“Watching him enjoy her was the happiest moments of my life and now that he is gone, having her is the greatest gift he could have ever given me.”
Sometimes you meet someone and know instantly that they are your forever person. This is what happened to Toni and Chris who got engaged on Christmas day with Chris’ 8-year-old daughter present. Excited but also relaxed about their wedding plans, Toni and Chris were married 13 months later on 15th March 2015 in Bellbird Hill in a small, low-key country wedding with family and friends.
Toni, Chris, and his daughter began the next chapter of their journey together and after a couple of years, they were ready for a baby and began trying. They were so excited for that next chapter when tragedy struck their family in May 2020. Chris was diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer at the incredibly young age of 45. One of the first things Chris said to Toni when he was diagnosed the in the emergency ward of their local hospital was 'I am so sorry, our baby.'
The couple was told straight away that following his emergency operation he would need rigorous and extensive chemotherapy, and very quickly as there was no time to waste. It was at this moment that Toni and Chris had to start making huge decisions about the future of their family, not just for Chris but for the possibility of having a baby together.
Chemotherapy can damage a lot of healthy cells along with the cancerous cells and this can cause complications for either females or males wanting to conceive. They were told that if they wanted to conceive, they would need to bank Chris’ sperm. Not conceiving naturally was a major setback for the couple as they had always said if having a baby naturally was not possible, that they would never do IVF. With their circumstances rapidly changing there wasn’t any time to consider a life without the possibility of having a child together.
Toni and Chris' fertility journey began at The Royal Hospital for Women’s Fertility and Research Centre.
There was a plan in place for Chris’ cancer treatment. Chris would undergo chemotherapy and a liver resection whereby part of his liver would be removed...followed by more chemotherapy.
Unfortunately for Chris things didn’t go to plan when the liver resection procedure revealed that the cancer had spread throughout his peritoneal cavity.
Chris ended up having a peritonectomy, with the removal of his spleen, part of his pancreas, several sections of bowel, and several lymph nodes. However, there were still many small lesions dotted throughout his abdomen. Chris then commenced another 3 months of chemotherapy. At this point, the couple delayed the IVF until they had a firmer idea of what Chris' future would look like.
After such a stressful time getting Chris’ health back on track, and the grueling chemotherapy treatment which takes an immense toll on your body, he was given the exceptional news of being in the clear in January 2021.
It was at this time that the couple began to investigate their IVF options at the Royal. Toni underwent all the preliminary preparation such as blood tests. The couple took advantage of the free counseling service provided here at The Fertility and Research Centre at The Royal to help them navigate the decision and any challenges that may arise if Chris’ cancer were to return.
Toni was booked in for her first intrauterine insemination treatment on her birthday that April. Unfortunately, Chris went into the hospital 3 weeks earlier with vomiting and severe back pain but no sign of cancer. With the full support of the fertility team at the Royal, they still proceeded with the appointment and began treatment on a Saturday morning with Chris discharged and by her side.
Just three days later Chris was back in the hospital and this time the news was devastating.
The cancer was back, and it had spread to more places in his body than before. The prognosis of no cure was broken to the couple. Chris was to commence palliative care along with a little bit more chemotherapy and an operation to give him the best prognosis possible. However, he was not expected to live more than 6 months and was told he would be lucky to make it to Christmas.
The decision to proceed with IVF was profound for Toni and Chris.
'For us to have the chance to share any of the parenthood journey together, be it scans, pregnancy and, God willing, the birth of our child, was worth it!’
Commencing IVF was not an easy process as Toni was nervous about the needles and procedures but Chris was there to help and support her. Toni recalls 'I will never forget standing in the doorway at 8 am in tears because I couldn’t give myself the needle [Chris] was wrecked from chemo the day before but somehow managed to inject me and hold me, he gave me every needle after that no matter how rotten he was feeling.’
Weeks later after yet another ICU admission, Chris was at home resting, too sick to leave home, while Toni underwent her first egg retrieval process at The Royal alone.
‘It was hard to attend alone and watch everyone else with their partners, I was scared, I’d never had a general anesthetic before but the staff, a lovely Irish nurse who was also pregnant at the time, made me feel so well taken care of and was so kind to me.’
Only 3 eggs were able to be retrieved, 2 made it to the embryo stage but only one was viable and able to be transferred. Unfortunately, this round was unsuccessful, but Toni was really happy with the experience. ‘The team and Dr. Steph Sii made me feel as comfortable as possible, and the procedure, that I had been freaking out about, was extremely gentle.’
The next round of treatment was to completely change Toni and Chris’ lives because, after all their heartbreak and challenging news, they were finally pregnant.
‘The next 12 weeks were a heart-stopping journey. Every scan we got to, was a blessing. Not only to see our baby girl growing but to also be able to share it together.’
Chris continued to have chemotherapy in intervals over the next 9 months and was also in and out of ICU with complications, but he was determined to survive a little longer and meet his little girl.
Chris defied all odds and medical expectations, welcoming their little girl Tilly alongside Toni in April of 2022 at St George Hospital.
Chris found so much joy and solace in spending the first 3 months of Tilly’s life with her, Toni, and his older daughter Ella as a family before passing away in their home.
‘Watching him enjoy her was the happiest moments of my life and now that he is gone, having her is the greatest gift he could have ever given me.’
Toni is an incredible woman who has endured so much, it was only the day before Chris died that her grandmother lost her battle with leukemia, and earlier that year in February that her grandfather also passed from cancer before he could meet his great-granddaughter.
‘Tilly has brought joy to our whole family in a time of incredible sadness. Her full name is Matilda Lucy…Lucy after my grandad’s mother in his honour as he never got to meet her. Her name means Mighty warrior (Matilda) of Light (Lucy).’