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National Post: Joy to be mom after cancer battle

National Post: Joy to be mom after cancer battle

This is an article published by the National Post about Fertility Match Canada Co-Founder, Liz Ellwood, and her courageous story of battling Cancer at the age of 24 and fighting to realize her dream of becoming a mom.

INFERTILITY AWARENESS, A joint venture with the Infertility Awareness Association of Canada · May 20, 2008 | Last Updated: May 21, 2008 2:00 PM ET

Late in 2006, Ottawa resident Liz Ellwood, then 24, received a devastating blow: A regular pap smear showed she had cervical cancer. First, she faced a life-and-death battle with a devastating illness; second, she knew that even if the cancer was completely cured, the treatment would likely make her infertile.

But Liz Ellwood is a fighter. Her spirit saw her through two surgeries and six weeks of combined chemotherapy and radiation last summer. She showed just as much determination when it came to ensuring that some day, she would be a mother. New procedures at the McGill Reproductive Centre in Montreal allowed her to freeze 19 of her eggs before she started treatment.

Granted, the radiation and chemo affected her uterus; she will not be able to carry a child herself. But Ms. Ellwood has explored having a surrogate

mother. When she is ready, doctors at McGill will transfer the embryos (fertilized with her partner’s sperm) to the surrogate mother’s uterus. “I will miss being pregnant,” she says. “I always wanted to carry my own children, but at least I will know the joys of being a mom; 10 years ago,it would have been impossible.”

Perhaps surprisingly, the entire procedure has cost Liz Ellwood just $700 to date. The centre’s Little Miracles Fund paid for her treatment, while Ms. Ellwood paid only for the cost of anaesthetics and drugs.

Little Miracles is a fitting name for what McGill does, says its medical director, Dr. Seang Lin Tan. The survival rate for the human ova it freezes is 82%, he says, and they can be preserved well beyond the lifetime of the donor.

At some point, Ms. Ellwood will return to the clinic with her partner and her surrogate mother, and Dr. Tan’s team will perform the rest of the procedure.

For Ms. Ellwood, the fight to eventually become a mom started with a regular check-up with her gynaecologist. A pap smear just seven months earlier showed no trace of cancer. This time, however, her doctor called her back to say cancer cells were indeed showing up. To make matters worse, further tests showed that this cancer was a rare form, growing inside the cervix and not on its surface.

Luckily, the Ottawa General Hospital had one of two surgeons in Eastern Canada skilled in performing the necessary surgery. Unfortunately, the operation was not completely successful.

“I needed another surgery; this time in Quebec City,” Ms. Ellwood says.

“That was a success but to ensure that not a trace of cancer remained, I had to start six weeks of daily chemo and radiation at Ottawa General early last summer.

“As soon as I was diagnosed I talked with my cancer specialist about preserving my eggs ‹ freezing them for the future,” she says. “At that time, he didn’t know anything about the procedure. His concern was saving my life; mine was for my future.”

Liz Ellwood went to her gynaecologist, who arranged an appointment with the Ottawa Fertility Centre, which referred her to Dr. Tan’s team at McGill.

“I started treatment just before Christmas and two weeks later, the eggs were successfully frozen,” she explains.

“Once that was over, I was ready to face anything they could throw at me — the operations, the chemo, the radiation. I knew I had secured my future.”

That future is looking brighter all the time. Ms. Ellwood and her partner are looking forward to raising a family. “I knew him before being diagnosed; we started dating while I was undergoing treatment and we just became closer and closer,” she says.

She has already looked into arranging a surrogate mother. Although she will not be paying the surrogate, the treatment itself will cost about $25,000.

“I have started saving all my income tax refunds,” she says. “The most recent CT scan showed I was clear of the cancer. We are waiting now for anMRI just to be sure.

“What I do know is that, despite everything, I can and will be a mother.”

Fertility Match: Setting a New Standard for Fertility Consulting in Canada

Fertility Match: Setting a New Standard for Fertility Consulting in Canada

Fertility Match: Setting a New Standard for Fertility Consulting in Canada

We are thrilled to announce the launch of Fertility Match Canada, a lifelong dream brought to reality by the agency’s Co-Founders, Lisa Casselman and Liz Ellwood. Fertility Match is the first Fertility Consulting company of its kind in Canada, aiming to change the atmosphere of the third-party reproduction market for the better; this agency is grounded in the belief that Intended Parents, Surrogates and Egg Donors need to be optimally supported in their journeys to make families a reality, equally but in different ways.

