Dubai, UAE: The fertility clinic — a place of hope for the miracle of new life — is hardly the place you would expect to have cancer diagnosed.
But for “Barbara”, a British woman living in Dubai, a visit to a fertility specialist with her husband ended with a devastating pronouncement.
“The next few days were an absolute blur,” Barbara said. “I consulted a doctor and was then pointed to an oncologist who diagnosed lymphoma.
“The barrage of emotions in those two weeks is still hard to describe. It was draining, manic and frightening. How we coped, I still don’t know.”
But cope they did, with the help of their doctors, and after successful chemotherapy treatment Barbara, 37, is expecting the couple’s first child – something almost unheard of five years ago.
Medical breakthroughs have offered couples hope for starting a family despite toxic chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
Infertility specialists can now harvest sperm and eggs before cancer treatment to use later, when the patient is in remission.
Until five years ago even healthy women had little success with frozen eggs but a process called vitrification has helped to greatly improve their chances.
Eggs are placed into liquid nitrogen, which rapidly freezes them, preventing the formation of ice crystals and helping to preserve their quality.
These eggs are then used for in vitro fertilisation or intracytoplasmic sperm injection when the woman has recovered.
Barbara and her husband visited the Dubai Conceive Clinic where Dr Pankaj Shrivastav took blood tests that showed abnormalities.
“Dr Pankaj said we shouldn’t give up on our baby quest,” she said. “My husband was numb and I was already feeling like I was fighting a losing battle.
“Before I knew it, we were back in the UK shuttling between an infertility specialist and an oncologist. I had my eggs frozen and after that it was off to fight cancer.”
Dr Daamini Shrivastav, who works with Dr Pankaj, said the couple’s story was an example that cancer might not be a death sentence, and that dreams of becoming parents could be kept alive.
“The greatest ‘pro’ of these techniques is that reproductive cells can be stored for indefinite periods of time,” Dr Shrivastav said.
“Cancer is a word that evokes fear and dread but medical advances have come a long way. Scientific breakthroughs have been a blessing allowing effective treatment of various kinds of cancer as well as ensuring a good quality of life with and after cancer.”
While the treatment was long and arduous, 21 months later Barbara was in remission. A year later she was told her body was cancer-free.
It was then that the topic of starting a family returned and the couple continued fertility treatment.
“I was at home a few days after having had my embryos replaced back into my uterus,” Barbara said. “My fingers were trembling as I held the home-pregnancy test.
“Those few minutes seemed a lifetime. I remember having to blink almost 100 times over before my mind registered what I was seeing.”
The test showed double lines, indicating she was expecting her first child. The baby is due this year and while worried about the health of her unborn child, Barbara is becoming more positive each day.
Based on cases reported to the Friends of Cancer Patients Society in the UAE, breast cancer was the highest form of cancer among women in the first half of this year. It was followed by rectal cancer, leukaemia and metastatic cancer.
© The NationalSep 2015