New Zealand-born health coach Kate Sherriff comes from a large family and has always planned on having a large family herself.
She’s one of those women who are imbued with joie de vivre and who lives life to the full. Like many young people, she embraced her freedom after she’d finished school and university, leaving her home town of Gisborne and moving to Bondi for a working holiday. Life beckoned with a smile.
But soon after arriving on our shores, Kate’s world came crashing down around her.
She was diagnosed with a rare form of cervical cancer. It was growing at such a rapid rate that the prognosis was grim.
“It was terrifying,” she recalls. “The doctors weren’t sure if I was going to make it,” she said. She was just 23.
Almost a decade later, her voice still quavers with emotion as she recalls her darkest moment: saying goodbye to her family. “It was definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” she says.
No-one knew what her chances of surviving would be, let alone whether she could ever have a family, but a crack team of specialists gathered around her to give it their very best shot.
Kate gritted her teeth and fought for her life, enduring round after round of chemotherapy and radiation. “If it wasn’t for The Royal, I would not be here today,” she says.
The implications for her fertility were the last thing on her mind.
“I was focused on surviving,” she recalls. “I don’t think I was even ready to have a conversation about whether I could have children or not.”
But gynaecologists Professor Neville Hacker (now retired) and Professor Bill Ledger were anxious to give Kate a fighting chance at having a family one day. In a pioneering move, they harvested a tiny piece of her ovary before she started her first round of chemotherapy.
It gave her hope that one day – if she survived – the tissue could be transplanted back into her pelvis. This would then, it was hoped, trigger a hormonal response to kick start her ovaries back into action again.
Their daring move worked. Eight years later, The Royal’s gynaecologist Dr Jason Abbott performed the tissue transplant, grafting a tiny slice of Kate’s ovary back into her pelvis. Despite the fact that Kate had also had a hysterectomy as part of her treatment, a little miracle happened. They reversed menopause.
Gradually, over time, the team at The Royal were able to then successfully harvest eleven of Kate’s eggs.
“It’s really important for women to have the opportunity to have a baby or babies if they want one,” Professor Ledger said. “Otherwise they feel like there is a piece missing in their lives.”