Bringing a child into the world is monumental for anyone, and having a baby changes a mother's life forever. However, in the case of Karly Miller, her baby literally saved her life.
Diagnosis during pregnancy
Karly Miller was at the 19-week mark during her pregnancy when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. This pregnancy was her third try with IVF, and the first two had been heartbreaking. After suffering two miscarriages already, she couldn't believe that during what had appeared as "third time's the charm," she was being told that she had cancer.
It happened when she was getting her 19-week scan done on a completely normal Wednesday afternoon. Expecting everything to be par for the course, she was disheartened when her doctor informed her that her right ovary was looking "suspicious."
She explained the situation, "they just said the ovary was enlarged. They said they had to talk to a few other doctors about it and then I got the call Thursday morning from my obstetrician to say he'd made an appointment for me to see the oncologist that afternoon."
Only the next day, Karly had an emergency surgery to remove her ovary. She describes the procedure as being "pretty scary", largely due to the risk she knew it was posing to the baby growing inside of her.
She says, "it was a very long procedure and they just tried to move the uterus as minimally as possible and they did it through key hole [surgery]."
After the surgery, the mass they had removed during the operation was sent to a lab and tested. At age 36, Karly was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. While most patients would begin chemotherapy at this point, after discussing with her husband Scott, she decided that she could not take that option due to the risk it would pose to her pregnancy. Their consolation was that Professor Obermair had explained to them that the tumor had been entirely encapsulated and that they were confident that the operation had removed the entirety.
The decision to give birth
Given her condition, doctors requested that the couple seriously consider abandoning the pregnancy for Karly's health. However, her and her husband did not even view it as an option. She explains, we didn't consider a full termination at any point."
At 36 weeks, Karly decided to give birth to her baby. Jack was delivered five weeks early via caesarean. During the operation, the doctors removed Karly's fallopian tube.
Today, Jack has recently turned four.
Luckily, the cancer didn't spread. However, Karly stated that if it had during her pregnancy, she would have opted to start chemotherapy with the baby in utero and given birth at an even earlier stage, but never would she have considered terminating the pregnancy. Their commitment to their unborn child is a testament to the things a mother is willing to endure for her child's safety.
Six weeks after giving birth, Karly began chemotherapy for her cancer. She says, "they wanted me to start a bit earlier but I wanted to breastfeed as long as possible so they let me go to six weeks before I started. So, they were quite confident that they'd got it all, so really it was only monitoring [during pregnancy] through tumor markers, a lot of blood tests and regular chest x-rays just to make sure nothing had metastasized to the lungs."
The doctors were able to tell that the cancer had appeared between the 13-week and 19-week scan, as the mass was invisible at one and quite noticeable at the next. If not for the scan, it is unknown whether the mass and cancer would have ever been caught.
Caring for her baby
While Karly was over the moon about her beautiful new baby boy, she unfortunately was not able to care for him as much as she would have liked to during those first few weeks because of the chemotherapy.
She explains, "I really wasn't the primary carer for at least six months, so going through chemo was really really tough for me. I was really sick. I could barely care for myself. I really wasn't caring for him at all. It wasn't until he was six months old that I felt I could actually begin to care for him and even then, I had help until he was about one. I was really still feeling the effects of chemo."
Her chemotherapy had to go on for 10 weeks, which is not extremely long for chemotherapy treatment. However, it was very intense and difficult for her.
Karly’s pregnancy was a life-saver
Without her pregnancy, Karly most likely never would have been able to detect the cancer growing within her. At least, not until it would have been too late.
Now a mother of two, she looks back at her IVF treatments and recalls how difficult they were on her, emotionally and physically. She and her husband began IVF in 2012, and while she was able to become pregnant, the miscarriages left the couple feeling extremely disheartened. However, that only makes them more ecstatic about their first baby, Jack, and her five-month old, Cooper.
Cooper was born in March with the last embryo she had left. Because she didn't have to undergo cancer treatments like she did after her first child, she states that she enjoys being able to fully partake in the experience of taking care of Cooper. She had the ability to breastfeed for longer, didn't have to leave for chemotherapy, and had more energy to take care of her new baby boy.
However, not everything was perfect. She explains, "unfortunately, I had a tough one after this one too because I ended up having to have surgery. I got gastro and ended up tearing my bowel and so I had to have bowel surgery when he was only a couple of months old. So, I've had help with him as well."
Despite still having hardships, she was able to be the primary caregiver for her son, which is an experience she was upset about missing during her first son's infancy. She admits that having two boys is "crazy," but she loves it. She explains, "it's really full on. They're very active and they absolutely adore each other. I've been very lucky. That being said, I'm very happy with two."
The couple is not planning to have any more children. As Cooper was their last embryo with IVF, the chances of conceiving naturally are relatively low as the chemotherapy essentially destroyed the other ovary. However, the couple happily have their hands full with their two boys.
Karly now has regular checkups to be positive that the cancer has not returned and so far, she's received good news on that front.
Karly acts as an inspiration in many ways. For those struggling with disappointments surrounding IVF procedures, she shows that with perseverance, it is possible that the procedures will be successful even if they have failed in the past. For those battling cancer during pregnancy, she shows that it is possible for the health of both the mother and baby to come out well in the end.