I spent £12k on IVF but fear my dream of becoming a mum gave me cancer.
After more than 12 years, £12,000, and 12 rounds of IVF, Lindsay and Jon Hall, who once feared they might never have children, have finally created their perfect family.
When twins Esme and Oliver, now one, finally came along four years after son Taylor, five, it was a dream come true.
But their joy was short-lived. Just months after the twins were born, Lindsay found a lump in her breast and she was diagnosed with stage three aggressive breast cancer.
The couple were distressed to find it was possible that the cancer had been fuelled by hormones released during pregnancy.
But Lindsay says that although her quest for a family may have contributed to her illness, she has no regrets.
She says: “It’s ironic to think that having my family might have played a part in my cancer – but they are my world and I don’t regret anything. A life without children wasn’t an option for me and Jon.”
Beauty therapist Lindsay, who has already been through chemotherapy treatment and a double mastectomy, was last week given the wonderful news that she is now cancer-free.
She now needs to undergo radiotherapy to stop it returning and afterwards plans to have a hysterectomy to reduce any further threat.
Lindsay, now 33, says: “It took me and my husband a long time to get our family, and there was no way on this earth I was ready to leave them.
“There were times I worried that I had gone to such lengths to bring them into the world, only to have to leave them. But I tried not to dwell on it and kept fighting, because they needed me.
“It’s thought that my type of cancer fed on the hormones in pregnancy, and I can’t help wondering if all the years I spent injecting myself with hormones for IVF have played a part.
“I asked my consultant outright if IVF had given me cancer, and he wouldn’t answer. But it wouldn’t have made any difference – I would still have gone ahead with it.”
Lindsay was 20 when she married Jon, a professional wheelchair basketball player, and they began trying for a baby straight away.
But when nothing happened, tests were arranged and she was told she was suffering with unexplained infertility.
IVF was the only option, so the couple, from Chesterfield in Derbyshire, saved hard, going without luxuries to fund the procedure. Heartbreakingly, she failed to conceive.
Over the next seven years she endured 10 cycles of IVF at a cost of £7,000 before eventually becoming pregnant with Taylor.
She was then 28, and thrilled. She says: “Holding him in my arms was the most amazing feeling. IVF had been a rollercoaster, but he was worth every second.”
Lindsay admits she gave little thought to the hormones she had injected into her body during each cycle.
“You don’t question it really,” she says. “All you can think about is having a baby.”
Lindsay had a further round of IVF which was unsuccessful. When she returned for another round, just two embryos remained and both were implanted to improve her chances.
By then, IVF had cost the couple £12,000. Two weeks later, Lindsay’s pregnancy was confirmed and at six weeks she was told she was carrying twins.
She says: “I felt like the luckiest mother ever that Taylor would now have two siblings.”
By 20 weeks, she was exhausted and she was signed off work.
“I felt awful but put that down to the strain of a multiple pregnancy,” she says.
Four weeks before her due date, her waters broke while at home and she was rushed in for a C-section.
Esme was born first, weighing 6lbs 9oz, followed by Oliver at 5lbs 11oz.
Lindsay says: “Jon and I were elated. We had three perfect children and could not have been more happy or proud. It was everything we had ever wanted.”
But while she was in hospital, she noticed blood leaking from her right nipple. Medics put it down to breastfeeding.
Her exhaustion, aching body and generally feeling unwell were all put down to having recently given birth.
But when the twins were six months old in November 2014, Lindsay found a lump in her right breast while showering.
She immediately made an appointment with her GP, who suspected she had a blocked milk duct. But with a strong family history of cancer on her mother’s side, she was referred for further investigation.
She says: “Having just had the babies complicated things because the body can go through lots of changes, and my symptoms had been masked.”
After an ultrasound and a biopsy, she faced an agonising two-week wait for the results.
She says: “Christmas was around the corner so I kept busy because it was our first ever Christmas as a family so I wanted it to be special.”
But on December 23, she was called in for the results. “I was told I had cancer but to go home and enjoy Christmas,” she says.
“My head was spinning. I wondered if it would be my first and last with the family I had waited so long for.
“But I didn’t have time to go to pieces. I had a young son and two small babies, so I just had to get on with it.”
A week later came more bad news. Following a scan she was told the tumour was aggressive and already at stage three. Worse, it had started to spread to her lymph nodes. Six sessions of chemotherapy were prescribed at once.
On day 19, her hair started falling out but it was the sickness that kept her from her children she found hardest to deal with.
“Being too weak to lift the babies broke my heart,” she says. “My husband was amazing, but you still want to be Mum.”
When her consultant advised a full mastectomy of the right breast, Lindsay asked for her healthy left breast to be removed at the same time. She says: “If I beat cancer, I didn’t want to live in fear if it coming back.”
While waiting for the operation, she asked Taylor to shave off her hair before it fell out completely.
She says: “I also told him mummy’s poorly boob needed to be chopped off and he laughed like young boys do when you talk about boobs. I was pleased – I didn’t want him to be scared.”
It was during her treatment that Lindsay asked her consultant if the years she’d spent having IVF could have had anything to do with her cancer. She says: “He couldn’t tell me for certain if it had or hadn’t caused my cancer. At the moment there is no evidence.
“All he could say was that my cancer was hormone-sensitive and it had been fed by hormones, so pregnancy had fuelled it.”
Before her mastectomy, tests confirmed that Lindsay carried the faulty BRCA 2 gene, which means there is a high pre-existing risk.
Official guidance from NHS says it’s not clear if IVF and breast cancer are linked because there have been “only a very small number of studies”.
There is evidence that women may have a slightly higher risk in the first year after treatment, but not for longer.
Yinka Ebo of charity Breast Cancer Now adds: “IVF treatment raises the levels of female hormones such as oestrogen. Raised oestrogen levels are linked to a higher risk of breast cancer, which is why some researchers suggest IVF may increase breast cancer risk.
“But the link between any pregnancy and breast cancer risk is complex. In the long term, having children reduces your risk. But in the short term, studies suggest the risk slightly increases after giving birth.”
Only two days after hearing she was cancer-free, Lindsay took part in Cancer Research’s Race for Life. She has raised more than £1,200, and although she is still waiting for her hysterectomy and a breast reconstruction, she says she can finally look forward to a future with the family she spent so long waiting for.
She says: “Research has meant I will be here to watch my kids grow up with my husband, and I am truly grateful so I wanted to do something to help others.
“We can at last enjoy the beautiful family we risked so much to have without the shadow of cancer.”
• To donate to Lindsay’s fund for Cancer Research, visit justgiving.com/lindsayhall0