Here, Samantha Brand, 41, tells the story in her own words.
S￼pening Christmas presents with my family, I should have been thrilled. Instead, I felt sadness. Is this my last Christmas? I thought.
Six months before, I’d been diagnosed with stage three ovarian cancer.
Just 27, I’d had a pain in my side and some bloating. It turned out I had a burst cyst on my ovary, but during a scan they spotted a mass, thought to be a benign tumour.
I worked at the hospital as a midwife, so some of my colleagues gave me a cheery wave as they wheeled me into surgery. But when I woke up the mood had changed. It was my own boss who broke the news.‘We found more than a tumour,’ he explained.
My abdominal cavity was riddled with cancer and I had just months to live. I was told that I probably wouldn’t live to see the new year – 2004.
My mum Denise, then 47, dad Paul, 51, and younger sisters Rachel, 25, and Nikkita, 11, were amazing.
They were determined to help me beat the disease, or enjoy the time I had left. For my 28th birthday, my family threw a big bash. After all, it was likely to be my last.
As the guests went home, I found myself thinking of my ex-boyfriend, Ben. We’d met at 21 and dated for three years before deciding to be friends. We were both seeing other people, but I felt bad I hadn’t told him about my illness. So I called him. Shocked, he told me how sorry he was and from then on, unbeknown to me, he checked in with Mum about my condition.
When January came around, tests showed that although the tumours had gone, I had lots of microscopic cancer cells. Five months of gruelling radiotherapy was my last hope. Amazingly, it worked.
It’s a miracle, I thought. Sadly, there’d been no way to save my eggs, but I still had a womb.
Soon after, my relationship broke down and it turned out Ben was single again too. Realising how much we’d missed each other, we reignited our relationship. Five years later, in 2009, I was officially in remission. Doctors were amazed I’d beaten the odds.
At last, able to think of the future, Ben and I decided to start a family. ‘If it’s a girl, let’s call her Starla,’ Ben said, after a character in a song we both loved.
Knowing I needed donor eggs, Rachel, who’d had her first bub, offered to give me some of hers, and, when a close friend offered to donate too, I was touched.
After seven failed cycles, we relocated to Spain for four months to try a renowned clinic. There, we tried donor embryos in case Ben’s and my genetic material was the issue. When those implantations failed, we felt utterly defeated. We’d spent $100,000 on our dream of being parents. Could we really keep on fighting?
Then, in early 2015, Nikkita and Rachel sat me down. They explained how hard it was to see me suffer, and how they wanted to help. ‘We’ve had an idea,’ Rachel explained. I listened in shock as they told me they’d been researching how they could give me a baby. ‘I’ll be your surrogate,’ Rachel said. ‘And I’ll donate my eggs,’ Nikkita added.
Overwhelmed, I was so full of gratitude but I knew it was a huge decision. The whole family talked – Ben, Mum, Dad, Rachel’s hubby Cam, 42, and Nikkita’s partner Gareth, 28. When they revealed their plan, Dad had a tear in his eye.‘Let’s try,’ I said, and Ben agreed.
As Nikkita was only 22 and hadn’t had a baby, she had both the usual and extra psychological assessments to get the okay to donate. And Rachel had counselling too.
After the heartache of her falling pregnant for just five days in January 2016, Rachel fell pregnant again. This time, the embryo stuck. As the weeks went by, I couldn’t believe it was true. ‘Let’s not tell anyone yet,’ I said. Seeing the baby at scans was incredible, but I still didn’t dare share the news.
At 30 weeks, Rachel and Nikkita said they were worried about my secrecy. Realising I could finally tell the world, I organised a baby announcement photo shoot. When we shared the photos, everyone was overjoyed for us.
Then, in September last year, Rachel was induced. Ben, Nikkita and I gathered around her bed. When our baby girl was born, it was an incredible moment. Our Starla’s finally here, I thought.
Understanding that my sisters are very special aunts, we include them as a much as possible in her life. Last Christmas, we gathered at Nikkita’s house with three-month-old Starla. But I didn’t care about presents – Ben and I had the most precious gift of all.
Now 14 months old, she is a happy, smiley, little angel. I’m living proof miracles can happen.
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