Cancer survivor conceives with frozen ovaries
SHE may be the first Singaporean to undergo a groundbreaking medical procedure called ovarian tissue cryopreservation.
But all Siti Nurjannah Sapiee, 32, is grateful for is that it enabled her to be a mother.
Her journey to motherhood began with a devastating roadblock. Just three months before her planned wedding, in November 2009, Madam Siti, who was then 26, was shaken by two diagnoses - cancer and infertility.
The former primary school teacher was diagnosed with synovial sarcoma of the thigh, a rare cancer of the soft tissues that typically occurs near the large joints of the arms or legs.
To make matters worse, she was told that chemotherapy might render her infertile.
Madam Siti, who is now a housewife, said: "The most heartbreaking thing to me was remembering that my fiance wanted three kids and I felt I couldn't give him what he wanted."
So she postponed her wedding to November 2010 and focused on battling her illness to pursue her chances of having children.
Madam Siti was referred to Anupriya Agarwal, a consultant at the National University Hospital (NUH) Women's Centre's Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, by her oncologist, Andrea Wong.
Before the start of her cancer treatment, the doctors discussed how to sustain her fertility.
They suggested ovarian tissue cryopreservation, a procedure that involves the removal of ovarian tissue from Madam Siti's body and keeping it in frozen storage until after her recovery.
In-vitro fertilisation, an alternative procedure, was not an option as Madam Siti was engaged, but not married at that time.
"You don't know how much you want a baby until somebody tells you that you can't have one," she said tearfully.
In December 2009, Madam Siti underwent the ovarian tissue cryopreservation procedure, which cost $5,000. Soon after, she underwent chemotherapy.
About three years later, in March 2013, Madam Siti was confirmed to be cancer-free and was ready for the ovarian tissue to be reimplanted into her body.
Her husband, Raihan Haji Rajin, 32, told The New Paper that he was still extremely concerned.
"Even though she was cancer-free, I didn't want her to neglect her health just so that she could conceive my child. I wanted her to raise it with me," said the primary school teacher.
Madam Siti's menstrual cycle returned three months after the ovarian tissue was reimplanted.
Over a year later, in October 2014, the moment she had been dreaming of finally came.
Mr Raihan said: "She woke me up one morning and showed me a pregnancy test that showed a positive result. I told her to try two more times and all three tests were positive.
"At that time, she was already excited, but I didn't want to raise our hopes, to be disappointed in the end. That's why I was still quite hesitant and wanted to wait until we received confirmation from a doctor."
Madam Siti said it was not until the third month of her pregnancy, when the gynaecologist showed them a sonogram of their baby, that she and her husband really believed they would be having a child.
She recalled having an easy pregnancy. Once, she had a craving for belacan that could be bought only in Malacca.
"The funny thing is I didn't even want to eat it, I just wanted to smell it," she said with a chuckle.
On May 21 this year, Madam Siti gave birth to Nur Hannah A'qiylah.
Weighing 2.7kg at birth, baby Hannah is reportedly one of only 21 babies worldwide who was conceived naturally following ovarian tissue cryopreservation, according to NUH.
Her birth is reportedly the first in Asia.
Madam Siti said: "If I could advise anyone who is going through the same thing I did, I would tell them to have faith and not give up. Hannah is proof that miracles still exist in this world."
She now faces a time limit: Her reimplanted ovaries are viable for only five years. Otherwise, she will have to go through the entire procedure all over again.
She said: "I am very happy and contented right now. But I hope to try again for another child in the next five years."
THE NEW PAPER