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Our surprise baby

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Ashley Sheppard is 45. He is married and he has three children. In May 2002, when he was 40, he was diagnosed with bowel cancer. He had both radiotherapy and surgery for his cancer and he was told that it was highly probable that he would be left infertile once his treatment was complete. This is Ashley’s story of his diagnosis, treatment and the surprise arrival of baby Ffion.

My diagnosis

I had been having problems with my bowels for about 3 months - I had trapped wind, a little bit of bleeding when I went to the toilet and I felt constipated even though I was going to the toilet. The shape of my stools also changed - they became long and pencil-shaped and were flecked with blood. I went to see my GP who referred me to my local hospital in Worcester. I had a sigmoidoscopy and a colonscopy (tests which involve a camera inserted into the back passage) as well as a CT scan. I was told I had bowel cancer by my surgeon and a specialist nurse. They had found two cancers in my bowel - one low down and one higher up.

My treatment

My treatment started just over a month later, with a week of radiotherapy followed by surgery. The week I started treatment we were supposed to be on a family holiday in Portugal, but instead I had to travel to Cheltenham hospital every day for radiotherapy. I was told that because one of the cancers in my bowel was low down, the radiotherapy would affect my fertility. Even though my wife Alison and I had hoped to have another child, I wasn’t offered sperm banking, perhaps because we already had two children. I think if I had been offered this opportunity I would have taken it, but at the time starting my treatment took priority. We just concentrated on getting through it.

Recovering

Following the radiotherapy and surgery, my initial recovery was slow. I had several setbacks including awful bowel spasms. Looking back, I think these were probably a result of my eating too much after two weeks in hospital eating very little! I also had stitches in my backside that were uncomfortable to say the least. However, in time I began to feel much better. The surgery meant I had a stoma, so it took a while to learn how to cope with it, but I worked out a way of managing it that suited me.

Surprise news

I had returned to work and just started to re-establish normal life when, much to our amazement, my wife Alison found out she was pregnant. This was in the summer of 2004, just 2 years after the radiotherapy treatment that we thought had left me infertile. At first we were excited, but then became worried that the radiotherapy may have damaged my sperm. Our eldest daughter Megan has special needs and we were worried that this baby might be similarly affected. Alison and I talked to our midwife about these concerns. She was very helpful and after doing some research she reassured us that there was very little risk of any problems related to my radiotherapy. Our midwife continued to be a fantastic support to us both throughout the pregnancy.

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Our third daughter Ffion Cynthia Grace was born on my wife’s birthday - 4 May 2005. She is a perfect addition to our family - although she’s cheekier now she’s 18 months old! We are so grateful for her presence in our lives. She is our 'miracle child'.

Factfile

  • Around 34,900 people are diagnosed with colorectal cancer each year in the UK. It is the 2nd most common cancer in women and the 3rd most common cancer in men
  • Almost 21,600 of these 34,900 colorectal cancers are in the large bowel (colon) and the remaining 13,300 are in the back passage (rectum)
  • Ashley was unusual to be diagnosed with bowel cancer in his 40s. More than 80% of cases of bowel cancer occur in people aged over 60
  • Surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy are all used to treat bowel cancer

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Updated: 28 September 2009