. And she then at the beginning of 2017, was like: “Look, I want to help you know, if anyone deserves the baby is you guys and look at how far you’ve come, you’re not goin,g anywhere, you’re going to be an incredible mum, and I’m going to make you a mum.”

And then in sort of the summer of 2017, we decided to go ahead and we underwent, we went, we found a clinic that would treat us for IVF. Again, and we transferred one of those embryos from 2013 into her and hoped for the best. And we sort of we made a single transfer. Heartbreakingly, we’d lost every other embryo after that. So everything that we had was inside the uterus of this other woman, and we just prayed and prayed that she would grow into a baby. And 10 days after our transfer, she did a pregnancy test. And we took some pregnancy blood tests at our clinic, and it confirmed that she was pregnant. And six weeks after that, we went back to the clinic and I saw a heartbeat inside her womb, and I couldn’t quite believe what was going on here.

You know, I was now pretty fit and healthy, I was able to walk places. I was doing things that normal people would do. And now I was sitting here sort of wondering if this was real, and if I really was going to become a mum again. But that’s exactly what happened. And the months passed and her pregnancy progressed. And we watched her grow and connected more and more.

And in the April of 2018, my daughter was welcomed into this world – Amala – from an embryo created in 2013, in the womb of a stranger who came into my life in the midst of heart failure. And it was absolutely miraculous. And you know, that little girl is now two and a half years old and she’s my world and she’s healed us more than I ever even knew I needed healing. And she is sort of the reason that we will keep going and she’s everything to me.

HOST: But Kreena did not want to stop there. Even though she lost all the embryos they’d made in 2013. She pushed forward using another surrogate and egg donation and in 2020, she welcomed three triplet boys.

This has been That Cancer Conversation. We were produced in Cancer Research UK’s Digital News team. We couldn’t have pulled any of this together without Max, Eleanor and Kreena, who generously gave their time alongside Professor Richard Anderson. Now if you’ve come this far and want to learn a bit more about cancer and fertility, you can find some resources in the podcast show notes.

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