Ovarian cancer Belfast woman's desperate donor egg plea
Playing with her best friend's toddler, Sarah Graham feels a pang in her chest.
She is desperate for a child of her own, but after two run-ins with ovarian cancer over the last 10 years doctors have warned her it's not looking good.
And it was this news, she says, that hurt the most, even more than finding out twice she had cancer.
"It might sound weird, but over the space of a decade I'd held on to the hope that one day I'd be a mum," said Sarah.
"The advice was to have a hysterectomy and have both my ovaries removed. But I took the calculated risk to hang on so I could carry my own baby and give birth one day."
But as time passes Sarah (35) is more and more nervous this dream will never come true for her and husband Nick, an engineer.
So the Belfast couple are taking drastic action and appealing for an egg donor.
"Being able to carry Nick's baby will be the closest thing we'll get to being normal," said Sarah.
"We've been looking for a donor for a year, but so far we haven't had a single response."
Sarah's problems started 10 years ago when she was 25.
Within a month the size-10 teacher ballooned - as her appetite plummeted.
"I could barely finish four spoonfuls of food, but my stomach went massive. After a few weeks I looked six months pregnant," she recalled.
Sarah's GP referred her for tests, where doctors discovered she had ovarian cancer.
"I wasn't in any pain. I had heartburn and my tummy was like a brick, but that was it," she explained.
Luckily, the swelling was so visible doctors took her problem seriously straight away.
"They found two tumours," she added.
"They were both 5cm across and cancerous. Luckily it hadn't spread, so they removed the tumours and left my ovaries."
And with the cancerous growths gone Sarah, who was dating Nick at the time, moved on with her life.
"I thought I was over the worst. Hearing I had cancer at 25 was terrifying, but after I got my head around the facts and the cancer was gone, I dealt with it. I think it was worse for my parents, and of course for Nick. He hated seeing me scared and in pain," she said.
Because the cancer was contained Sarah didn't need any other treatment and was back at work within six months.
But tests two years later found Sarah had the BRCA gene, which meant her risk of getting breast or ovarian cancer in the future was significantly raised, so once again she was back under the watchful eye of doctors at Belfast's City Hospital.
"I got a blood test every three to six months," she said.
"And thank goodness I did, because five years ago they discovered my cancer was back."
By then the Newry woman was engaged to Nick and thoughts of a family were high in her mind.
"This time the medical advice was to have a hysterectomy," she explained.
"But my consultant was amazing and he said we could hold off because I was still so young, I wasn't even 30 yet, and he knew how much I wanted a baby.
"The tumour this time was just on one ovary, but it was bigger and more aggressive so they took the whole thing away."
After a lot of thought Sarah kept her other ovary in the hope that after the wedding she and Nick could crack on and start their family.
But sadly two years ago the couple's biggest blow came when doctors said their chances of conceiving were slim, and that even IVF would be pointless.
"We'd been trying for a long time and nothing was happening, so we went for tests," she said.
"I thought we'd be offered IVF but that's not even worth doing because I wouldn't be able to produce enough eggs to make the drugs work.
"They've told us there's always a chance of a miracle, but that's not going anywhere either. People have asked why I didn't freeze my eggs, but because the hormones you take to drive egg production would have risked speeding up the cancer, that wasn't an option."
After a year of waiting for a miracle, Sarah and Nick made the decision to look for an egg donor.
It would mean Sarah, while not the baby's biological mother, could carry and deliver her husband's child.
Although receiving a donor egg is not guaranteed to work - of nine donor cycles at Sarah's clinic last year, only two led to successful pregnancies.
"Finding out we might not have our own baby was even worse than hearing I had cancer," added Sarah.
"This is really a last-ditch effort for us to have our own baby. It won't be biologically mine, but it will be Nick's. I'll carry it and give birth and I'll be its mummy.
"We both love children, we have nieces and nephews and my best friend's little one loves me, even though she's shy with other people. All our friends already have children or are having babies, and that's hard.
"To be parents is all we've ever wanted, and if we're lucky enough to have the baby we've been hoping for for years, I'll get all the treatment they say I should - I'll have a hysterectomy, I'll have my breasts removed.
"Because to go through all this, to finally get the baby we've dreamed of, and then to get sick again would be horrendous. Hopefully someone out there can help us, and we'll get our baby some day soon."
If you are interested in being an egg donor for Sarah and Nick contact Alison McKee at the Regional Fertility Centre on 028 9063 5863