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Cervical Cancer

Fertility and cervical cancer

Treatments for very early stage cervical cancer, such as cone biopsy and radical trachelectomy do not cause a loss of fertility. One woman we interviewed was able to have two children after her radical trachelectomy. Radiotherapy and hysterectomy will prevent women from conceiving or carrying a child of their own naturally. However, there are other options for having children, including preservation of eggs prior to treatment  IVF, surrogacy and adoption.

Some older women, or those who had completed their families said they felt sad and a little upset when the option for having a child was final. Younger women who had not yet had children, or who wanted to have another child, found it very traumatic.

A few said that they were equally or more upset about losing their fertility than at being diagnosed with cancer. One recalls that at first she wanted to try for a baby before she had treatment. Another, who had two children, explains that others could not understand why she was so upset about losing her fertility when her treatment had been successful in removing her cancer.

 

She wanted to try for a baby before she had treatment.

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Age at interview: 38
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 34
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Even when I knew I was having the trachelectomy when I was offered that, I was still very focused on whether I would be able then to go on and have a child. And at one point I really didn't want to have anything done. I didn't want the trachelectomy, I didn't want radiotherapy and I didn't want a hysterectomy. And I spoke to one of the nurses, the support nurse, the oncology nurse and she was quite blunt with me, she really sort of said 'Well you have to have something done, if you don't you will, you will go on to have secondary cancer and you will die in a couple of years.' 

And that was good because she was very blunt and it made me think I have to really, this isn't something that's just going to go away and I might become pregnant and I can have a pregnancy and then sort out the cancer. And she, it was really quite good for me for somebody just to be quite direct with me. Because I really, I just wouldn't see sense. I was so focused on that I was going to have my fertility treatment and have a child and then sort out the cancer. 

 

She wanted to have another child and found it difficult when others didn't understand why she was...

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Age at interview: 35
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 34
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I mean initially as I say I found it very hard but it was really, that is really hard because I found it hard as a woman that that was gonna be all taken away from me. Plus the fact that I was gonna have a child which made it even worse as well. But I found that there wasn't really many people in family and friends that I could talk to about it because they were all saying '[patient's name] you shouldn't even be thinking about that, you had cancer and its got to be taken away. You know its your health and everything and you've got to get it all you know, put it in perspective.' And I'm saying 'Well yeah I appreciate that but I've got this other upset as well that I can't have kids anymore.' And other people couldn't, certainly couldn't appreciate what I felt and so it did take me a while. 

Others said it was after treatment that they experienced feelings of loss and upset.

 

Explains that five years after her treatment she found it hard not being able to have a second...

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Age at interview: 37
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 32
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I think it's been the fertility side that I think has been the hardest thing since. I think because hopefully, I've not completely stopped worrying about my health, but I do feel that it is over and done with as far as I can tell. So it's been harder sort of not knowing that I can't complete my family, the sort of image of the family that I wanted. I wanted two children. And so that's been the toughest part. And going back and reading my notes and I remember saying quite clearly it wasn't an issue at the time. And it wasn't an issue for me but I think 5 years on it is an issue for me.

And how do you cope with those types of feelings, how do you find ways to cope?

I suppose that ever since I've had the illness because we'd just moved house I focused on my daughter very much and just on having things to enjoy. I've made sure I've you know treated myself to holidays and I've done all sorts of things that I know I wouldn't have done otherwise. Then two years on we decided to move house again and it was the Friday before she started school on the Monday, so very, very good timing because I was aware that there was going to be a void. And I guess that void will come again in September when I've finished the house and I know I want to move on and do something else and it's making sure that I focus on another project to give me that satisfaction that I can't get from having another child. I guess that's probably the way I've looked at it.

Feelings of loss, fear of rejection from partners and feeling less of a woman were common reactions to the knowledge that they could no longer bear children. A few said that during the first few years after their diagnosis they found it hard to cope with others close to them becoming pregnant or having children. One woman explains why she found sitting in the waiting room for her check-up appointments so difficult.

