Cancer survivor’s sister gives her the greatest gift

 

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Starting a family is something that most couples look forward to doing. The thought of bringing a child in to the world and becoming a parent is both terrifying and exciting as it comes with a lot of responsibility but also a lot of meaning. Through all of the sleepless nights and dirty diapers, there are so many moments of parental bliss such as when a mother or father hears their child laugh or watches discover something new.

Watching a little human being who shares many of your characteristics grow up in front of your eyes is such a special experience and most people (even those who don’t have children) would agree that becoming a parent will change your life indefinitely. But unfortunately, many couples face fertility issues and challenges on their road to becoming parents. In cases such as these, people often turn to other methods of starting a family, which is just what Randi and her husband decided to do.

When one Maryland woman found out that her dream of bearing her own children was out of reach, due to a devastating illness. Only recently getting married, she was unsure how to proceed toward her dream of starting a family. Little did she know, however, that someone close to her held the key to her happiness – though her trials and tribulations were still far from over.


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There are so many dilemmas that go into becoming a parent. When should you start trying to conceive? How much time should you take off from work – if indeed you can afford to take the time off? What kind of upbringing do you think will be best for your child? The possibilities for a lot of these questions are too many to count, but when you add the need to choose how to begin your family, everything becomes that much more complicated. Should you adopt? Become a foster parent? get a sperm or egg donation? Use in vitro fertilization? And should you begin one or more of these processes locally or abroad?

Randi Fishman had all these questions and more to contend with after she learned that the typical road to motherhood was not going to be available to her. And while she did have options, she longed to feel that early connection to her child from the very first stages. Randi was beginning to think that would never be a possibility for her, when a very special someone made her most cherished wish come true. Read on to find out all the details of these incredibly heartwarming story.

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Close sisters

Randi Fishman grew up in Maryland along with her two sisters, Erin and Jamie and it’s clear from this photo that they all share a striking resemblance. After graduating from Hofstra University in 2005, Randi was working as a senior account executive and enjoying her life as a recent graduate. She was still close with her sisters but she could have never imagined just how close she would become to her older sister, Erin, later on in her life.

The love of her life

Finding the love of your life can be a challenge in and of itself so in 2009, Randi Fishman was overjoyed when she became engaged to her now husband, Zach Fishman. She was excited to plan her wedding and after their beautiful nuptials took place, the young couple settled into married life and they were both focused on their growing careers. But like many other married couples, they couldn’t wait to have children, however, their plans were put on hold by some devastating news that Randi received out of the blue.

Getting diagnosed

No one could imagine walking into a doctor’s office and getting a diagnosis of cancer let alone a person who is only 28 years old. Unfortunately, this was the case for Randi who had her whole life ahead of her. She was diagnosed with breast cancer and was about to go through a difficult journey that included cancer treatments and intense surgery. But just when she thought she was recovering and could see the light on the other side, she received more horrible news. Her cancer had returned.

Battling cancer

Before she reached the age of 30, Randi Fishman had already battled and overcome a bout of breast cancer and was receiving the terrifying news that her cancer had returned. When Randi heard the news, she was not only devastated at the fact that her life was in danger again but she was also devastated when doctors told the aspiring mother that she would not be able to carry her own child and would have to look into other options if she wanted to become a mother.

A dream out of reach

For the young woman, hearing she would never be able to be pregnant with her own child was distressing and four years after she was given the news she said, “It was really hard,” in an interview with ABC News. Many women dream of someday being pregnant and for Randi, the thought of giving up her dream was too hard for her to handle. Although she knew she could have children through surrogacy, she had already been through so much hardship and this news was another huge blow.

Other options

Although Randi knew she had other options in front of her, having her dream of carrying her own child taken away from her so suddenly was traumatic. In the early stages of her battle with cancer, Randi said, “I definitely always thought it was something I was going to be able to do and the thought of someone else carrying my own child, I couldn’t even imagine it.” But little did Randi know that someone she loved dearly would end up help her bring a child into the world.

Sister surrogate

Seven years after doctors gave Randi that unthinkable news, she is holding a beautiful baby girl in her arms. Randi was unable to carry the little girl so she turned to surrogacy to bring her daughter into the world. But what made this situation so unique is that Randi knew her surrogate better than other couples will ever know their surrogate. It was Erin Silverman, her very own sister.

No hesitation

Although carrying a child is a huge commitment especially for someone who has to give up the child at the end of the process, Erin never hesitated about being the surrogate for her beloved sister Randi. Erin said of carrying her niece for nine months, “It’s not even a question. It’s the least I can do.” But who’s idea was this and was this the first experience with surrogacy that Randi Fishman had?

A sister’s promise

The two sisters are as close as any siblings could be and they even live a couple of minutes away from each other in Potomac, Maryland. 35 year-old Erin was aware of the fact that her younger sister could not bare her own children, which prompted her to make a promise. She promised Randi that after she and her spouse were finished growing their own family, she would carry a child for her.

A new baby

Before Erin was a surrogate for Randi, she and her husband found a woman in Wisconsin who was willing to act as their surrogate. The couple was overjoyed and a while later, they welcomed their first bundle of joy, a beautiful daughter named Parker who is now three years old. But even though they were ecstatic about their brand new baby, Randi was disappointed that she couldn’t be more involved in her surrogate’s pregnancy and attend medical appointments with her.

She felt horrible

Erin was lucky enough to carry and give birth to her own children but she couldn’t help feel bad for her sister who had been through so much. She said, “I felt horrible. It was awful when she was diagnosed with breast cancer at such an early age and I felt horrible she was not able to have kids.” Besides the promise she made to her sister, Erin had another motive for being her surrogate. She said, “I wanted to give Parker a sister.”

