In 2011, Randi Fishman was 28 and diagnosed with breast cancer. She had a double mastectomy and froze 10 embryos, hoping that she would one day be able to carry a child.
But a year later, Fishman, of Potomac, Maryland, suffered a breast cancer recurrence.
Doctors thought it was related to the hormones involved in harvesting her eggs for the embryos’ creation and recommended that Fishman not carry her own child due to fears of another recurrence — hormones while she was pregnant would have been an added risk.
(Many breast cancers are sensitive to estrogen, so there has been concern that for women who have had breast cancer, the high hormone levels that result from a pregnancy might increase the chance of the cancer coming back, according to the American Cancer Society. Studies have shown, though, that pregnancy does not increase the risk of the cancer coming back after successful treatment.)
Fishman’s older sister, Erin Silverman, who lives five minutes away, said she’d be a surrogate for Randi once she was done having kids of her own.
“I felt horrible,” says Silverman, 35. “It was awful when she was diagnosed with breast cancer at such an early age and I felt horrible she was not able to have kids.”
But in 2013, Fishman and her husband, Zach, 34, were eager to have a child, and with Silverman not done having her own kids, the couple found a surrogate in Wisconsin. Their daughter, Parker, was born in 2014.
Meanwhile, Silverman had her first daughter and 18 months later, a second child was born. With two healthy baby girls, Silverman could now be a surrogate for Fishman.
“I wanted to give Parker a sister,” Silverman says.
The last two embryos were implanted in Silverman, and this past December 8, she gave her sister and brother-in-law their second daughter, Austyn Harli.
“I just feel so lucky, I’m going to cry,” says Randi. “Going through a couple years of so much, it’s literally the best gift anyone could have given me and for it to be my sister is that much more amazing, it was all worth it in the end.”
Silverman is surprisingly nonchalant about the gift she has given her best friend and sister — despite experiencing a difficult pregnancy that resulted in a bleed in her placenta at the beginning of the third trimester and high blood pressure that led to bedrest and an inducement three weeks early.
Says Silverman: “She’s my sister and I’m able to have children, it’s 10 months out of my life, why shouldn’t I? It wasn’t a big deal to do it.”
Fishman, for one, doesn’t see it that way. “There is no way to thank her for what she did for us.”
Fishman, who tested positive for the BRCA1 gene — which increases a woman’s risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer — is undergoing a hysterectomy in three weeks as a preventative measure.
Her paternal grandmother died of ovarian cancer, her father tested positive for the BRCA1 gene, and her younger sister, Jamie, 31, of New York City, also tested positive and had a double mastectomy as a preventative measure. Silverman doesn’t carry the gene.
Women carrying BRCA gene mutations have up to a 75 percent risk of developing breast cancer and up to a 50 percent risk of developing ovarian cancer, according to The Basser Center for BRCA (Basser.org). Men who carry BRCA gene mutations also have increased cancer risks, including male breast and prostate cancer.
Fishman’s embryos were tested for the BRCA1 gene, and only those that were negative were used for implantation.
“We are grateful and fortunate and lucky,” says Zach Fishman, Randi’s husband. For months he helped administer the shots needed to prepare Silverman’s body to accept the embryos.
After their first attempt failed in January of last year, the second — and last one remaining — took in April. Says Fishman: “We’re incredibly lucky.”