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  • Writer's pictureA. Murphy

The Harvest

Updated: Mar 11, 2020

Somehow I almost completely forgot about another two procedures I had to have prior going into radiotherapy. I'm not sure if it's good or bad that I forgot about them, but they were certainly an integral part of my treatment. Now, if you're not comfortable with talk of fertility treatments stop reading now.

It was planned for my radiotherapy to cover the entire length of my spine. Therefore the radiation was going to be hitting some of those pesky reproductive organs some of us are born with. It was going to impact my fertility a lot. My doctor (I had been given a specific doctor by this point) had called me to suggest that I meet with another team of doctors who specialise in this exact thing. I agreed. I wanted to hear my options going forward and if I didn't want to I didn't have to commit to anything.

I went to a meeting at the fertility clinic to talk about exactly what was going to happen. In short, because of the radiotherapy I am very unlikely to carry a child. This did not bother me in the slightest. It's not that I don't want children, I do. I work with kids and I think they are brilliant. However the idea of childbirth terrifies me. I did not (and still don't!) want to do it at all so I was leaning far more toward adoption. Now I don't have a choice, and I'm a little relieved by that.

Yet, after my meeting I asked for other's opinions (I say other's I really mean my mum and a close personal friend). They both said it was wise to give my future self the choice. That seemed like a smart policy, even if I ended up not going through with it. So, I decided to freeze my eggs.

I had been given many options. Freezing my eggs, unfertilised or fertilised (via sperm donor). I chose unfertilised. There was a greater chance of them surviving if they were fertilised but I did not consider it an option. If I eventually ended up with biological children I wanted to know who the father was. Perhaps that doesn't make sense, considering I like the idea of adopting. In that scenario I wouldn't know either biological parent. But this would be my child, my DNA, far more personal I think you'd agree. Nope, not for me.

Another option was having an ovary removed and frozen, then reinserted at a later date. Didn't fancy that either. It would be a whole other surgery and there wasn't a 100% guarantee it would work. So that was out too. Unfertilised eggs it was.

Once I had decided to go ahead, we had to act fast. I needed to have the egg harvest done before I started radiotherapy and it wasn't as if they could just go ahead and do it. There were injections I had to have (which I did myself at home) for a couple of weeks. These injections would basically cause my ovaries to go into overdrive and produce loads of eggs that they could harvest later. Not to mention I had to have scans every couple of days to make sure the injections were doing their job. You can probably imagine what those scans involved. I was extremely nervous. I was so scared that it was going to really, really hurt. But it was too late to back out, I had to go through with it. Surprisingly is was not as bad as I thought it would be. They were certainly not as painful as I'd imagined. They weren't fun by a longshot, I was still quite uncomfortable with it all, but it wasn't the traumatic experience I had worked it up to be in my head.

At the same time as all of this I was preparing for a stem cell harvest. This was for my chemotherapy way down the line. Basically during my chemo they were going to give my own stem cells back to me to help my immune system a bit. This meant that I had to have even more injections (I was doing three a day at one point) that essentially did the same thing as the fertility treatments but with my stem cells. Some of you may know that stem cells are produced in the bone marrow so the injections would make it produce stem cells like crazy, giving me an excess that would enter the blood stream and they could then extract. I knew that stem cells were produced in the bone marrow and that going into the bone marrow hurts like hell, so I was super relieved when I was told me that wasn't necessary.

The stem cell harvest meant lying in a bed for five hours whilst I had a needle in one arm (very big needle) and a needle in the other. My blood would go out one needle, into a machine that would take the stem cells out of my blood then it would go back through the other needle into me. My mum and me joked that I was having a good wash out of all my blood. Indeed, over the course of the harvest the my entire volume of blood went through this machine.

Imagine having to lie in a bed for five hours. No going to the toilet, no food (unless my mother very kindly brought me some) no excessive movement. It wasn't ideal, and that's without mentioning that the very large needle in my right arm fell out! It's not nice at all when they are wiggling it around trying to get it back in.

Not long after that I had my fertility procedure. On my birthday, fun for me! The lovely nurses had hung a 'Happy Birthday!' banner over my bed. They even gave me some chocolates, it was incredibly kind of them and it was clear that they were trying to make up for this happening on my birthday. After a short wait I was led off to the room in which I was having the procedure. After that I don't remember a thing. I was on a number of drugs (not knocked out but unable to remember anything afterward). To be fair I would not be willing to share those details even if I could remember them.

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Feb 16, 2020

i feel so dumb. When I first read about combining FERTILITY and RADIOTHERAPY treatments , i was SO confused ‘ i Didn’t know Aislinn wanted a baby’ . Now all makes sense. You say you don’t like the idea of giving birth ... all I can see it’s a damn sight easier that what you’ve been coping with. Got a bit squeamish regarding that LARGE needle , just glad you decided to omit dimensions , and especially when it came out. Aargh how on earth did that happen ? We’re you reaching for a pen?

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