While it’s common for young cancer patients to have their genetic material frozen so they can one day be parents, a 17-month-old will be the youngest in the UK to ever have the procedure.
Little Tallulah Cox, from Tyne and Wear, is fighting a rare form of brain cancer, and her treatment will likely render her infertile. She will have the operation to remove her ovary before she starts her aggressive chemotherapy in a few weeks. This treatment is known to damage the ovaries.
Tallulah’s parents want to give her a chance at parenthood one day
Mum Zoe, 36, and dad Richard, 35, are dedicated to her future. When Tallulah first fell ill, her parents thought she had a stomach bug.
Zoe says, “we were so shocked when we were told she had a tumour. Saving her is the first thing on our minds, but we are incredibly grateful that they are also thinking about her fertility and preserving her ovary”
Mum continues, “to have the opportunity to still have children in her future is amazing. At 17 months old, she isn’t thinking about being a mum, but she will one day. I’ve always wanted to be a mum and I want her to have that opportunity too.”
After she contracted chicken pox, Tallulah was then sick whenever she drank liquids. The GP thought she just had gastroenteritis.
Initially, Zoe recalls that the doctors just “sent her home but she carried on being lethargic for a week. Then she looked as though she couldn’t move her neck, so we took her back to hospital.”
The doctors then thought she might have meningitis, but an MRI scan showed that she had a mass on her brain. Soon, she was diagnosed with ependymoma, a tumour which develops in the fluid-filled spaces in the brain.
Of course, Zoe and Richard were reeling. “We were devastated. We’d never imagined that it would be anything as serious as a brain tumour. The only positive thing was that they told us it was the size of a grape, and usually when they are discovered they are the size of a plum, so it had been caught very early.”
Tallulah had an operation to remove the tumour the very next day, and she is now undergoing a trial at Manchester’s Christie Hospital, receiving powerful new therapies.
According to Zoe, “they normally only give the proton beam therapy treatment to children over 18 months, but they have given it to her as she has proved she is so resilient. When she had the operation, they thought she would have a long recovery, but she bounced back the very next day.”
Ground-breaking Treatment to Preserve Fertility in Children with Cancer
Soon, she will start chemo, but not before her ovary is removed and then frozen in slices. This preservation technique preserves the part of the ovary that produces eggs, which is called the ovarian cortex. It can then be transplanted up to three decades later, and pregnancies have been possible as a result.
Cryopreservation freezes the egg-producing portion of the ovary – called the ovarian cortex. The tissue can be transplanted up to 30 years later to make pregnancy possible.
Professor Tim Child explains, “it’s an exciting technique and offers a lot of hope to families. It’s still not widely performed, and it tends to be in adults and girls who are post-puberty. We know it can work in the older patients. There have been cases where babies have been born after ovarian tissue has been replanted.”
“Chemotherapy can damage ovaries, so the tissue is frozen and the idea is that in future it can be put back into the pelvic area to see if it can produce eggs… By the time those little ones are looking to get pregnant, the research also will have moved forward. Seventeen months is incredibly young to have this done. I haven’t heard of anyone younger than this.”
Being able to preserve Tallulah’s fertility is a huge comfort to the family
“We are hopeful about the future for her. The tumour has been caught early and it wasn’t wrapped around anything which could have affected her walking.
“She’s always smiling, and she just takes everything in her stride. And the fact that she can still have the chance to be a mum means the world to us.”
We wish all the best to Tallulah and her family, and our thoughts are with them during this touch time and we hope Tallullah gets well very, very soon.
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