In honor of March being Ovarian Cancer Awareness month in the UK, we’re sharing a slightly different #shapeyourpregnancy story today. We usually start these user stories by talking to women about their prenatal exercise experience – from the myths they’ve been told, to how their workouts have changed, and how they choose to stay fit and strong during pregnancy.
However, we’re acutely aware that not all pregnancies follow a so-called ‘typical’ path. It’s so important to shed light on all of these stories because there are countless ways we can shape our pregnancies and stay fit, strong, and healthy. It’s never a one-size fits all formula, and our paths may look different – but at the end of the day, our mission is shared: health and happiness for ourselves as women and mothers, and health and happiness for our children.
We want to bring together as many women as possible to share their stories and create a global movement and increased awareness around celebrating healthy, active pregnancies. We were honored to be able to share Kirsty’s incredible story with you all on this platform. We’re sure you’ll leave feeling inspired, uplifted and in awe of these incredibly strong women.
Meet Kirsty, who was diagnosed with a rare form of ovarian cancer at the age of 29, in the midst of trying to have a baby. While it was a devastating diagnosis, she and her husband were able to have a child together that defied all odds – with the help of a very special sister.
How it all started
Kirsty married her now-husband back in 2010, and like so many newlyweds, they couldn’t wait to begin their next chapter of starting a family. However, they soon realized it wasn’t going to be that simple. After stopping birth control, Kirsty noticed her periods didn’t reappear in the expected timeframe, and after several months this started to ring alarm bells. She visited her doctor but her concerns were largely dismissed, and she was told her periods probably hadn’t come back due to stress and it was likely nothing to worry about.
“I was made to feel like a time waster,” she says. “My GP told me that my periods probably hadn’t come back due to stress, as I was completing my professional accountancy exams at the time. But you know your own body and I didn’t feel stressed at all.”
Four months passed and nothing changed. Kirsty returned to the doctor for blood tests and was diagnosed with Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and referred to a fertility clinic in Edinburgh. However, their struggle to conceive continued and after a difficult year involving daily hormone injections she was no closer to having a baby.
“When you’re trying to conceive there are reminders everywhere,” she recalls. “The empty rooms in the family house you bought, films you see in the cinema, friends’ pregnancy announcements... It’s the only time I’ve felt genuine happiness for someone while feeling absolute devastation for myself. Deciding to start a family and facing fertility issues follows you around like a black cloud and never leaves your mind.”
When it all changed
A senior doctor carried out a scan and, seeing that Kirsty’s ovary looked unusual, he recommended a laparoscopy to look inside. It was now three years since Kirsty’s initial doctor’s appointment.
“The day before I was due to go into hospital I was in M&S buying pyjamas when my surgeon called and said he wanted to remove my ovary,” says Kirsty. “My sister had to drive me home as I was so upset. The thought of losing an ovary was devastating.”
Kirsty underwent surgery and her left ovary and fallopian tube were removed. She was asked to come and see the surgeon to hear the results and was given a devastating blow – she had been diagnosed with stage 2C Granulosa Cell Tumour (GCT), a rare type of ovarian cancer that accounts for fewer than 5% of all ovarian cancers in the UK.
Surgical staging took place in December of 2013 to assess the extent of the disease and around Christmas time, Kirsty was delivered another blow – traces of her cancer had been found elsewhere and she would begin chemotherapy in the New Year.
“My immediate thought was: Could I still try for a baby?” recalls Kirsty, “But GCT is estrogen driven and I was advised that I shouldn’t carry children due to the likelihood of the cancer returning. I was sobbing when I heard that news. But I refused to give up hope and went to a fertility clinic to have my eggs harvested and five embryos frozen.”
How a dream became a reality
In February 2014 Kirsty began six rounds of chemotherapy with the support of friends and family. “We even had a head shaving party where they all wore bald caps!” she laughs. “And in June they threw me a surprise 30th birthday party. I didn’t want any presents so they made donations to charity instead.”
But it was Kirsty’s sister Karen who gave her the best gift of all, offering to be a surrogate and carry her child.
“I made her a big file with all the information, from treatments to legal issues,” says Kirsty. “I sent her away for the weekend before making a decision so that she had time to think about it all carefully and agree on everything with her partner.”
Her sister’s decision didn’t change. After three failed attempts and one embryo that didn’t look viable when it was defrosted, Karen fell pregnant with embryo number five. In December 2015 the unlikeliest of baby's was born.
“Matthew means gift from God,” says Kirsty, “and he truly was a Christmas miracle. He completed us and it immediately felt that he was the baby we were always meant to have.”
But Kirsty’s journey wasn’t over yet and, whilst on maternity leave, she had further surgery to remove her omentum and a full hysterectomy with cervix removal, to minimize the risk of cancer returning. Results showed a second tumor in her right ovary and cells on the outside of the ovary. Kirsty agreed with her oncologist that monitoring, rather than further chemotherapy, was the preferred treatment option.
How she shaped her pregnancy and cancer experience
Hoping to turn her negative experience into a positive one for others, Kirsty decided to take part in a cycle ride from Vietnam to Cambodia for Women V Cancer, raising money for Ovarian Cancer Action, Breast Cancer Care, and Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust.
“I’d just finished my final chemo treatment and I was feeling a bit lost,” she says. “I needed something to focus on and to give me the motivation to build up my strength again.
“It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever done and gave me a real sense of achievement. I arrived with butterflies in my tummy and left with memories and friends I’ll never forget. In fact, my sister and I are taking part in another Women V Cancer cycle ride in Costa Rica in 2019.”
Kirsty is now healthy and happy – as is Matthew! - but she will have three-month check-ups and be monitored for the rest of her life, as risk of recurrence increases with age. She knows her condition is rare, having been told by her oncologist that he sees a case like hers only once in ten years, but her advice to other women with any health concerns is simple: “Be your own advocate. You know your body best.”
Thank you, Kirsty, for sharing your story of your beautiful family, your incredible sister, and your awe-inspiring strength. We couldn’t agree with her advice more, and it’s a sentiment we talk about so often here at Baby2Body; listen to your body, because you do know it best. Never stop fighting for your own health and happiness – because you so deserve it.