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Real Life

I had IVF at age 16!

Despite having a hysterectomy as a child, Queenstown businesswoman Rebecca still holds out hope of becoming a mum

When most people hear the word "hysterectomy", they don't imagine a toddler undergoing the radical womb-removal procedure. But for young Queenstown woman Rebecca Freeman, having the surgery to remove rare muscle cancer as a two-year-old saved her life.
Although the 23-year-old property management agency owner won't ever be able to carry children, she had IVF for the first time at 16 to harvest her eggs, since her ovaries are still hung inside her, as though on a clothesline.
"After a doctor's visit at 18 months old, I was flown to Starship children's hospital in Auckland, where they found I had rhabdomyosarcoma, a muscular cancer of the uterus," explains Hawke's Bay-born Rebecca.
With mum Philippa, who's paid for Rebecca's IVF.
"I was one of two children in the whole world at that time who had this particular type of cancer, so they worked as a team to decide how to best approach it. The only other boy was in America and he had it in his nose, but sadly he died while I was being treated."
After having chemotherapy as a tot, Rebecca went into remission, but two months later, the cancer returned. "The doctors had to send notes on everything they did with me to doctors around the world
so they could help find the eventual cure for me," she explains, adding that she underwent more chemo, as well as radiotherapy.
"Despite the two procedures, the cancer was still hanging around and so it was decided I'd have a partial hysterectomy to prevent it spreading."
Rebecca's mother Philippa Wright, 62, and father Dean Freeman, 57, made the decision with doctors to keep their daughter's ovaries intact, so she could still produce eggs one day. Surgeons hung them using a medical clip before removing her womb and, by age eight, Rebecca was cleared of having cancer.
When she turned 10 and learnt the truth about what it meant for her future, Rebecca was devastated. "After I'd been up at Starship with Mum and Dad for my yearly check-up, they knew it was probably time to tell me. We got back to the hotel and I clearly remember being told I couldn't carry my own kids.
"My mother cried and I cried, because I used to play mums and dads growing up, and for one of my birthdays, when I blew the candles out, my wish was just to be a mum."
With the support of her parents, Rebecca decided to have her first round of IVF at age 16, so she could freeze her eggs, which were already in the condition of a woman aged 35 to 40.
"IVF was my best chance to get as many eggs out as they could, but it was never a guarantee of how many they'd retrieve," she says. "I was told the ideal situation would be about 20 and they retrieved six eggs. We said, 'Well, it's better than nothing.'"
The little battler aged two
Leading up to the procedure, as a teenager attending high school, Rebecca had to inject herself with hormones a few times a day. "I cried every single night and I don't even know that it's because I was sad!" laughs Rebecca, whose mother helped her with the jabs.
"I had so many emotions and had to keep letting it out. Every time Dad tucked me into bed, he'd sit with me and say, 'It's OK. You're going to get through it.'"
Since IVF isn't funded for females in their teens in New Zealand, Rebecca's parents had to pay for the treatment, which cost around $10,000.
"We tried so many different ways around it, saying it was because of cancer," she explains. "When I decided to do IVF again at 20 because I wanted as many eggs as they could possibly get, I still wasn't within the age bracket for funding, so we had to pay again."
Rebecca and her mum have been on an emotional roller-coaster.
Rebecca juggled her second round of IVF with end-of-year exams for her Diploma in Hospitality Management, while flatting in Queenstown.
"I flew up to Auckland and was literally studying in the hotel room between my appointment, then flying back," she shares. "I ended up only getting two eggs and one of them was immature, but again, at least we got something."
A visit to a fertility doctor in Queenstown two years ago saw Rebecca take a break from consuming thoughts of motherhood. "The doctor said, 'Just go live your life and stop worrying about the fertility thing,'" she recalls.
Rebecca with her mum and brother Nick.
"I'd worried about it and been in the hospital system my whole life, so it was time to go and be a young person. I needed to hear that. It was a weight off my shoulders. The past couple of years I've really just done that."
Rebecca has since started dating long-term family friend Brad Cosgrove, 26, who has been understanding about the fact she'll require a surrogate to have children one day.
She also launched her Queenstown business Ta-huna Hideaway, which manages mid-luxury rentals, jumping from one property to 21 over the past year.
"Right now, I'm at peace with everything and my business is my main priority," Rebecca says. "But to have children one day would be an absolute dream. I'll be so satisfied that I won't need to ask the world for anything else."

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