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Finding IVF Success After Cancer Treatment | Ross & Jackie's Story

A couple shares their journey to becoming first-time parents after cancer treatment, including their experience with fertility preservation, IUI and IVF.

July 12th, 2023 | 9 min. read

By Sierra Dehmler

Being diagnosed with cancer is difficult for anyone, but it can be especially devastating for patients who are young and still looking forward to having children. While some cancers are highly treatable, the treatments needed often impact the survivor's future fertility. In this story, we meet Ross and his wife Jackie, who share their experience with oncofertility preservation, fertility treatment and building their family.

In this article:

Meet Jackie

Jackie was raised in Shelton, CT surrounded by her large Italian family. Her mom is one of seven kids, which meant Jackie was always surrounded by cousins and aunts and uncles growing up. 

"If you were to ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up [as a little kid], the answer was always 'a mommy,'" Jackie says. "I was born to take care of other people and always had a very nurturing side."

After seeing how important family and personal connection was from an early age, Jackie went on to pursue a career that revolved around helping others. "My life has not been easy by any means, and I have had my fair share of trauma and trouble to work through," she shares. 

Balancing Career & Relationships

Jackie decided to study criminal investigation at the University of New Haven. After she started volunteering at the Milford Rape Crisis Center, she was immersed in the world of social services and community care, and this ended up becoming her career path.

In her various professional roles, Jackie has managed a program for the chronically mentally ill, worked with the homeless, elderly and children. 

"Dating was never something that was a big focus in my life," Jackie admits. "I was always looking for 'the one' but the actual dating process was exhausting to me." After signing up for OKCupid and passively going on dates for a few years, she became frustrated by the kinds of messages she was receiving.

In 2016, Jackie decided she was done with dating apps, and logged on one last time to check her inbox. She came across the profile of her would-be future husband, Ross, and sent him a message: "If you’re normal, you can call me, but I’m deleting this app today," Jackie typed. "The rest is history, and we’ve been inseparable ever since," she says.  

Meet Ross

Ross grew up in Newtown, CT as one of three children. While his family was smaller than Jackie's, he valued family and connection equally. Like Jackie, Ross knew he wanted to have a family of his own (and be a parent) from a very young age. 

He went to Southern Connecticut State University to study physical education, but was more interested in the field of service, just like Jackie.

Ross became a volunteer firefighter for Newtown Fire Department and was a first responder at the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in 2012. Afterwards, he decided to pursue a career in healthcare, first as an emergency medical technician (EMT), and then as a licensed practical nurse (LPN). 

As soon as Ross met Jackie, they immediately hit it off and began to envision a future together. "We've been tied at the hip since the beginning," he says. 


Battling Hodgkin's Lymphoma 

In November 2015, Ross was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, a type of cancer that begins in the lymphatic system and impacts the body's immune system. He was referred to Dr. Joshua Hurwitz at Illume Fertility for fertility preservation prior to undergoing chemotherapy.

Exploring Fertility Preservation 

Dr. Hurwitz educated Ross on the likelihood of cancer treatment impacting his ability to conceive in the future. He made it clear that chemo could damage his fertility, saying it would be around a 50/50 chance that Ross would lose his ability to conceive naturally.

After hearing this, Ross made the decision to heed Dr. Hurwitz's advice and proceed with fertility preservation (i.e. sperm freezing). "Without him doing this, we would not be in the position we are in today, and likely wouldn't be able to bring a biological child into the world," Jackie says. 

As soon as he completed the fertility preservation process, Ross began chemotherapy treatment and thankfully, his cancer eventually went into remission.

Their Journey to Parenthood After Cancer 

When Jackie and Ross decided they were ready to get married and start a family, they knew it would require a little bit of extra planning. What they didn't anticipate was a global pandemic.

"We were originally due to be married in May 2020 and planned to begin fertility treatment shortly thereafter," Jackie says. "However, the pandemic threw a monkey wrench in everyone’s plans that year, so we ended up postponing our wedding three times before finally being able to get married." This, understandably, put the couple's family-building plans on hold.

You have options.

Up to 40% of people will at some point receive a cancer diagnosis. If you're facing cancer but still dream of having children in the future, what are your options? Dr. Laura Meyer explains.

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Switching Doctors & Starting Treatment

When they were finally ready to start fertility treatment, Ross and Jackie returned to Illume Fertility to start the process. Dr. Hurwitz's primary office wasn't as convenient now that the couple had relocated to a different town, so they met with Dr. Shaun Williams instead.

"The transition of care from Dr. Hurwitz to Dr. Williams was seamless," Jackie recalls. "They are both amazing physicians, and I've now had the pleasure of working with both of them on a personal and professional level, as I'm now an Illume employee!"