 

Explains that she finds it upsetting attending her check-up appointments which are held in the...

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Age at interview: 34
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 32
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All I'd been aware of that time and since is that I am the youngest person in there, in the cancer group, because this guy only deals with cancer so whoever signs up to see him at the desk that's what they're there with or have had. And they're all older and certainly elderly, I have never seen anyone my age and that breaks my heart because its held in the gynaecology department so at the same time as this cancer clinic's going on there are three other consultants holding their pregnancy clinics. And I'm sitting there and all the girls my age have all got big bumps or their new pregnancy pack, and their boyfriend's there and sometimes the mum and sometimes they've got pictures of scans and I sat there and it broke my heart. Even this time two, two days ago I just think I should be you, I should be the other one 

A few newly diagnosed young women were worried that their partners might leave them or they would not be able to form future relationships because they could not have children. One young woman, who had feared rejection, explains that when she did start a new relationship her inability to have children had not been a problem.

 

Describes how over the years she has come to terms with not being able to have children.

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Age at interview: 36
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 27
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In the beginning I just wanted to survive, so I'd say for the first six months it was just survival and getting through the cancer. I think once I went back to work suddenly reality hit me and I decided I wanted a baby because I knew I couldn't and I think that's probably a natural feeling. So I did look into adoption and we got papers, me and my husband to talk about it. But the papers laid on the side for a while and we never discussed it and I think it wasn't really what we wanted, it was just a need that we had to go through. And then I was advised that I possibly wouldn't be allowed to adopt for five years anyway until I had the all clear so we kind of dropped the whole procedure, we didn't even go very far down the line. On a couple of occasions I did say to my doctor whether I could have IVF and he did write to the clinic and they came back and said it had never been done before but they were prepared to try it but I would have to be given lots of hormones to bring on this. And we decided again it wasn't what we wanted and I didn't want to go through a possible illness because of this and then disappointment at the end.

So I think once I knew that definitely I think it, it isn't an issue for me anymore, it's something I've coped with over the years. I do feel I'm lucky to be here and that I wasn't meant to have a baby anyway. And I've got so many nieces and nephews and godchildren that I haven't got a problem with children. I remember a counsellor came to see me when I was in hospital once and she said to me 'Whatever you do, do not feel bitter about other people's children because it will destroy you.' And she said if you feel that way buy a dog so I don't feel it's an issue for me anymore to be honest, its something I've coped with over the years I think.

Coping with these feelings can be difficult. Some said that accepting their infertility had become easier over time. Some tried to see the positive aspects. One young woman mentioned that some couples do not find out until they are in their late thirties that they can't have children and her and her partner could now pursue other options at a much younger age.

 

Explains that not being able to have children was not a problem when she started a new relationship.

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Age at interview: 36
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 27
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It was quite tough actually and he didn't know obviously beforehand although I knew him years ago he didn't know what I'd been through. It was something I wanted to discuss quite early in the relationship because I didn't want to get involved with somebody if two years down the line they decided they wanted children. So it was something that we did discuss quite early on and I wanted him to really go away and think about it before we continued. Because I couldn't have coped with someone rejecting me again because of my fertility. And I wanted someone this time to love me for me and to be with me because it was the person not how I'd changed inside. You know because obviously inside I'm very different to probably another woman. And we discussed it, we talked about it, he went away and thought about the children scenario and it really hasn't been a problem. He came back and said it wasn't an issue, he didn't particularly want children anyway and he didn't feel there was anything physically different to me, to any other woman. And that's what I needed to hear really. I needed for someone to be really positive and on my side. Now it's not a problem at all but initially I think the problem was within my own head because I didn't, I thought I'd be rejected for things they couldn't see.

Another focused on projects, holidays and doing things that she would not otherwise have done if she had a second child (see Interview 10 above). A third who had not had any children before she was diagnosed said she got enjoyment from her siblings' and friends' children, that over time she had accepted her infertility and had found other ways to have happiness.

