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.”