Fun fact: Jackie is one of our New Patient Liaisons, who helps new and prospective patients get the information and answers they need to begin their journey at Illume.

Finding Success with IVF

Dr. Williams discussed their various treatment options with them and the couple decided to try one intrauterine insemination (IUI) cycle first since they were working with a frozen specimen. "Unfortunately (or fortunately - because our daughter wouldn’t be here if it DID work), that IUI cycle was unsuccessful," Jackie says. "After re-grouping, we decided it was time to move to in vitro fertilization (IVF)."

Jackie began the IVF process, taking fertility medications and undergoing an egg retrieval.  Thankfully, after just one round of IVF, the couple got the good news that they had enough mature oocytes (eggs) fertilize to eventually become eight little embryos.

The couple was lucky that their very first embryo transfer ended up being successful!

On Becoming First-Time Parents

"When we found out our transfer had been successful, we were elated," Jackie says. "I remember taking my first at-home pregnancy test and being in disbelief seeing that plus sign come through."

She ended up taking three more at-home pregnancy tests to confirm, but didn't breathe a full sigh of relief until her blood test at Illume confirmed she was officially pregnant.

"All those years of knowing we would have to embark on this journey in order to become parents - it finally felt like the hard part was over and we'd made it to the other side," Jackie remembers. "When our daughter Johanna finally arrived on October 25, 2023 after 54 hours of labor, it was the happiest moment of our lives; she was absolutely beautiful and perfect and worth every single shot and all the waiting."

The proud parents report that Johanna (whom they call Jojo) is the funniest little girl who loves to giggle, enjoys kisses from her fur sister, Pepper, and anything with music. "We are so excited to watch her grow and thrive," Jackie says.


Jackie's Advice for Other Fertility Patients

After navigating her own fertility journey (and now, helping other patients navigate theirs), Jackie has gained a new perspective on the world of fertility treatment. Here's what she has learned along the way:

Expect the Best, Not the Worst 

"I wish I hadn't listened to too many other people’s experiences with fertility treatment or  watched people discussing their personal journeys on YouTube prior to meeting with the team at Illume," says Jackie. "It scared me into thinking this was going to be some terrible, painful process and while it was not without its uncomfortable moments, it was not at all what I was anticipating."

Focus on Mind & Body Support

"Spending time with people we love and seeing Elaine Malin for laser acupuncture really helped," Jackie says. She also tried to stay in a positive mindset throughout the process, adopting a mantra during treatment: "If it affects my homeostasis, it is not for me right now." That really helped her stay grounded and keep her eyes on the prize, she says.

The couples' family and friends were incredibly supportive, and Jackie also found a network of friends on Instagram that became like family during her journey.

Accept Help From Loved Ones 

"While the actual process of fertility treatment only physically impacted me, Ross was incredibly supportive," Jackie says. "He mixed all my meds and gave me all my shots - it helps to have a live-in nurse!"

Trust the Process (& Your Team)

"The waiting and not knowing is the hardest part," Jackie admits. "I think that's obviously tough for everyone in fertility treatment, but the desperation we felt in needing this to work was especially difficult for us."

The couple says they also wondered if Ross' frozen specimen would still be functional after seven years in cryo storage. "We were assured that a frozen specimen is just as effective as a fresh one would be, and they were right - it had no effect on our outcome," Jackie says.

Protect your future:

You don't have to choose between your health and your future family - explore how oncofertility preservation can help you maintain both.


What's next for Ross & Jackie?

Throughout their journey to parenthood, the couple grew closer together and learned a lot about themselves and each other. These days, the couple are thoroughly enjoying parenthood and watching their daughter Jojo grow and change. "Maybe in the future we will grow our family again," Jackie hints. 

For those feeling overwhelmed or uncertain, Jackie offers some encouragement: "Even when this journey is challenging, try to keep an open mind, stay in a positive headspace, and surround yourself with supportive people - because in the end, it's all worth it."

Ross was diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma in November of 2015 and was referred to see Dr. Hurwitz for fertility preservation. Dr. Hurwitz educated Ross on the risks of chemotherapy on his ability to conceive in the future and that it could be a “50/50% chance he would lose his ability to conceive naturally”. Ross made the very smart decision to heed Dr. Hurwitz warning and without him doing so, we would not be in the position we are in today in being able to bring a biological child into the world.

Sierra Dehmler

Sierra Dehmler is Illume Fertility’s Content Marketing Manager - and also a fertility patient herself. Combining empathy gained on her personal journey with her professional experience in marketing and content creation, she aims to empower and support other fertility patients by demystifying the fertility treatment process.