The Co-Founders met in 2009 when Lisa was on her first journey as a Surrogate Mother (She has since delivered twins for two families) and Liz was looking for a surrogate. Although they never worked together, they became good friends and supported each other throughout the process. “We could be honest and supportive with each other about things that came up. If an issue arose, I could discuss it with Liz before bringing it up with the Intended Parents I was carrying for. And she could do the same with me to better understand her Surrogate’s perspective. We have been formulating how to use that dynamic to build the right Fertility Consulting structure in the Canadian market ever since” says Lisa.

While neither is a novice in fertility and third party reproduction field, Liz has spent her entire career working in the area since being diagnosed with cancer at age 24. In 2007, she founded Fertile Future, a national charity that has funded the fertility preservation of over 420 Canadian cancer patients to date, and provided information, Fertility Consulting and education to countless more. Multiples surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation left Ellwood unable to conceive or carry a pregnancy. And despite freezing her eggs, they did not thaw well. She would also need an egg donor. “It was a devastating blow, I grieved it and moved forward, like so many other to-be-parents we work with do every day when it comes to fertility. I now have a 5-year-old daughter via Surrogacy and Egg Donation. And she is the most beautiful thing in the world!” Liz plans on using this life experience to bring a more compassionate approach to Fertility Consulting in Canada.

The goal of Fertility Match is to provide parents-to-be with a holistic approach to Fertility Consulting to find their best matches: the right Surrogate, their ideal Egg Donor and the best fertility professionals to meet their unique needs; and then to assist all parties in navigating their journey from there. “We have seen firsthand the need for changes in the third party reproduction agency model in Canada. We are ready to facilitate that change.”  For more information about Fertility Match and their Fertility Consulting services we offer visit fertilitymatch.ca.

Supporting Your Partner as a Surrogate Mother

Supporting Your Partner as a Surrogate Mother

My wife Lisa (Fertility Match Co-Founder) has given birth to two sets of twins as a gestational surrogate mother. These have been wonderful journeys for our family as well as for us as a couple. She has asked me to share my advice on this experience…so here goes:

As a Couple

Partners need to have a strong relationship to go through an experience like this. When my wife explained to me her desire to help others who were unable to have children become parents, I thought that was a wonderful thing she wanted to do. I supported her 100% through both of her surrogacies. There will be ups and downs, just like in other areas of life; But if you love and support each other and have a strong relationship this can be one of the most rewarding experiences you will ever have.

Surrogacy is a Commitment for Both of You

It is a good idea to be prepared for the many appointments with doctors, lawyers as well as meeting with the intended parents. Sometimes these appointments and meetings are out of town. Your wife’s body will need to be prepared prior to having the embryo(s) transferred by taking medications to thicken her uterus lining for transfer. In our case, she needed to have progesterone injections every day for 3 months starting before the transfer and continuing for three months in to it. It was difficult for her to administer the injections herself, so I did it every day. This was honestly one of the hardest things to do since it was sometimes an unpleasant experience for her.

Why it’s all Worth it

You form new and special relationships as you take the journey together with the intended parents. It’s a relationship unlike any other. There is no better feeling than seeing the joy in the faces of the parents as they have experiences along the journey: seeing their babies through ultrasound, feeling the babies move for the first time, hearing their heartbeats. The most rewarding moment for me was watching our intended parents welcome their children into the world. We got to see them hold their babies for the first time after wondering if that dream would ever come true. Helping to grow a family through surrogacy is one of the most rewarding experiences you could ever have.

Being a Surrogate Mother: Choosing the Right Intended Parents for You

Being a Surrogate Mother: Choosing the Right Intended Parents for You

Becoming a Surrogate Mother is a very personal choice. The reasons why a woman chooses to be a Surrogate Mother vary. I chose to be a Surrogate Mother to help another woman who couldn’t conceive become a mother. When starting out on your journey as a surrogate, take time to think about who you are meant to help. Is it a single parent, a heterosexual couple or a same sex couple?

