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Real life: The fertility dilemma I faced as a single 22-year-old with cancer

Life took a real left turn.

By Rebel Wylie
It's a choice no single 22 year old imagines they'll have to face - should I freeze my eggs unfertilised with less chance of survival or should I find a sperm donor and have them fertilised before freezing them to give them a better chance?
But that's exactly the predicament Jasmine Gailer found herself in when bone cancer brought her world-travels to a screeching halt.
A Youth Cancer Services (YCS) worker supported Jasmine through her cancer experience. Supplied
"I'd always been that girl, the one that dreams about being married and having kids," Jasmine tells Bounty.
"I always knew I wanted a family, so much so that I'd start dating a guy and be thinking, 'are you going to propose to me soon?" she laughs. "It was 100 percent in my life-plan to become a mother."
Shelving her dreams of wife-life, at age 22 Jasmine finally decided to embrace her youth and head on a once in a lifetime world travelling experience.
"Once I started on that trip I thought 'this being single and working and travelling overseas is actually really fun' and I kind of deviated off that wife and motherhood plan a little," she says.
While in Mexico, Jasmine noticed a pain in her knee that wasn't going away.
"I thought I might have damaged, or even torn my anterior cruciate ligament (ACL)," she says. "But the next part of my trip was London and I planned to sort it out over there."
Making her way across the ditch, Jasmine's plan was to find a job and a place to live as soon as possible, however the pain in her knee was getting worse.
"The thing about the healthcare system over there at the time was that you needed a permanent address to access a GP, so my only real option was to see a physio who treated it as if it was an ACL injury for about three months," says Jasmine.
With the pain becoming unbearable, Jasmine finally had access to a GP where she discovered it would be a two-three month wait for a scan to see exactly what was going on.
While she waited for that date to arrive, the pain was coming to a point where Jasmine could barely walk, so she decided to cut her trip short and make her way home.
"The pain became everything and I couldn't wait any longer."
Jasmine - visiting an orphanage in Tapachula, Mexico - was loving life as a single traveller. Supplied
Home and finally getting her scan, which Jasmine believed would confirm a torn ACL, she felt relief that finally there would be some answers to her pain.
What she didn't expect was that the scan would show a tumour that had eaten away the bone in her knee. Jasmine was given a diagnosis of Osteosarcoma, a bone cancer that primarily affects young adults and children and told to immediately make her way to a fertility specialist to make a plan for her future before chemo began.
"It was so surreal, I was sitting in the waiting room at a fertility clinic in a wheelchair, trying to process what I had just learned that same day," shares Jasmine.
"My mum came into the appointment and all of a sudden I was being asked questions about my sexual history in front of her, it was like I had gone from being this independent adult to an adolescent again in one day."
WATCH: Woman gets cancer and sees the world in 13 days. Continues after video ...
Due to the level of pain in her knee, it was determined that there was no time to undergo egg collection before surgery and chemo began and Jasmine was faced with news that there was a possibility her journey to motherhood might not be an easy one.
"I'm so grateful that during that time I had a social worker and leisure therapist assigned to me from Youth Cancer Services (YCS)," says Jasmine. "They are basically the only fond memory of that time for both my parents and myself.
"They were so aware of my needs as a young adult, and as a woman and helped me through some extremely difficult phases during that time."
At age 24, post-chemo, Jasmine was in recovery and once again had to face her fertility.
"YCS was there to support me and let me know the options I had going forward," says Jasmine. "I had been taking medication throughout chemo to help protect what eggs I had but tests showed that my ovarian reserve was much lower than what I should have expected."
With only four eggs retrieved, a young, single Jasmine had huge decisions to make about her future. Did she freeze her eggs unfertilised to use with a potential future partner, giving them less of a chance of survival or should she find a sperm donor and have them fertilised before freezing them to give herself a better chance at motherhood?
Holding onto hope that her low ovarian didn't count didn't necessarily mean low fertility, Jasmine froze the four eggs that were retrieved.
WATCH: CanTeen Australia - 'What CanTeen means to me'. Continues after video ...
Years later, at age 26 Jasmine met Julian and had to have some pretty awkward conversations very early on.
"It is such a strange thing to have to talk about so early into a relationship, but it was kind of like, 'OK, are we boyfriend and girlfriend now? Yes? Then there's something I have to tell you ...'"
Julian was all-in. As Jasmine's new boyfriend he went to the fertility specialist with her and they made plans for moving forward. Because Jasmine's fertility was unknown they were advised to use protection until they were ready to begin their family, then come back when they knew that it was something they wanted. But not to wait too long, time was ticking.
The pair stayed together, and at age 29 Jasmine and Julian were wed and headed off on their honeymoon.
"I went off birth control because when we came home we were going to begin making plans with the fertility specialist to start trying for a baby later that year," says Jasmine. "Julian was having surgery from a neck injury after our honeymoon and once that was over we'd start making plans for a baby."
However fate doesn't have time for plans. Jasmine returned home from her honeymoon pregnant with their first child, a baby girl who they named Evelyn.
"It's hilarious that after all of those years of stressing that it would it would never happen, when it finally did we weren't ready!" laughs Jasmine.
Jasmine, now 31, with husband Julian and daughter Evelyn. Supplied
With plans to try for baby number two before too long, Jasmine remains grateful that she was of the many young Australian cancer patients aged 15 – 25 who have benefitted from the specialist, age-appropriate treatments and support of Youth Cancer Services (YCS). YSC is vital for this age group because it offers targeted treatment, support and advise including, as in Jasmine's case, fertility preservation.
YSC relies heavily on government funding, it's essential to help continue the Youth Cancer Services Australia-wide, giving access to specialist, youth-friendly multidisciplinary care and leading clinical trials for young people diagnosed with cancer.

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