"When I was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer I was scared about the implications for my fertility"

25 May 2021
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This year marks ten year since Louise Temperley was diagnosed with ovarian cancer aged just 31. She shares her story and her journey to motherhood.

I was 31 when I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Following successful removal of the tumour and my left ovary, I was advised by my consultant at The Royal Marsden to have a hysterectomy and chemotherapy.

I declined this because I wanted to preserve my fertility. In those early weeks, my poor husband had to endure many frustrating conversations with me on the subject of whether I was going to be able to have a baby. I think this was actually a defence my mind created in order to deflect my attention from the more important issue of whether I was going to die.

In the following months I underwent a course of ovarian hyper-stimulation at The Chelsea and Westminster hospital, with a view to obtaining and freezing embryos for implantation after chemotherapy treatment and six embryos were obtained and stored.

My consultant decided that as I was well, and still keen to preserve my fertility, she was happy not to pursue the option of chemotherapy. We were advised to see if I could become pregnant naturally over the next few months. But by the end of the year I hadn’t achieved a pregnancy so we embarked on embryo transfer, which unfortunately was unsuccessful.

My ovarian cancer diagnoses completely derailed what I had expected to be the natural course of my married life. We had been married the previous year and were excited about the prospect of starting a family. At the time of my diagnosis I was a midwife at Kingston hospital in South London. I loved being a support to women through pregnancy and birth; it was something I couldn't wait to experience for myself.

In March 2013, as I wasn't allowed any further ovarian stimulation, we decided to opt for cycles of intrauterine insemination. After the third cycle, we were delighted to find out that I had conceived. Our son Joseph was born on the 8th April 2014; my birthday.

I took him to The Royal Marsden when he was six weeks old to meet my consultant. We all just sat in a happy silence for what seemed like ages, looking at the medically unlikely baby there on my lap. 

"As the months passed and I still wasn't pregnant, I became increasingly anxious prior to any clinic appointment"

Louise Temperley

Later that year, I had a recurrence of my cancer. I underwent surgery to remove the tumour and my remaining ovary. I then embarked on six cycles of chemotherapy, which I completed in May 2015. Since this time, I have been well.

Because I am a BRCA2 gene mutation carrier, I had a double mastectomy with implant reconstruction in October 2018. I remember when I first visited my surgeon. He said to me, “I’m sorry but we will need to remove your breast implants in ten years’ time.” I really could have kissed him, because he was talking so casually about his total assumption that I would still be around in ten years’ time.  

During my interactions with different doctors over the years, it has always felt really powerful when they have been able to be reasonably optimistic about my long-term outlook. 'The term ‘hanging on every word’ took on a new meaning for me. I think it can be really hard for doctors to talk positively to cancer patients because they may feel worried about being accused of giving false hope if things don’t go well. I have definitely suffered at times with free-floating survival anxiety and it was so comforting when doctors were able to be optimistic with me.

 In January 2018 we began the adoption process to give Joseph a sibling. Our beautiful daughter Phoebe came home in October 2019. My experience of being a mum to Phoebe is different, but no less fulfilling, and I am surprised every day by the deep poignancy of it. As my love for Phoebe deepens and our bond becomes more intense, the idea that there was once a time when she was not properly cared for becomes more painful to contemplate. I can also feel sad some days that I didn’t give birth to Phoebe myself and that I wasn’t able to protect her as a new born, but in the moments when I am holding her and giving her a bottle of warm milk before bed, I experience the same intensity as if I was able to breastfeed her. 

I am so grateful I am able to experience the heart soaring moments of being an adopted mum, something I wouldn’t have experienced if I hadn’t have been poorly.  And I know that my daughter’s life is not going to be affected by a faulty BRCA gene. And if I needed another clue that someone was looking out for me… the day we first met Phoebe was the anniversary of my initial diagnosis. 

Questions surrounding fertility are very common in younger women diagnosed with ovarian cancer. You can find out more about this, and many other important issues, in our updated A Younger Woman's Guide to Ovarian Cancer.