Everything had come back to life
Katherine Gordon tells us how after one year of having no oocyte activity due to chemotherapy, everything had come back to life and five years later she gave birth to her son.
Katherine Gordon (39) lives in Douglasdale, Gauteng with her husband, Alon, and their two-year-old son, Joshua.
Acute myeloid leukaemia (AML)
At age 32, Katherine was diagnosed with AML. The diagnosis came about after she collapsed when running The Comrades Marathon in 2014.
“I’ve always had low iron, so I thought that was the root. I saw a dietitian to get assistance both for the future of my running and because we wanted to start a family,” Katherine explains. Bloodwork showed that she was severely neutropenic; she was referred to a GP.
“My GP told me that at worst this was a blood cancer but said that there was a more likely explanation. We had recently returned from a trip through Southern Africa and he wondered if I had contracted a tropical virus of some sort. Over a three-month period, he sent me for numerous tests all of which returned negative. At the end of the three months, my neutrophil count was dropping even lower. Surprisingly though I had no symptoms,” explains Katherine.
The then 32-year-old consulted a haematologist; he said she was far too healthy to have leukaemia and suggested she had cyclic neutropenia (a rare syndrome characterised by recurrent episodes of abnormally low levels of neutrophils). A series of blood tests were done every three weeks to confirm this.
“My mind now at rest, I almost forgot to go for the first blood test. Having done it, I was surprised when a day later the haematologist called and said I had leukaemia.”
Before starting treatment, the referred oncologist suggested Katherine consult her gynae about egg preservation. “He said based on my current cycle, three weeks were needed to harvest eggs.
The oncologist said I didn’t have that sort of time to play with, so we launched into chemotherapy knowing that parenthood might sadly be off the cards.”
Chemotherapy was given but not without setbacks. “Instead of being given a continuous infusion of cytarabine with bursts of the potent red devil, I had a continuous infusion of red devil with additional bursts of red devil. The oncologist admitted he made a mistake and told me that my heart might not withstand the damage. What it had meant was that I had been given five-times the lifetime dosage of red devil. The cardiologist visited me multiple times a day at first, checking on my heart; remarkably it appeared to be okay.”
The second setback was getting an infection in her gut that wouldn’t clear even after numerous antibiotics. It was a faecal transplant that eventually corrected this. The last setback was when her small intestine twisted and she had to undergo surgery. Due to this she couldn’t finish the last cycles of chemotherapy, but her new oncologist was happy with the final result.
Back to life
“As soon as my health began to return, I began a PhD in ecology that I will complete in the first few months of next year. We got dogs and decided we wanted to start a family, and I started running again,” Katherine says.
Katherine was advised to wait five years before conceiving since AML is highly aggressive and if it comes back it’s almost always within five years.
Six months after finishing chemotherapy, she consulted with a reproductive medicine specialist. “I had no oocyte activity. This news made me extremely low, but I decided I would reach out to my cousins to see if any would be prepared to donate their eggs. One of my cousins volunteered immediately.”
Everything had come back to life
Six months later, she went back to the reproductive medicine specialist and in hiswords, “Everything had come back to life.” “We couldn’t have been happier! We waited four years (age was and is not on my side) and then began trying. I fell pregnant in my first cycle.”
Katherine’s pregnancy went incredibly smoothly, and she gave birth naturally on 28 April 2020. “I had to do it alone as my husband tested positive for COVID, but my obstetrician was wonderful.”
Alon and Katherine say parenthood is everything they hoped for and so much more. “Josh has bought us endless joy and enriched both our lives beyond measure. At the same time, I don’t think either of us were prepared for the depths of responsibility, dedication and worry that go hand-in-hand with such a love. We wouldn’t change it for anything.”
MEET OUR EDITOR – Laurelle Williams
Laurelle is the Editor at Word for Word Media and graduated from AFDA with a Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in Live Performance. She have a love for storytelling and sharing emotions through the power of words. Her aim is to educate, encourage and most of all show there is always hope. Write me: email@example.com