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true story

I Had Cancer So I Froze My Eggs. Now I’m Pregnant!

And living the life I’ve always imagined.

woman holding up an image of her little baby bump
Photo credit: Courtesy of Millicent Ramos
A woman in a blue shirt talking to her fertility specialist

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One day in April seven years ago, I noticed a bump on my clavicle. I went to my regular doctor who sent me to a specialist for a biopsy. I was only 23 so I wasn’t too worried. But when I met with the doctor to get the biopsy results, I learned that I had stage 4 Hodgkin lymphoma

I couldn’t believe it. What was I going to do? I went to an oncologist in Rockville Centre, Long Island, who said I would need chemotherapy for six months. Pretty scary stuff, but I’m strong. I would do what I needed to do. Then I learned that, as a result of the treatment, I might not be able to have children. What?!? I was devastated. I already had a 3-year-old son, Edgar, and I had always planned to have more. So the doctor suggested I talk to a fertility specialist about egg freezing before we started treatment.

High-tech hope

I felt comfortable and in good hands the moment I met Dr. Christine Mullin, IVF director at Northwell Health Fertility. As soon as she explained egg freezing, I knew that it was something I wanted to explore. To hear her say that despite this devastating diagnosis, I might still be able to have the future I always envisioned gave me hope, and that was invaluable to me at that time. 

But I needed to get started on chemotherapy as soon as possible, so I didn’t have time to waste. We began the egg freezing process immediately. To stimulate my ovaries, I had to give myself injections at home, in my thighs or by my stomach. The first few times were scary, but the needle was actually very tiny, and it didn't even hurt. I also had to go to the doctor a lot so she could check how the egg follicles were doing and take blood. It was a lot of appointments, but I was happy to do it. It was giving me a sense of hope that I had a future. It meant I could beat this—and then I could be a mom again.

I did the retrieval procedure in Dr. Mullin’s office. When I woke up from anesthesia, she said, “You did a great job. We got 23 eggs!”

Wow, I was so happy! We ended up freezing all 23. It gave me a feeling of ease to know that they were there for me when I was ready.

Now I was able to put this phase on the back burner and focus on treating my cancer.

Facing chemo with a support squad

I started chemo that June. I had a port inserted into my chest and would go every two weeks to get the treatment. Luckily, my employer, Delta Airlines, was very supportive. They gave me whatever time I needed to come in late, or to stay home if I didn’t feel good.

I remember being exhausted most of the time. After about two months, my hair started to fall out. I woke up one morning, and hair was everywhere. So I decided to just cut it all off. But I didn't think about how I’d explain that to my son. When he saw me for the first time, he was in complete shock. 

He asked me what happened to my hair. The first thing that popped into my mind was, “I want to look just like you.”

And then he rubbed his little hand on my head and said, “Mom, this looks great.” 

So that made me feel good. And I was relieved that he was too young to understand what I was really going through.

It is hard to keep your spirits up through chemo treatments, but I had my support team—my mom and my boyfriend, Rocky, were always by my side. And when I came home and needed to rest, my Chihuahua, Rocco, was resting on the bed right next to me.

Millicent Ramos sleeps next to her Chihuahua Rocco
After chemotherapy, Rocco and I took naps | Photo credit: Courtesy of Millicent Ramos

Highs and heartache

After the six months, we got great news: An MRI showed no signs of cancer. Everyone was happy, but I never really celebrated.

Maybe deep down my body knew not to: During a routine MRI months later, we discovered that the cancer had returned. I took it even harder than the first time. It felt like my whole world was crashing down.

I was told I had two options: a clinical trial or invasive chemotherapy. I had tried a clinical trial the first time, and here I was again. So I went with my gut and decided on chemo. My doctors were worried I wouldn’t be able to tolerate the treatment, but I told them I wanted to do whatever would ensure the cancer wouldn’t come back.

It was a month of treatment, followed by a month of in-house hospitalization. That was tough. I felt like a prisoner—I couldn’t do anything. But the hardest part was not being able to see Edgar—they wanted to keep me isolated because germs could be dangerous for me. I had never been away from my son before.

We Skyped every day and once my brother snuck him in for a quick visit. Then he did it again. The staff noticed how it lifted my spirits and realized it was actually good for both of us to be able to spend time together.

a woman holds her son
When I was hospitalized for a month, my sweet Edgar came to visit me | Photo credit: Courtesy of Millicent Ramos

Everything was particularly hard on my mom, too. But she would never cry in front of me, though I know she cried a lot. She taught me just how strong a mother can be.

Millicent and her mom, Juanda, at a chemotherapy session
Me and my mom, Juanda, at a chemotherapy session | Photo credit: Courtesy of Millicent Ramos

During tough times, having support is so important. My whole community came through for me. People I didn’t even really know reached out to see if there was anything they could do. It’s just amazing how kind and generous people can be.

Finally, near the end of my hospital stay, I had a stem cell transplant. All I remember is doctors standing over me, and my mom sitting right in front of the bed, watching it all. Soon, I was able to go home.

Getting out of there was the biggest relief of my life. I image it’s a similar feeling to being released from prison. The sunlight, the freedom. It was incredible.

There was no sign of cancer after my first MRI post-treatment. But I still didn’t celebrate. I wanted to let some time pass. It took five years for me to feel like I could finally celebrate. At my five-year anniversary, I was able to breathe a sigh of relief and live my life.

Trying for baby

One day, I passed by a fertility clinic, and I thought to myself: This is the time. It just feels right. So I made another appointment with Dr. Mullin. We gave each other a big hug, and I told her I was ready to give Edgar a brother or a sister.

There was some preparation and waiting involved—I had to take some medication, and Dr. Mullin prepped the eggs. 

I’ll never forget what happened when I came back to do the embryo transfer. Dr. Mullin told everyone in the room that we went way back. Then she said to me, “I want you to meet someone. This lady has been watching your eggs since we retrieved them six years ago. And she’ll continue to watch your eggs. This is your baby’s first babysitter—the embryologist.”

It was an amazing moment. I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand up! They made the whole experience feel like I was doing it with family by my side.

woman holding a sonogram
“The little embryo that could” on transfer day | Photo credit: Courtesy of Millicent Ramos

The next two weeks were nerve-wracking as I waited to find out if I was pregnant. Four days after the transfer, I took a pregnancy test. Nothing. I tried to do other things to distract myself, but I was thinking about it constantly. On the sixth day, I tried again: Was that a line? Could it have worked? The next day, I went to my mother’s house so we could do it together. The line was definitely there—and it was darker! She was yelling, I was yelling. It was so exciting—I was pregnant! 

A bump years in the making

My first sonogram was just unreal. Every time I see the baby, I think, “Wow that baby was frozen for years.” To hear the heartbeat for the first time was amazing. 

I see an OB/GYN now. So I can’t wait to visit Dr. Mullin to tell her that I’m having a boy—a little brother for my son. I've been waiting to let my bump grow a little bit first. And then I’ll go see her, and that’s a moment I want to record. That's going to be special.

Dealing with a cancer diagnosis is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. When you’re fighting for your life, it’s hard enough to focus on the important decisions that are right in front of you. So thinking about your future fertility isn’t even on your radar. But if you are going through cancer treatment, and you might someday want to have a baby, I suggest talking to a fertility doctor. Have that consultation. Just learn about it so you know your options. When you go through cancer, you have to have something to believe in. Egg retrieval gave me hope. It gave me the feeling that I had a future, even during the darkest times when it looked like I didn’t. With faith, positivity and a good doctor at your side, anything is possible.

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Published July 16th, 2019
A woman in a blue shirt talking to her fertility specialist

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