All her life, Angie Campbell had dreamed of being a mum and having a large family. But after being diagnosed with a genetic form of retinoblastoma as a baby she knew that her path to parenthood wouldn’t be straightforward. She takes us on her remarkable journey over the last 18 years to realise her dream…
As I grew up all I wanted to do was be a mum. I had no idea that the cancer I had as a baby would mean that this simple life plan would turn into an 18-year-long traumatic and emotional journey.
My firstborn boy Kieran inherited my mutated gene and had to endure 20 months of active treatment to save his eyes. This had a devastating impact on both Kieran and myself. I knew that I didn’t want him to be an only child, but also knew that going through that again was not something I was strong enough to do.
When Kieran was two years old, a conversation with Dr Elisabeth Rosser gave me hope that I could have another child and not pass on my gene. She referred us to University College Hospital (UCLH) and we began the process of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD).
It sounded so easy and an answer to my prayers. I had no idea that it would take four years of trauma before I would meet my second son.
We were the first people in the UK to go through the PGD process for cancer and therefore had to go through the battles for funding, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) approval process, the huge media exposure and the wait for the team at UCLH to develop the techniques needed to carry out the treatment. It was excruciatingly difficult but we were very lucky that the treatment worked first time and I had a healthy baby boy, Cameron, who did not inherit my faulty gene.
My path to motherhood had been so challenging and heartbreaking in so many ways and over so many years. I felt extremely blessed to have my two boys who were both healthy and happy, but also sad that I would not get the large family I desperately wanted. I decided to become a foster carer – I may not be able to have any more children of my own but I could be mum to many vulnerable little ones that needed my love.
Little did I know that this decision would lead to me meeting my youngest son. Dane came to me at two days old and was loved unconditionally from that moment on. He officially became my son at the age of two when we were unable to find adoptive parents for him, but I believe he was always destined to be my boy.
So I was a mum to three beautiful boys and time was healing a lot of the old wounds. My eldest was 17 and I was a very different person to the 23-year-old that nursed her son through cancer. My husband and I decided to try for one last child.
We did this with the full understanding that the baby may inherit my gene but I had reached a place in life where I was OK with that. We had an amniocentesis test when I was 16 weeks pregnant and it was only a few days later that we received the most amazing call to let us know that our baby did not inherit my gene and that we were having a little girl. The relief and joy were truly overwhelming. Millie arrived and completed our family in March this year.
Looking back, it feels as though my whole adult life has been spent trying to achieve this family but I cannot think of a better use of my time or energy. I may not have taken the conventional route to get here but I have the four children I dreamed of and I love every second of the chaos and noise.
This article first appeared in the Autumn/Winter 2018 edition of our InFocus newsletter. You can download the full newsletter here.