Once you decide who you want to help, you will begin to “date” potential intended parents. This is a very important part of the process. Just like dating a potential romantic interest – you quickly learn what you are looking for in this relationship.

Are you looking for someone who is wanting the same amount of contact as you are?  For me, this wasn’t my birth story. This story belongs to the intended parents I worked with, to their babies. I was just the person who was lucky enough to birth them into this world. I wanted a couple who shared that outlook. My couples were at all my appointments and in the delivery room. I also wanted the parents cut the cords of their babies as my husband and I had already experienced this.

As a potential Surrogate Mother how do you feel about selective reduction or termination of pregnancy due to birth defects in the fetus?  This is a very important subject and one that makes you look inward. For me I needed to find a couple who would take any number of children that resulted from this surrogacy. I was not in favour of selective reduction for multiples. With that being said, I felt that I could not decide what another person could live with if it was determined that the fetus had a birth defect. In that case, I was willing to terminate if the couple chose.

I will admit, intended parents are looking for certain things when it comes to their surrogates too. They will be dating you as much as you are dating them. I have spoken to couples who said their surrogate was to only eat organic foods, or would refrain from exercising. I even spoke with someone who said they didn’t want their surrogate to have an epidural during birth; While those aren’t the people I chose to work with, there is a surrogate out there for them that will work with their choices. It’s all very personal.

The most best part of the experience for me was the relationship I built with my intended parents. I did not know them beforehand. We were complete strangers who took the time to build an honest and open friendship. I wanted to feel like we could talk about anything. My intended parents and I became support systems for each other through the ups and downs of fertility treatments while fulfilling their dreams to be parents.

5 Questions to Ask Yourself when Finding a Surrogate Mother

5 Questions to Ask Yourself when Finding a Surrogate Mother

Finding a surrogate mother to share this journey with is one of, if not the most, important decisions you will make during this process. I have been working in the fertility industry for over 10 years and have been through choosing a surrogate mother myself; the right match can make the experience fulfilling and very predictable. Unfortunately, many parents are in such a hurry to get the process started they may overlook some important details that can lead to stress and conflict down the road. Here are five questions I think you should ask yourself as an intended parent when deciding if a potential surrogate mother is the right fit for you.

  1. Would you be friends with this person?

This is huge – that’s why I wanted to talk about it first. You are about to embark on an incredibly intimate and personal journey, and you want to share it with someone you feel comfortable with and genuinely like. And frequently, it can take longer than either party initially plans. You want it to be with someone you like and trust. Think of your family, friends and other important people in your life: Would they choose this surrogate mother for you?

  1. What does your intuition tell you?

We all have a little voice in our head – but we don’t always listen to it. But you need to!  If you feel unsure about something when connecting with a potential surrogate mother, talk to us. We can help you figure out if it something that could have negative implications on your journey. This is why we’re on it with you!

  1. Do you align on the big issues?

How many embryos will you transfer? Will an amniocentesis be done? What if the results indicate a chromosome abnormality like Down’s syndrome? Will you terminate the pregnancy? What kind of relationship do you both want after the birth? These are all questions you need to discuss with your surrogate mother to ensure everyone is consensus about what action will be before beginning the legal contract process.

  1. How will logistics work?

Is the potential surrogate mother located in the same area as your fertility centre? Or will she have to travel from out of town? If so, is there a clinic close to her where she can do some monitoring to cut down on her travel time and costs? Will her employer allow her to miss time from work for appointments? These are example questions that you need to consider when mapping out your surrogacy plan. We will help you figure out the logistics to determine if the match will work for both you and a potential surrogate.

  1. Can you meet each other’s needs?

This one is also huge – which is why I left it for the end. Think about what you want this journey to look like? How often do you want to interact with your surrogate mother? What does she want in return? Daily emails/updates? Phone calls? A text the first time the baby kicks? Belly pictures? Do you want to be at all the appointments/ultrasounds? Does she want you there? Discussing you needs and desires and your ability to work with the needs and desires of your surrogate mother will have a positive effect on both potential parties.

The surrogate mother and intended parent relationship is incredibly unique and can be one of the most amazing and rewarding bonds you can have with someone. After all, you are working together to create the most precious thing in the world: life. And not just any life, the life of the person or people that will become more important to you than anyone else in the world. The right match will make all the difference in the world!

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