A young woman with stage 3 cancer has told how she was left devastated when her fertility treatment was cancelled because of Covid-19.
Ciara Donnelly (27), a dental hygienist from Co Monaghan, started chemotherapy this week after being diagnosed with cervical cancer late last year.
Ms Donnelly had been warned the cancer treatment could mean she may never have children, so she had wanted to freeze her eggs before starting chemotherapy.
But two days after starting the fertility treatment, she was told by the Rotunda IVF clinic it was effectively closing because of Covid-19.
This week, the Irish Independent revealed cancer patients were among those who could not have their eggs frozen ahead of chemotherapy because of the closure of IVF services.
In 2018, Ms Donnelly's smear test result came back as normal. In 2019, she was recalled for another test amid concerns the initial results were wrong. After the second test, she was diagnosed with stage 3 cervical cancer late last year. "I was devastated," Ms Donnelly said.
After speaking to more consultants, Ms Donnelly said she "got her head around" the fact she will probably never be able to carry her own children, but freezing her eggs for a surrogate could be an option.
Ms Donnelly said she was "extremely interested" in trying to preserve her eggs, and had started fertility treatment at the Rotunda IVF clinic on March 16. All IVF clinics in Ireland are private, but the Rotunda IVF receives HSE funding to offer fertility treatments to cancer patients.
Two days after she started her treatment, Ms Donnelly got a call from the clinic to tell her that her treatment would stop due to Covid-19.
"It was a complete setback. It was a massive blow. I had hoped that I would at least have the security of having my eggs," she said.
Ms Donnelly asked if there was any way she could wait until things were back to normal, but doctors said there was no way of knowing when things would be back to normal and her chemotherapy had to go ahead.
"Sometimes you just have to make sacrifices. It's just hard because I am in my 20s. You spend so many years trying not to get pregnant, and now it's like: what if I can't have children? You realise that overnight that can change," she said.
She said she is not angry at the Rotunda IVF staff, because she could see that they were upset at having to stop offering the service.
Ms Donnelly's consultant told her that, had her smear been read correctly in 2018, she would have had more time to consider fertility options before starting her treatment. It is also possible that if the cancer had been caught earlier, the tumour could have been removed without chemotherapy and Ms Donnelly would have been able to have children.
"That is sometimes what I do find the hardest. It's one thing dealing with cancer, it completely changes your life. I'm just consumed by hospital tests and worries and questions but I know that even when I get through this, I have this whole other box to open," she said.
Her only hope now is that eggs from the right ovary were protected in a procedure earlier this year, but said that is not 100pc guaranteed.
"There is always the chance that they could be damaged," she said.
Ms Donnelly also said she wanted to encourage young girls and boys to "please get the HPV vaccine", and asked women to ensure they go for regular smear tests.
"If someone reads this and does that, then that is at least something," she said.
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