We were referred for emergency IVF two days after seeing Dr Olly, my Consultant Surgeon. Another day, another team, another hospital. I don’t know how they find the space in their crammed schedule, but they can and they do.
There are five stages of grief: Denial and isolation, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. Something similar maps out when you’re diagnosed with Cancer, and no doubt any other life threatening issue.
On day one following my formal diagnosis, I was fine. Resolute, stoic, ready for the challenge, positive and sarcastic. A medical friend - who never cries - reminded me that I was allowed to get upset, I told him I was fine - because I was.
On day two, however, I was overcome with sadness. I cried in the shower, as I applied mascara (great), in the kitchen, getting dressed, and openly shed tears in the taxi that took us to the Royal Infirmary.
This was the day we met my IVF Consultant Dr Chetty. For the very first time.
As I sat down in her consultancy room I couldn’t stop the tears. I apologised, explained that I was just having a sad day, and I really was fine. She leant in, closer than other doctor’s had before, and said “Of course you’re sad, you’ve had one hell of a shit year”.
She was filled with compassion. She radiated a mixture of empathy and sort of you’ve-got-this-girl, power.
Madcap decision making
We plotted our fun history, someone popped in with Keith’s notes - we banked his sperm in January, before his treatment - and once I was back in the room and focussed, Dr Chetty started to talk us through Emergency IVF.
An Emergency appointment is about 3 regular IVF discussions rolled into one. To say there’s a lot to take in is an understatement. We signed maybe 10 legal documents. We took insane decisions on the spur of the moment:
“None of us has a crystal ball. We don’t know what will happen in the future. If we freeze eggs and sperm separately, you could both go on to have children with other people. But, eggs don’t freeze all that perfectly alone, embryos freeze better.”
Keith and I look at one another. It’s like playing Russian Roulette with a future you didn’t know you needed to consider. We both start with ‘Ehhhhhhh …….
And finish with, ‘mmmmbryos’.
Okay, that worked.
The challenge and pressure of time
Time is an issue with an aggressive cancer. From the date I am diagnosed it will take around 3 weeks to get all of the diagnostics completed and the chemotherapy prescriptions made up. Dr Chetty needs 3 weeks to harvest any and all the eggs she can from me. We have one shot.
If the clinic gets my hormone dose wrong I might not grow any follicles (eggs) big enough to work.
If the clinic gets my hormone dose wrong I might tip into hyper-stimulation, get very sick, and nuke any follicles.
If the clinic gets my hormone dose right we might have a chance at kids, in 3 - 5 years.
We have one evening to read all of the paperwork, sign more of it, and must call to confirm we’ll start on Friday.
We start on Friday.
Friday morning we meet our lovely nurse Hadia, she talks me through the injections I will now administer every morning until they tell me not to. One; Gonal, is a high-dose hormone stimulant, the other; Ganirelex, prevents ovulation.
I am effectively shooting myself with one injection that gives me menopause and one injection that acts as plant food for my cancer.
The impact on your hormones is mad and weekend one violently seesaws between madness, fury, joy, tears, laughter and wanting to murder, anyone. They are well known and every doctor or nurse we meet in the days that follow will ask how I am finding the effects. Thankfully - for Keith - they settle down as my body works out what each drug is doing and I summon more patience than I have ever had before.
The daily needles are not fun but only 1 in 4 is painful - I don’t know why. I must attend the Royal Infirmary at 8am, four days a week, to have an internal ultrasound. A doctor, any available doctor, will then count and measure the follicles and plot them on a paper graph.
If you’re looking for the definition of a bad Monday, IVF Monday’s are up there. It’s 8am. You’ve just spent 30 minutes in traffic, snaking at less than a snail’s pace a mere 4 miles to the other side of the city. You’re bottomless in stirrups in a dark treatment room waiting for a doctor you’ve never met.
Once you have 3 follicles around the 17 out of 25 size (I don’t know what the measurement actually is, just the numbers), they choose a harvest date. My harvest date is set as Tuesday 15th October and I have to administer my final, special stimulation injection on Sunday night at midnight, exactly.
36 hours later, I will have my op. Some days later, we’ll start chemotherapy.
My last injection, the dailies, his 'n' hers sharps boxes - Keith is still on Dalteparin injections for a blood clot at this point.