Friday 4 December 2009

Cancer dad who went through IVF despite knowing he won't live to see his baby girl grow up


Cradling his newborn baby for the first time is a huge milestone in any father’s life – one of those moments he will never forget.

But for Eamon Gorman, who has had chemotherapy every other week for the past two years, holding his little Maisie, was extra poignant.

Because Eamon does not know if he will live long enough to see his beautiful little girl grow up.

Eamon, 35, is being treated for bowel cancer. “When I held Maisie in my arms, I knew every battle had been worth it,” he says.

“I’m certain positive thinking and living for a future have kept me alive.

“I don’t want to know how long I’ve got, because I refuse to give up on life.”

Eamon’s wife Kate agrees. “We don’t talk about the sad stuff. Eamon is so strong, we just try to enjoy the time we have together and do nice things as a family.”

His diagnosis in July 2007 turned their world on its head. Eamon had started feeling ill on a flight home from Cyprus, but his only symptom was frequent toilet visits.

Until then he’d been fit and healthy. But within days his doctor referred him to hospital for bowel tests.

Kate, 28, says: “I was called in from the waiting room to be with Eamon. The consultant told us he was fairly sure it was bowel cancer.

“That moment our lives changed.”

A week later bowel cancer was confirmed, and subsequent scans revealed the tumour had spread to his lymph nodes, carrying rogue cells to his liver and his lungs.

Eamon says: “I decided to remain positive.

“When I was told it was cancer, I thought: ‘I can beat this.’ Then when I was told it was terminal, I thought: ‘Well, I will live as long as I possibly can’.”

Eamon didn’t want to know the prognosis.

He says: “If they had given me a date, I’d have seen it as a death sentence. I decided I’d rather not know so it wouldn’t put limitations on me or our life. Instead, I chose to take one day at a time.”

The news of Eamon’s illness had so many implications, not least his loss of fertility. So when the nurse asked straight after diagnosis if they wanted to freeze some of Eamon’s sperm, they immediately agreed.

Kate says: “I’m so grateful to that nurse because if she hadn’t asked that question, we wouldn’t have thought about it. Even though Eamon had a terminal diagnosis, we’d always planned to have children – it was at top of our list – and his cancer didn’t change that. We had already started trying.”

The couple had been planning to marry a year later but brought the wedding forward to August 2007, five weeks after Eamon’s diagnosis and two weeks after he started chemotherapy.

By then he had also provided the sperm which they hoped would allow them to start a family.

Kate, a part-time trainer, recalls: “It was a fantastic day of celebration.”

There was no honeymoon because Eamon needed chemo the day after the wedding.

As his treatment continued, the couple waited to find out whether they would be allowed to have IVF on the NHS.

A month after the wedding they went to the Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham for tests, and were referred under the NHS for proposed IVF treatment at the CARE Fertility Group in Nottingham. The couple had to have counselling, and their case had to be reviewed because of Eamon’s terminal diagnosis.

“It wasn’t until the following March that we finally got the go-ahead,” says Kate. Fertility treatment started in May 2008 when 12 eggs were removed from Kate, then two were injected with Eamon’s sperm to fertilise them and re-implanted.

Two weeks later the home pregnancy test was positive.

“We were in shock. I hadn’t dared to get my hopes up, but it was a dream come true,” recalls Kate.

Eamon adds: “We couldn’t believe there was good news after so much bad news. We were almost panicky with excitement!”

Kate did three pregnancy tests just to be sure – a scan confirmed everything was fine, and Eamon continued with fortnightly chemotherapy.

“Knowing Kate was pregnant kept me going,” he says.

Another high for soccer-mad Eamon was meeting the England football team last year thanks to the Willow Foundation charity, which provides morale-boosting experiences for people with life-threatening conditions.

But even that was no match for the joy of seeing his daughter Maisie Elizabeth born at the Royal Derby Hospital on May 17 this year.

Sadly Eamon was taken to hospital the next day after a bad reaction to the anti-cancer medication he was taking.

“That was a low point,’ says Kate.

“I’d just been allowed home with our new baby but Eamon wasn’t with me – he was being admitted to hospital as I was leaving.”

Support from friends and family kept the couple going, and a change in Eamon’s medication meant he was home with his wife and newborn daughter the following day.

Eamon is still having chemo but now has treatment at home in Derby to be with his wife and daughter.

“I will have a scan in November to see if the chemo is working. If it is, we would love to try for baby number two,” he reveals.

“I know some people will say I’ve brought a baby into the world who might end up without a father, but what’s important is that Maisie knows her father loved her very much.

“It upsets me to think I won’t see her grow up, but we take lots of photos and videos so she has memories of me.

I do think about how Kate will cope when I’m not here but that’s one reason we would like to have another child, so Maisie has a brother or sister. I spend all my time with her so we can build memories of our time together.”

Eamon, who is off sick from his job as a team leader, has signed legal documents giving Kate consent to use his sperm after his death, but she tries not to think about life without him.

“We never talk about how long Eamon has. We stay positive for each other and try to live life to the full.”

Eamon remains positive too. “Every day I wake up and tell myself I’m going to fight this, and everything’s going to be all right. I don’t feel sorry for myself.

“These are the cards I’ve been dealt so I get on with life rather than spend my days thinking about death.

“I consider myself lucky – I’ve met the girl of my dreams, and we have the most beautiful daughter.

“Every day I get to spend with my girls makes my life all the more precious.”

Dr George Ndukwe, medical director of CARE in Nottingham where the couple had IVF, said: “We are delighted to have helped Kate and Eamon. They have been through so much and we wish them all the best.”

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