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After viral photo, Cheyann Shaw discusses how ovarian cancer affected her fertility

At age 23, Cheyann Shaw was not expecting to lose so much of herself to a rapidly spreading form of ovarian cancer. After all, she was just starting her life. Engaged and planning a wedding with her fiancé Kaleb, this young vivacious woman had everything to look forward to, including being a mother.

She quickly learned that cancer would compete with her desire to be a parent, forcing her to make difficult decisions regarding her future fertility.

More: The 30 questions you really need to ask your fertility doc

Shaw, a fitness model, started experiencing vomiting and sharp stomach pains in October 2015, and was told at the ER it was probably constipation. Then in June of 2016, she discovered a lump above her pubic bone and went back to her doctor.

Cheyann Shaw
Image: Cheyann Shaw

“My OB-GYN went in to remove the lump thinking it was a cyst and that’s when she found the cancer. She sewed me back up, called the oncologist and got me an appointment for the next day,” Shaw told SheKnows.

Once the results came back and she was diagnosed with stage-3 low-grade serous ovarian cancer, Cheyann had surgery to implant a PowerPort, which is how she receives her chemotherapy treatments.

Sadly, after several rounds of chemo, the cancer did not shrink and her tumor ended up getting bigger, which left surgery as the only option.

“In October, they took out my spleen, appendix, part of my colon, part of my bladder, and I had a full hysterectomy,” Shaw explained. “That is when they saw that the cancer was in my lymph nodes and I was now stage 4.”

Despite the ravaging effects of her cancer, this beautiful young woman does not believe in bad days. “All days are pretty much my best days. I wake up every morning, thank God for another beautiful day and read my daily devotional,” Shaw said.

But even with an amazing amount of strength and faith, Shaw still says there is one thing she struggles with the most: not being able to get pregnant.

“I am newly married and we were so excited to start a family and have little mini-mes running around. Now, seeing all my friends pregnant, it really hurts. I am so excited for them, but also envious because I wish that could be me,” Shaw added.

When she was first diagnosed with cancer while living in Florida, her doctors told her they wouldn’t even touch her eggs, but when she moved to Seattle to be closer to family, her new doctors were a little more hopeful that they could save her eggs.

Shaw’s oncologist sent her to a fertility doctor, where she was told there was a chance they could freeze her eggs, but only if her ovaries weren’t covered in cancer. If there was one good ovary, they would be able to take her eggs.

More: The secret language of infertility

What sounded like a sliver of hope turned into a decision that no woman should have to make.

“My doctor said they could get my eggs when I had surgery or leave an ovary in, but that raises the risk of the cancer coming back,” Shaw explained. “When I spoke to my husband, we both came to the conclusion that both ovaries needed to be taken out. I told my oncologist this and she agreed, so unfortunately, we weren’t able to save my eggs and that was a tough choice to make.”

Shaw later found out that she made the right choice. Her oncologist said once surgery was over, her ovaries were covered in cancer, so saving her eggs was not possible.

“I struggle every day with knowing that I won’t be able to experience the joys of being pregnant,” she said. “And I actually struggle with the idea of not being able to carry my own children and give birth to them more than I struggle with having cancer.”

And so the grieving and healing processes begin for Shaw and her husband as they face uncertainty as well as a renewed sense of hope about starting a family.

More: The truth about fertility after ovarian cancer diagnosis

“My husband and I still want kids — we want a family. We are going to look into an egg donor (along with my husband’s sperm) and find someone who looks like me or has the same features and then have a surrogate,” she said with enthusiasm.

Shaw also remains optimistic about the possibility of adoption, and knows that just because she won’t carry or give birth to her children, she will still be their mom and love them unconditionally.

“I know that at the end of the day, I will be a mother and have the family I’ve always dreamed of having, and that is something worth fighting for.”

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