‘I am only 31. They recommended a radical hysterectomy. They wanted to remove everything.’: Through ‘last chance’ IVF procedure mom discovers uterine cancer, attributes fertility surgery to saving her life

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It was May 22, 2019, the day before our tenth wedding anniversary. I didn’t know it yet, but I was about to experience one of the most pivotal moments in my life. I had just had a work up at my gynecologist after a few months of irregular bleeding. My phone rang and the nurse on the other end had my results and she said, ‘If you even think you want another baby, you need to do IVF and you need to do it now.’ If I am being really honest, my first reaction was, ‘Can I have even a year?’ I was diagnosed with critically diminished ovarian reserve, and time was not on my side.

Courtesy of Ashley Simmons

That night my heart broke into a million pieces, as I saw our chance to have another baby fade away. I went public about my diagnosis, and about how much my heart ached. This wasn’t my first rodeo with infertility, both my boys were infertility treatment babies. All I knew was we couldn’t afford to spend 20 thousand on IVF, and it was breaking my heart.

Within a few days of me going public, I found out about a clinic based in New York that strived to provide affordable IVF, the only catch was their appointments were being scheduled 8 months out. My consult went on the books for mid November. I knew this would be the only way we would be able to do IVF, and I just prayed we would get a last minute cancellation. We started working on selling items around the house, and crowd fundraising through GoFundMe and Facebook. In early July, my phone rang and I was informed they had a last minute cancellation for later that week, and I didn’t hesitate a second to take the appointment.

Courtesy of Ashley Simmons

Things started rolling quickly and I remember having a heart to heart with a close friend of mine. She was concerned about me putting my body through all that goes into IVF, especially with the chance of having another child with autism. I remember her looking at me and saying, ‘Are you sure you want to do this, what if you have another child with special needs?’ Of course it was a huge fear of mine, but I remember responding I felt in my soul we needed to do this. I couldn’t explain why the urgency in my gut was so strong, but I was trusting God with the outcome. Every fiber of my being was screaming to move forward with this, and I knew for a reason still unknown to myself even if I didn’t get a baby at the end I needed to do the IVF now.

Before I knew it, it was mid August and my husband and I were headed to Syracuse, New York for our egg retrieval. It was quite the adventure, we even did my injections on the plane! When I woke up from the anesthesia, I remember turning to the nurse and her looking at me with sad eyes and saying, ‘we only got two eggs’. I cried a lot, but I didn’t want to stress about it. It was out of our hands now. All I wanted to do was spend the rest of the weekend with the love of my life. It was a rare weekend away from our older two children.

Courtesy of Ashley Simmons

We flew home the next day and I waited for the call on how many eggs fertilized and how many embryos we had created. Monday morning my phone rang and I answered and held my breath as she informed me out of two eggs only one fertilized. They wanted to go ahead and freeze it that day instead of waiting for day five as there was a 50% chance it wouldn’t make it.

If this embryo didn’t take we were done having babies, and my mama heart ached with the possibility of never having another baby. I even started to wonder if I needed to try another retrieval. Either way we weren’t planning on transferring any embryos until spring of 2020. I had a follow up with my doctor, and he urged me to go ahead and try the frozen embryo transfer, instead of spending the money on another retrieval.

We agreed to move forward, and I wasn’t too thrilled about it as I really didn’t feel ready to be pregnant yet. However, I felt like all of this was happening for a reason and I knew I couldn’t question it. I just needed to keep going and trust God with the outcome. When my baseline monitoring appointment arrived the ultrasound showed my lining was double what it should be in order to be a healthy place for an embryo to implant. Both doctors recommended moving forward with a hysteroscopy (removal of some of the lining) as we also saw what they thought was a uterine polyp which would have been detrimental to a pregnancy. We decided to stay on the safe side and went ahead with scheduling the surgery for two weeks later.

Courtesy of Ashley Simmons

With all of this emotional grief, I knew I needed to see a therapist. I made an appointment with one for the Monday after my surgery. I remember sitting there talking with her about my past trauma and saying, ‘I have pretty much been through everything at this point, except cancer.’

Oh those words will forever haunt me. Not even four hours later my phone rang. ‘Hey Ashley, do you have a minute to talk?’ my gynecologist asked me. I knew most doctors don’t call after 5 p.m. and ask if you have a minute to talk unless it’s important. I had no idea what was about to happen, it felt like time stopped. ‘Ashley, so we found not just one, but four polyps last week. It’s a real good thing we did this… your pathology report came back.’ He took a deep breath and continued, ‘Ashley, the report shows the contents we removed are cancer.’ Y’all, I know our conversation was longer although I can’t remember it specifically I was in such shock. I think I asked about if I would need further treatment, and then we made plans for me to come in to talk face to face about it all. I know at one point this summer I googled polyps but its so rare for them to turn cancerous I didn’t think another thought about it. I truly felt blindsided by this call, I didn’t even realize there would be a pathology report.

It was all I could to do keep myself composed as I made the drive home with my two boys in the backseat blissfully unaware of the life altering news I had just received. Once the word cancer was spoken, it was truly an out of body experience. I felt like I was watching someone else get this news. It couldn’t be me. This couldn’t be happening to me. I couldn’t breathe, and to top it off my husband was out of town on business. I tried calling him and he didn’t answer. I ended up driving to a friend’s house and I sent the boys in to play. I sat in my car and when she came to my door, I cried like I had never cried before. I just kept repeating, ‘this can’t be how my story ends.’ I knew in that moment IVF saved my life. I am only 31, and women my age don’t typically get uterine cancer. How could this even be happening? It can’t be, my boys need me. ‘This can’t be how my story ends.’

There is no way we would have found it if we hadn’t been urged to do IVF when we did. I remember feeling in the depths of my soul we needed to do IVF and we needed to do it now. I asked my doctor and the gynecologic oncologist what their recommended course of treatment would be, and they both recommended a radical hysterectomy. They wanted to remove everything. My uterus, ovaries, tubes, cervix, and lymph nodes in the area to find out if it has spread at all. I didn’t hesitate even a moment, I knew I needed to get it out and I needed to get it out now. I scheduled my radical hysterectomy for October 17, 2019.

Courtesy of Ashley Simmons

I thought the wait for the hysterectomy was bad, but soon realized the wait to hear if the cancer had spread or if we had caught it in time was even worse. One week after the hysterectomy I went in for my post op appointment and my pathology report. I don’t think I breathed at all that day, as we made the 2.5 hour drive to my oncologist through the beautiful mountains of Arkansas. ‘Based on how your report looked prior to the hysterectomy, you shouldn’t have a report this good. Actually, I can’t remember the last time I saw a report come back this good. This is what everyone hopes for, and nearly no one gets. Ashley, if you had waited 6 more months we would be having a very different conversation right now.’ I am now 100% cancer free, but our story doesn’t end there.

Courtesy of Ashley Simmons

My hysterectomy recovery is in full swing and we got the best news we could have ever hoped for. The hysterectomy cured my uterine cancer and according to my doctor we found it in time to be able to avoid chemotherapy and radiation. Physically my recovery hasn’t been too bad, but emotionally my heart is aching. Surrogacy is now our only option to give our little ice baby that saved my life, a chance at life. We prayed for complete healing, and I am so thankful to have received it. It is a miracle we found it so early.

The next part of my story has yet to be written, and I just know it will be full of joy. We are now starting our surrogacy journey, to bring our little ice baby earth side.”

Courtesy of Ashley Simmons

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Ashley Simmons of Arkansas. You can follow her journey on Instagram and her website. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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