After a double mastectomy and removal of her ovaries, 34-year-old benefits from fertility treatment to grow her family.

Shelly and Robert Battista knew they wanted a large family. They were overjoyed with the birth of their first daughter, Emilia. “We were just starting our life together,” Shelly remembers. Things were looking up.

It was after Shelly went back to work, when she was pumping milk for Emilia, that she noticed a lump in her breast. She didn’t worry too much about it at first. She assumed it was a blocked duct, a common thing for breastfeeding women where milk builds up behind a blocked duct and causes some pain or discomfort. But when it didn’t go away, she decided to consult a doctor. 

Unfortunately, because of Covid-related delays and no family history of breast cancer to raise a red flag, Shelly didn’t get an appointment for nearly three months. When she finally did see a doctor, the news was not what she was expecting. In fact, Shelly said, it was “terrifying”.

She was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer and would need to undergo a double mastectomy. Because tests revealed that Shelly was also at a higher risk of ovarian cancer, she made the agonizing decision to have her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed, too.

All Hope Seemed Lost

At that moment, the Battistas’ dreams seemed to shatter into a million pieces. Shelly was just 34 years old. She couldn’t stop thinking of what this would mean for her six-month-old daughter. The young mother would have to undergo a total of 12 rounds of intense chemotherapy, in addition to the surgeries. The road ahead was long and perilous, and the Battistas assumed they would have to set aside their dreams for a large family.

“We were so blessed to have Emilia prior to the breast cancer diagnosis,” Shelly says, “but, you know, you still have dreams of having more children.”

And then came a glimmer of hope that the Battistas had not dared to wish for. Dr. Kara Goldman, a productive endocrinologist and medical director of fertility preservation at Northwestern Fertility and Reproductive Medicine in Chicago, told them that it was possible to hold onto their dream. “The ovaries and the uterus function very independently of each other,” she reassured them.

While Shelly’s ovaries and fallopian tubes would be removed, she would still have a fully functioning uterus. If, after cancer treatment, her health was good, Shelly and Robert could take advantage of a fertility treatment to have more children. They were also lucky to live in a state that requires insurance companies to cover fertility treatment after cancer. 

Time was ticking, though, and they would have to take the correct steps now. The couple started what’s called a “fertility preservation” process just two days later. In two weeks, the Battistas had eight frozen embryos waiting for them.

But, of course, Shelly wasn’t out of the dark yet. She still had to undergo chemotherapy, and the chemotherapy had to work. Shelly’s breast cancer was an extremely tough one that didn’t respond well to typical cancer treatments. That’s why, when she did come out on the other side, healthy and cancer-free, it felt like nothing short of a miracle. And, when the Battistas felt ready, they decided to grow their family.

Good Things Come in Twos

Because Shelly no longer had her ovaries, part of the fertility treatment included giving her the hormones necessary for pregnancy. The first two embryo transfers failed—but the third time was a charm. Dr. Goldman called Shelly with the news. Shelly remembers the call clearly and says she and Robert were “ecstatic and crying and yelling.”

Robert was over the moon. “It was just awesome. We were going to have another kid, Shelly’s healthy, everything was behind us at that point.” Little did they know, there was still another surprise in store.

At an ultrasound appointment, everyone in the room was in awe when it was discovered that the single embryo that had been implanted in Shelly’s uterus had split into two—something that only has a 1% chance of happening. What did that mean? The Battistas weren’t just going to have one baby; they were going to have two. Shelly was pregnant with identical twins.

In a wonderfully symbolic turn, twins Margot and Nina were born on the two-year anniversary of their mother being declared cancer free.

“It will be the most important day of the year in our family,” declared Robert Battista. “It’s like the best celebration of Shelly’s cancer journey. It’s like, you’ve beaten cancer, and now here’s this extra love you get on top of it.”

Shelly echoed words spoken by many mothers: “It’s loud, it’s tiring…it’s perfect.”