'Having a bump was the most beautiful experience in the world'
Andrea didn't let cancer stop her having a child, she tells Graham Clifford
As she cradles her 10-month-old daughter, Hannah Rose, in her arms, Andrea Maguire-Roche thinks of the times when doctors told her it was highly unlikely she'd ever have a child of her own.
After being diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 37, just six weeks after her wedding day in January 2009, one specialist told Andrea and her husband Conor that their chances of getting pregnant were negligible. He said: "Whatever God you have, you'd want to start praying to him."
Looking back now, Andrea recalls a horrifically stressful time for the newly-wed couple. "I had just married the love of my life, Conor, when I found a lump in my breast. It was the size of an egg and came from out of nowhere. After a mammogram and biopsy, I got the news that no woman wants to hear -- I had cancer.
"All I could think about was whether it would affect my chances of having a baby. Conor and I have always wanted a family and never thought we'd ever have any fertility issues."
A friend of Andrea worked for a leading consultant oncologist in Dublin named Dr Janice Walsh, who'd actually written papers on the fertility options available to Irish women with cancer.
After receiving advice from Dr Walsh, Andrea and her husband found themselves in the Rotunda's Human Assisted Reproduction Ireland (HARI) unit.
"It was all a bit daunting really, and we didn't know what to expect. We went into it blind. Fortunately, we were able to freeze nine fertilised embryos -- though with so much going on at the time it was hard to think that we'd have our own child.
"Still, we knew this was a step in the right direction and never gave up hope."
To add to the couple's worries, Conor, who Andrea met on a blind-date at the Navan races, was diagnosed with a benign brain tumour, which was later successfully removed.
After having a mastectomy and then six rounds of chemotherapy at Tallaght hospital, Andrea embarked on a treatment of IVF at the HARI unit in January 2011.
"When we arrived to have the embryos transferred, we said to ourselves, what will be, will be. A few months earlier, I had conceived naturally but had an early miscarriage. I felt my body was giving up on me and asked, why is this happening? I felt I deserved to have a baby like anyone else and was devastated after the miscarriage."
Though also shattered, Conor felt the couple had a moral obligation to the nine 'little souls' waiting for them at the Rotunda.
In February of last year, the couple carried out a test to see if the embryo transfer had been successful -- the result was positive.
"I just couldn't believe it but Conor hardly batted an eyelid. He said he knew I would be pregnant and he wasn't surprised one bit!"
After having the pregnancy confirmed by the HARI unit, Andrea's life was transformed as each passing week saw her baby grow and her own health improve.
"I loved every second of it and I felt amazing when I was pregnant. I was walking on air and so enjoyed my little bump and felt it was the most beautiful experience in the world. I felt a bit like Lazarus but would have walked through a brick wall to have my little girl."
Hannah Rose was born in Wexford General Hospital on October 20, 2011, weighing a very healthy 7lbs 14 oz.
Andrea recalls that some of the nurses didn't realise she'd had a mastectomy, only finding out when they tried to help with breast feeding.
Today in their home in the village of Bridgetown, Co Wexford, Andrea (41), originally from Meath, Conor and Hannah Rose are enjoying a normal and joyous family life.
"We still have six embryos frozen at the HARI unit and we'd love if Hannah Rose could have a little brother or sister so at some stage we'll try again," she says.
Andrea's IVF treatment costs have been modest as some of the procedures have fallen under her oncology treatment. "I think I just paid €1,300 for the transfer of embryos and then we pay an annual fee in the region of €500 a year for them to be stored," she tells me.
Not prepared to allow breast cancer to prevent her from having her own child, Andrea's story is one of strength, courage and determination. Supported at every turn by her devoted husband Conor as well as family, friends and the staff at the HARI unit, she says they empowered her to never stop believing.
"You couldn't start to imagine the goodwill that was shown to us even by complete strangers. I hope that women in the same situation as me realise that being diagnosed with cancer doesn't mean the chances of leading a normal life are removed.
"Hannah Rose is proof of that," she says.