One Family’s Journey through Surrogacy after Cancer
by Pamela MacPhee
My cousin, Henry, and his wife, Lauren, are lucky. Diagnosed with cancer at 29, Lauren found a skilled oncologist who not only prescribed surgery and radiation treatment that saved her life, but also suggested she submit to an egg-retrieval procedure before treatment to preserve her fertility options. Research shows that the majority of cancer survivors in their reproductive years are not counseled about preserving their fertility, and few are referred to a fertility specialist to help them assess those options and take action before cancer treatment begins. That is a travesty.
Lauren and Henry had just begun flirting with the idea of starting a family when she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. And while treatment saved her life, it left her unable to produce healthy eggs or carry a baby. When she found out she had cancer, Lauren was understandably consumed with living, not with starting a family. Without her oncologist’s encouragement and referral, she never would have pursued harvesting her eggs and banking embryos. It was only through the wonders of medical science, in vitro fertilization, and surrogacy that two years after her diagnosis she was able to hold a beautiful baby girl in her arms.
I offered to be a surrogate for my cousin in an attempt to give them something hopeful to look forward to after the fear and devastation of the cancer diagnosis and the rigors of treatment. I surprised them with my offer to carry their baby on Christmas Day while Lauren was still in the midst of radiation treatment, and before they had even seriously considered the possibility of surrogacy. In retrospect, my offer was premature, but I wanted so badly to make everything better for them, to be their hero and help them realize their dream of a family.
While having a baby through surrogacy was not the path my cousin and his wife had envisioned, it became a beautiful journey we took together.
While having a baby through surrogacy was not the path my cousin and his wife had envisioned, and Lauren still had to mourn the loss of being able to carry a child herself, it became a beautiful journey we took together. We shared many intimate moments – from the baby’s first heartbeat, to the ultrasound that revealed a healthy girl, to the day when we all welcomed her into the world.
Lauren told me later that pursuing surrogacy allowed her to get unstuck from the fear and paralysis of having faced death, to take those steps forward and start living again. The excitement of the pregnancy and the birth of baby Hope healed a lot of hurt, grief, and fear that had been the reality for Henry, Lauren, and their families. For me, it was the most fulfilling experience of my life to be able to give hope, to realize my cousin’s dream and my promise to deliver them a family. This journey touched all of us deeply.
None of it would have been possible without the foresight of an astute and compassionate oncologist who gave Henry and Lauren the opportunity to consider their options. All cancer survivors should be given the same opportunity so they may be able to realize the dream of a family after cancer. That’s why I am passionate about spreading the word to survivors that you can have that conversation with your doctor about fertility before it is too late.
My husband and I have three children of our own, and I cannot imagine life without them. They make me laugh every day, give me a sense of purpose, and brighten the world around them. And every time I see baby Hope, I am thrilled to know that I helped bring her into the world, that I helped to give that kind of joy to her parents. I am grateful to the oncologist who made it all possible.
My hope is for all cancer survivors to pursue their own joy, their own dreams. And if it is your dream to know the wonders of being a parent, please talk to your doctor.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Pamela MacPhee graduated from Stanford University in 1986. She loves hiking local trails, and prefers to see the glass as half-full. She is the author of Delivering Hope: The Extraordinary Journey of a Surrogate Mom, available at deliveringhopebook.com.
This article was originally published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, November/December 2011.