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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