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The elephant in the room

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26 Jan 2017

Infertility after cancer

This is how the conversation usually start:

“Do you have children?”

I would answer “No”.  Then comes the dreaded question:

“Do you want them?”

3 years ago, I would’ve said:

“No, they’re not for me.”


“Maybe in a few years.”

Both of which are lies.

Nowadays, I’m honest and upfront, so if someone asks me now, “Do you want them”, I would answer:

“Yes I do, but I can’t have children.”

Why the change in response?  I figured that lying was the easy way out, it meant I didn’t have to talk about why I can’t have children of my own but crucially, it meant I could avoid facing up to the reality caused by my treatment.  The turning point came almost two years ago – I was fed up of lying, it was exhausting.  I decided that instead of sweeping it all under the carpet, I would speak up and see if I can raise awareness instead. 

So let me give you a bit of a background about me. I was diagnosed with stage 4B cancer shortly after my 32nd birthday in 2012. My treatment pretty much started immediately and I was told by my consultant that once I was done with chemotherapy, total body irradiation and stem cell transplant, infertility was a certainty.  It was a bitter pill (excuse the pun) to swallow, but at the time, the priority was to survive. 

It wasn’t until I finished the treatment I started thinking more about infertility.  My hair was growing back and I started to look less like the walking dead and more like a 30 something year old woman with the world at her feet.  That was when the questions started.

It doesn’t matter what your background is, but if you happen to be a 20 or 30 something year old female, it seems that every person feel it’s their god given right to ask about children.  It’s so ingrained in society now that it doesn’t even cross their minds that questions like these are incredibly personal.  I’ve been asked by people I don’t know and also people within my immediate family too.  It could be at weddings, christenings (god they are the worse) and well just about anywhere.  It is those people who have no idea what you’ve been through who can make you feel the most uncomfortable - so that’s why I use to lie.  It was easier than the truth and it doesn’t put myself or them in an awkward position. 

When I decided to be honest, I admit, it wasn’t easy.  Honesty can kill conversations, create those uncomfortable silences and worse, force the asker to give you hope – i.e. My friend had cancer and she had 3 kids after (not helpful and also not possible for people like me).   But you know what?  I’m ok with that if it means that speaking out I’m able to raise awareness of the impact cancer can have on women of child bearing age.  The best I can hope for is that those who approach me will tell their friends and family about our conversation and spread the word.  At worse, they will continue to crane their necks in pity (until it starts to hurt them).