PUBLISHED ON: 8 August 2018

Claire Ann at her last Herceptin treatment

Claire Ann was told she would have to pay £4,000 to have her eggs frozen. She shares how she set about changing her local hospital policy to become a pioneer for fertility preservation.

I was the fittest I had ever been

I found a lump a few days before I was due to run my third half marathon. I thought it was strange, but I felt the fittest I had ever been, and I was 34 years old. I thought I was too young to have cancer. I went to the doctor who agreed, but sent me to the breast clinic just in case to have a biopsy.

Two days after my run, I went back in. I was told that I had breast cancer.

My initial thought wasn't 'Why me?', but ‘How I am I going to fight this?’

When I started to realise what my diagnosis really meant, it stopped me in my tracks. The thought of losing my hair and my fertility made me so upset.

It felt like my options were being taken away

I spoke to my breast care nurse about my fertility. As a young woman, you always think that you'll have a family. I was busy focusing on my career at the time, but I never imagined that the option of having children would be taken away from me.

I went my local fertility unit. They told me that because I was a single woman they could only offer to freeze my eggs if I agreed to pay £4,000.

I was devastated. I had just been diagnosed with breast cancer, I had a mortgage to pay, and I was on my own. How could they expect me to pay that much money with everything else I had to deal with?

We had a discussion with the fertility unit. I knew that couples were offered a round of IVF on the NHS. I felt that I was penalised for being single. Why wasn't I allowed the same chance?

I thought if I found someone to donate sperm then we could create an embryo. This raised some very awkward questions with male friends. I found a friend who agreed to help and went back to the fertility unit to say I had a donor. This showed them my desperation to start my own family.

It felt like all my options were being taken away.

There was a bias against single women

I think seeing me struggle helped the fertility doctor see things from my point of view.

The women I met who were receiving free fertility treatment were in relationships. There seemed to be an unconscious bias against single women when it came to fertility treatment.

The doctor agreed that the situation was different for me, as most women my age already had their family. He called me to give me the news that he'd managed to secure some funding so that I could go ahead with the procedure.

I had five eggs harvested. The fertility unit was incredible and I think they were all rooting for me after what I had been through.

A few days after my procedure, I went in for my lumpectomy. Four weeks later I started my chemotherapy. This was followed by radiotherapy, a year of Herceptin and ten years of tamoxifen.

Claire Ann on a skydive after her treatment

Claire Ann travelled the world after her treatment ended, and even did a skydive

I found support for the late-night questions

I had heard of Breast Cancer Care as I attended one of their courses that helped me deal with hair loss during my chemotherapy.

I regularly used their Forum during treatment. It was my lifeline. If I had questions in the middle of the night or something I was too scared to ask in person, there was always someone to listen.

I was told by my breast care nurse that a space was available on one of their Younger Women Together events. It was incredible. There were different group talks and lots of information, and I met so many other women with whom I was able to talk about what I had gone through.

I was told I was a ‘pioneer’

I went to a talk about fertility. The consultant speaking mentioned that the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, where I had been, offers egg freezing to women under the age of 40 with no prior children for free. This was news to me. I put my hand up and said that they hadn't offered it to me when I was going through my treatment.

He told me that he knew my story. He had heard my case and found it heartbreaking. He said that because of my experience, and other women like me, the hospital had changed their policy around fertility treatment. He said, 'You're a pioneer and a trailblazer for women like you.’

It was overwhelming to hear. I couldn't believe that I had contributed to changing the hospital's policy.

Everyone deserves the chance to have a family

Four years on, my life has changed so much. I'm now married and hoping to start a family of my own. I've stopped my tamoxifen and am planning to go and see my surgeon soon to be referred back to the fertility clinic.

If I can’t have children naturally, then I will use my eggs that were harvested. If I don’t need to use them I will donate them to help someone else. I took it for granted that I would one day have a family, so I want to help other women in my position if they find out that they can't.

Everyone deserves the chance to have children if they want them. I'm so happy that I've played a small part in helping women with breast cancer be able to have that chance.

Breast cancer gave me a new lease of life

I've achieved so much since my diagnosis. Six months after my chemotherapy I ran another half marathon. I won my employer's first Inspiration Award and was even invited to a Royal Garden Party at Holyrood!

Five days after I finished my active treatment, I travelled to the other side of the world by myself.

I had so many wonderful experiences – I did a 15,000-feet skydive in New Zealand, I rode a water buffalo through a rice paddy in Vietnam, went cage diving with great white sharks in Australia and I relaxed on the beautiful beaches of Fiji. 

 

If you're concerned about your fertility, you can read our information on fertility, pregnancy and breast cancer treatment.  

Fertility and breast cancer