Fiona Munro, 30, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in January. She shares her experiences of cancer induced infertility and loss, and offers advice for supporting someone who has lost a child or found out they are infertile.
After hearing the words “you have late stage cancer”, you don’t think there is much worse news your doctors could drop on you. Sadly there is.
The day following my diagnosis I was destined to hear a number of unsavoury statements:
“The chemo will likely make you infertile”
“Your cancer is too late stage and aggressive to preserve your eggs”
“Chemo will likely put you through an early Menopause”
“You have ovarian cancer so you won’t be able to take HRT”
“Even if chemo doesn’t make you infertile, if you are approved for surgery we will conduct a complete hysterectomy”
In short...you will never have children.
Now, as a childless, married woman in her thirties who had lost a child the year before, this was, in all honesty, harder to hear than my cancer diagnosis.
Infertility wasn’t the hardest part though. I’d always been open and welcome to the idea of adoption and it was something my husband and I had previously discussed. In my naivety I still thought this was a viable option. I remember confidently responding to all these statements saying it was OK, I was OK, I could adopt.
I remember the consultant and nurse's faces as they exchanged a look of pity. A look that said it all in the silence – which one of us is going to tell her?
It turns out that you can’t adopt once you have stage four cancer. You are too ‘high a risk’. Your mortality too visible to be considered a loving parent.
This was salt in an already aching wound. I began to process the facts:
- I can’t conceive because of chemo making me infertile.
- I can’t use an egg donor in future because of surgery.
- I can’t adopt.
Wow – do you ever think you are getting a clear message from the universe?! Mine – You.Will.Never.Have.Children. EVER.
This took a while for me to come to terms with. I was already grieving the loss of a child and, with it, the loss of a future that was entirely different from the one I was destined to face. Now my future was changing once more.
With the help of an incredible friend [ST -I love you to the moon and back], I have healed these wounds. I have ‘come to terms’ with the news and I have now reached the point where I can write about this in the hope of helping others to understand what it feels like, and supporting those who are walking the same journey.
Reflecting on my emotions during this time I now offer you some 'Dos and Don’ts' for supporting someone who has lost a child or found out they are infertile.
- Say you know how they feel. Even if you have gone through similar you don’t know how they feel. You know how you felt. Let them tell you how they feel and share how you felt.
- Complain about pregnancy or labour. Whatever your symptoms. However bad they get. Your friend would trade places with you in a heartbeat. Talk about how you are feeling of course(!) but never complain. You get to hold your baby at the end of it. Always remember that.
- Ignore their loss. If a friend has shared that they have experienced a loss or infertility don’t ignore it, instead see the ‘do’ section below.
- Feel you can’t share your pregnancy/baby joy with them. Everyone may be different but I love hearing my loved ones are pregnant or when their baby arrives. It provides joy and hope and love. Don’t ever presume someone who can’t have children (or has lost a child) won’t want to be part of your happiness – by ‘protecting’ them from this you will only make them feel more sad and isolated.
- Tell your friend you love them and are there for them. Then actually make sure you are. Ask what you can do to help. Be their shoulder to cry on.
- Acknowledge your friend was pregnant. Only two friends ever asked me how I’d found pregnancy. Was I sick? Tired? Excited? Scared? This acknowledgment made a massive difference to me.
- Share your personal stories. Whilst you shouldn’t say ‘I know how you feel’, your friend may find comfort in hearing that you have similar experiences. I certainly appreciated when friends felt they were able to share their personal stories and let me know how they had felt without assuming I felt the same. This has built valued friendships and support.
- Remember pregnancy loss and infertility affects men too.
With love, Fi xxx
You can follow Fiona's journey at www.fkmunro.com