Some had pursued other options to have children. A few had investigated having their eggs frozen before treatment but were not able to because their cancer was quite advanced and they needed to start treatment straight away. Another describes the cryo-ovarian preservation operation she had before radiotherapy, which had given her hope that future scientific developments may enable her to use her ovarian tissue to have a child of her own.

 

Describes the cryo-ovarian preservation operation she had before radiotherapy.

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Age at interview: 28
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 27
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So I went into hospital in the morning, day patient, got changed into my gown answered a few questions, another general anaesthetic. This all has to be done before your radiotherapy as well because obviously one radiotherapy session is supposed to kill your ovaries. 

It didn't really hurt, they basically I've got two little scars about my pubic line, one in my tummy button, they put basically a little camera in your tummy button and then take the ovarian tissue out through the two little, two little incisions which are about a centimetre long, hardly at all. And then it's frozen and you don't have to pay for it. The treatment will only be offered to you if, well I say offered I mean I had to ask for it, but you will only be eligible for it if you're, at the moment if you're undergoing treatment for cancer. 

And I didn't want to do it unless I sort of thought this is going to be quite likely to come to something. But what I didn't want to happen is to not have it done and then in 5 years time read an article about some woman that had had a baby and think I wish I'd done that. I was a bit cross that the hospital that I was having my cancer treatment in hadn't suggested it to me actually because after I'd had the operation which didn't hurt, came out of my general anaesthetic, I was in sort of a little waiting room, probably half an hour, an hour that sort of time, my sister collected me, jumped in a cab, had a couple of stitches in the three little scars and they gave me some strong pain killers which I didn't take because again I thought I don't want to put anything else in my body And it did hurt a bit but not really, had the stitches out a week later no problem at all. And the doctor was so nice to me and he said to me you know when I found, "You know when you've found somebody that you want to spend the rest of your life with," he said "you come back and we'll sort you out," which I thought was really lovely. 

One woman who had a hysterectomy but did not have her ovaries removed was finding out about surrogacy and IVF options. A third newly diagnosed young woman, felt that in the future she could pursue options of surrogacy, IVF or adoption and said that her hopes of having a child were not lost, just different to the way she thought she would have a family.

 

Describes what it has been like pursuing surrogacy and IVF options.

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Age at interview: 34
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 32
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Fertility, we've been to see specialists who have done some tests and said yes my ovaries are functioning so I can go through the IVF. It's difficult because I don't have a normal womb, I'd have to have a laparoscopy to remove the eggs so it starts getting difficult. There's also a worry about giving me the drugs that will stimulate the ovaries because if I'm producing very big painful cysts anyway, you can get a dangerous hyper-stimulation, its a condition with IVF, which might not be very good for me in particular. My boyfriend's all for going for surrogacy with me purely because he knows it would make me so happy. He'd love to do it but he says he can live with it if he doesn't, whereas me, if someone tells me 'No you can't do this,' I don't now what I would do. I am trying, its very difficult, in fact I tried on Friday, I've been given a long list of clinics that have said they do, do surrogacy and IVF and when I phone them up they all claim they don't. The only one I can find at the moment is up on Harley Street.But that means going every day to have injections and have follicle scans and that's a long way and it's a lot of money on top of paying for IVF and also surrogacy. 

There is a charity which provides surrogate mothers called Cots. They're not allowed to make any profit from it but you pay their expenses. But again they are very hard to get hold of. They're only open between ten and twelve each day to speak to and the other practicalities are that we've got to be married. So although we were going to get married before it all got stopped and put on hold twice because of my hospital stays. And now I'd sort of decided I don't need to get married now, I love him enough and that's the be all and end all. But according to this surrogacy most clinics do say you have got to be married. So we've now got to get married as well as find the money for surrogacy.

For information on infertility see Infertility Network UK or the Daisy Network which is a support charity for women who have been through premature menopause (often because of chemotherapy).

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Last reviewed July 2017.

Last updated March 2010.

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