Surrogate process

At the time she agreed to become a surrogate for Randi, Erin had two daughters of her own, aged two and three. In 2016, Erin began the long and rigorous process of becoming a surrogate, which includes going through various medical tests to ensure that she was fit to carry another child. Although Randi was excited at the idea of expanding her family, she knew that the surrogacy process is a long and challenging road.

A mutated gene

Unfortunately for Randi and one of her sisters, a mutation of a gene called BRCA1 runs in their family. This mutation produces tumor suppressing proteins that help repair damaged DNA, and as a result, a woman (and to a lesser degree, a man) born with it is more likely to develop cancer, and specifically breast or ovarian cancer. Out of the three of them, Erin is the only sister who does not carry the mutated gene.

A carrier for BRCA1

Randi carries the gene and was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 28. Her cancer was treated with multiple rounds of radiation and additionally, she had a double mastectomy, thus removing both her breasts. After her painful ordeal, everything was looking up for the beautiful, young woman until she was diagnosed yet again. Not only did the treatment take a toll on her body, but Randi knew the radiation may affect her ability to have children in the future. But why does cancer and cancer treatment affect fertility?

Risking return

According to the American Cancer Society, women who have had breast cancer have higher risk pregnancies as they are sensitive to estrogen. The high hormone levels during pregnancy can result in potentially increasing the chances of the cancer returning in a pregnant cancer survivor. This is another reason why many medical health professionals try to dissuade women cancer survivors from getting pregnant. But Fishman was determined to have children even if she couldn’t carry them herself, and she planned ahead accordingly.

Freezing her embryos

Knowing that radiation and other cancer treatments can have a detrimental effect on fertility, Fishman took precaution and chose to harvest her embryos, have them tested for the mutation to BRCA1 and then freeze those that did not carry it. Fishman later explained that the embryos that did not contain the gene mutation were to be implanted in a surrogate in the future. Later on, she and her husband then went out to research potential surrogates in order to start their family.

Being involved

During her first surrogate experience Randi could not be involved but when it came to her second child, the experience was completely different as this time around it was her sister carrying her child. As the two were so close, Randi could be by her sister’s side through every aspect of the pregnancy. Although she could not be pregnant herself, being able to attend doctor’s appointments and watch her sister’s belly grow gave her the opportunity to be a part of every stage of her new baby’s life.

A beautiful experience

“With our first surrogate, I wasn’t there and had to just trust her with everything.” With her sister she had a lot more control and didn’t just have to “trust the process.” Randi explained. “With my sister, I got to go to every doctor’s appointment and help her as much as I could.” Watching someone else carrying your child could be seen as a challenging experience but for Randi and Erin it was meaningful. That said, the process did come with its own stressors and frustrations.

Bickering sisters

In some instances, the situation was even comical as the pregnancy was causing some bickering as is common between siblings. The sisters had such a strong bond that Randi felt comfortable enough to tell her sister certain things that she could never say to a surrogate she did not know. At family dinners, Randi would monitor what Erin was eating to make sure that her child was getting the nutrition she needed.

You can’t eat that!

Randi remembers one dinner in particular where Erin was eating something she thought would be bad for the baby. She recalled, “We were out to dinner and she ordered a Caesar salad and I yelled at her, ‘That has raw eggs in it. You can’t eat that,’ and she was like, ‘I know what I’m doing.’” Although there were relatively lighthearted moments, Randi was also by her sister’s side during a more serious incident…

Welcomnig Austyn

During the final weeks of her pregnancy, Erin was put on bed rest at the recommendation of her doctor and Randi was by her sister’s side the entire time. This was a stressful time, but thankfully, Randi’s newborn baby was delivered happy and healthy on December 8th, 2017. She and her husband Zach named their new bundle of joy, whom they named Austyn Harli. Here we see the beautiful newborn who is already being pampered in everything pink!

Sharing their story

Erin said of the whole experience, “It was the most incredible gift that I’ve ever given to anybody.” Although surrogacy is a process full of ups and downs Erin explains what an amazing process it was and said, “I want to share my story to inspire others, even if one other person does what I did.” She also thanked her husband on Facebook for all his support throughout the process. The sister’s case is even more unique, as according the Erin’s doctor, Jeanne O’Brien, very few surrogacies occur between family members.

Expressing gratitude

Dr. O’Brien, seen here, was also interviewed by ABC News. She told then that “this was an amazing experience to help a couple facing a devastating diagnosis preserve their ability to not only have children but children that would not face the genetic cancer risk of the BRCA gene.” She expressed her gratitude of having been with them through the process and saw how the pregnancy strengthened their bond as sisters. However, while Randi was already adjusting to life with her newborn, a new medical complication waiting in the wings.

Another health scare

Randi has undergone so much as a result of her mutated BRCA1 gene. After successfully overcoming two bouts of breast cancer and a double mastectomy, the mother had to undergo another serious surgery in order to prevent another form of cancer from developing. She recently had a hysterectomy as her chance of developing ovarian cancer was relatively high. Thankfully, she is healthy and can now enjoy her two young daughters. But she never thought she would be where she is today…

Dream come true

Randi explained in her interview, “I didn’t think I would be able to have a family with kids and I had pictured that my entire life.” She went onto say, “When I got the diagnosis, I didn’t know what was going to happen with my life, and it’s just unreal today that I have these two amazing, healthy babies. It’s the best gift ever.” Randi had to overcome so many obstacles in her life but thanks to her sister, she was able to have her dream come true.

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