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Let's talk about that time I had IVF shall we?


Whilst half of Instagram and twitter won’t stop with the baby updates I want to come at you with a post all about IVF. Which seems fitting in a week when it's been suggested that the NHS stops offering IVF

I’ve been sitting on this post for the longest time because it’s a bit of a weird one I guess – it's been a draft of one sort or another since last September. I'm not 100% sure why. Maybe it was because there's something strange about admitting you've had IVF but you're not having a baby. Maybe it's because it’s that bit more personal than talking about chemo and cancer cells. Maybe it's because it didn't work the first time round and I felt like I’d failed. Maybe it's because I don't need a bunch of mums telling me how ‘hashtag blessed’ they are, because mums always do that when you mention anything to do with this! 

Whatever it is that has held me back, this post has been sat in my drafts for too long. Taunting me to publish the ramblings I started so long ago. And in the interests of being as open and honest about everything that went with the year of cancer treatment, and because it SHOULD be something available to young people facing cancer, here goes. 

Last autumn, before chemo started, I went through the beginnings of two lots of IVF treatment. I was still new to this cancer thing and I wasn’t openly telling everyone about the treatment - IVF, Chemo, Cancer were all words that felt taboo - but those who did know, would ask me why I needed it. I think it surprised people to know that having chemo can affect your fertility. 

I’ll be honest; it’s not something I’ve ever considered having to think about. But now, post chemo, there’s the chance that my ability to have kids ‘the natural way’ might have disappeared. I mean, it might not have, it might turn out that I am unaffected by the chemo in the long run, but the drug, Tamoxifen, that I'm now on for 5 years, blocks oestrogen in the body and can affect fertility too, so there is a big chance that it might mean that I lose the option. And when something isn't an option any more you tend to think about it slightly more seriously.

There is no point me going into all the complexities of the actual IVF here, I am confident there will be a good couple of thousand blogs dedicated to it that can tell you more than I can, but I am going to tell you about what happened with me, the fun of injecting yourself for both short protocol and long protocol IVF. Because I can, because we did them both! 

For a couple of months late last year my life was consumed with thinking about the daily hormone injections I was taking, and follicles, and whether eggs will grow in said follicles, early morning hospital trips for intrusive scans, folic acid, chicken eating and pineapples, drinking pomegranate juice and other things I was told would be good for me. All the things that I never thought that I’d be having to think about. Let alone think about the twice because the first time hasn’t quite gone to plan.

First things first - if you’re having IVF you’re going to have to get ok with the injections and doing them at home – which, I’ll be honest, is only going to help you later on when you’re giving yourself the post chemo bloodcell boosts so embrace it! The needles are super thin, but I won’t lie and say they didn’t hurt a bit. At the start of round one I was numbing my tummy before injecting myself, by the end of round two I was so bored with the whole deal that I was just jabbing myself and moving on. Well, moving on to moaning about it. (Yes, I was injecting myself. 1. The first lot were done in the mornings and Jim is not a morning person and 2. he’s so not coming at me with needles, he’d enjoy it too much!)
The first round of IVF we did was the Long protocol type. It meant morning injections every day for 10days to stimulate follicle and egg production, a panic over whether we were going to make it to Amsterdam for the weekend (yes you can fly with the needles and drugs!) and a sober trip to a beer festival. Despite me following the instructions to the letter, I started this course right off the back of me coming off the pill, so unfortunately it didn’t have a very successful outcome and we only got 1 egg (and embryo) from it, not the 8 or so the drs had anticipated at the start. Which is kind of a heart breaking situation to be in. Even if you’re not planning on having kids because the likelyhood of that 1 embryo defrosting and working is not great! It left us with a decision to make. Go straight into chemo and hope for the best afterwards, or delay chemo and have another go at IVF. 

We chose to do the latter (with the approval of my oncologist obviously) but it didn’t come without its complications. In Sheffield you’re only granted 1 cycle of IVF on the NHS and because we had 1 egg, they classed it as a successful round, which meant if we wanted to have another go we’d have to pay over £4,000 for it (plus storage fees because they will not let you keep your eggs in your freezer!). If we’d been having treatment in Rotherham, Barnsley, Leeds or Manchester I’m told you get 2 or 3 rounds on the NHS, but in Sheffield, just the one.  

For the second round we were given the Short protocol treatment, which I was lead to believe was more likely to produce more eggs because I’d not ‘responded the way they thought I would’ to the last go. It was a different combo of drugs, resulting in more needles, but ultimately, a better outcome, so I sucked up the stabbing of myself. The problem with this round was it was night time injections, which meant I’d be all tucked up in bed and remember I’d not shot up, then I’d have to get up and do it. There is nothing more annoying. Trust me. Luckily, as we’d paid a small fortune for it we got 8 eggs that resulted in 7 embryos this time. 

But now we’re in the strange position to have those embryos in a freezer at the hospital, not knowing if we’ll need (or want) to use them. For now the decision is out of our hands, there’s nothing we can do with them for at least 2 years, the Tamoxifen I'm on sees to that, but I can only imagine that the invisible weight of them in a few years’ time is going to start creeping in. I’m 36. I’m on the Tamoxifen for a few years yet, which, let’s be honest, makes me old. It makes me wonder why we worried so much. But when you are faced with the possibility of not being able to do something you act, just in case. (And, yes, yes, I know that I'm lucky because some women aren't offered the option as their cancer is too advanced! It's a funny old world where I have to caveat everything about having cancer with I'm lucky but...... )

It’s just another lasting legacy of the bloody cancer and one that won’t be going away any time soon! 

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Thanks for stopping by and reading my ramblings. I hope to see you again soon.