Image Magazine Article - The Power of One

The Power of One

By Sheilagh Foley

Covid may be forcing us to examine our health but it’s also pushing us to look for hope. I am alive because of hope, when people threatened to take it away I found new hope. Don’t be afraid to dream. If there were no hopes, no dreams, there would be no inventions, no cures, no progress. Here’s my story.

At 22 I was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma. At 30 I had developed mouth cancer. At 37 a tumour was found in my pancreas. Chemo, radiation and operations were my salvation and curse. My heart was badly damaged by the treatment I received in my 20s, this led to sudden and severe heart failure last year, a full 20 years later. The other casualty of the chemo was my fertility. In amongst the excellent care, a mistake was made, I had been given 16 times the amount of chemo I should have received. The devastation to my fertility was immediate. Through blinking tears I persuaded a doctor to give me some hope, a 1% chance -at least that's how I decided to interpret her 99% certainty that I would never have a child of my own.

I took my 1% chance and I held on to it with all my might. I told myself, ‘I am particularly unlucky but within that misfortune I’m kicking ass, I’m doing ok’. I moved to London in my mid 20s and soon after I got married and we tried for a child. We tried through failed IVFs, nightly brews of Chinese herbal tea that smelt like a dragon’s breath (normally that dragon was me), and weekly acupuncture sessions. I went home one evening on the London Underground with a forgotten acupuncture needle stuck in the top of my head. That was the night I decided to knock the alternative medicine on the head (after removing the needle), and move to America. 

We set up home in San Francisco, and travelled across all 50 states, I journaled every strange and sensible encounter we had in my blog (, a legacy for children I thought I’d never have. America is brimful of possibilities (not all delightful) but it is the kind of place that makes you believe the impossible is just a ‘possible’ with ‘I am’ in front of it! So despite my severely diminished ovarian reserve, we tried our 6th and decidedly final attempt at IVF. I tracked down a clinic in New York that was showing unprecedented success with a new wonder drug, DHEA. I didn’t care if they were selling snake oil, they were dreaming big and they had me hopped up on hope, off to New York we went.

Despite max stim medications, I only managed to produce one egg (at 35 I had the fertility blood profile of a 60 year old woman). I was disappointed, I had been doing thrice daily injections for weeks, I was taking steroids for conditions I mightn’t even have, I was popping progesterone, eating oestrogen, washing down wonder drugs, I was turning into a tablet, I needed FDA approval to go to the toilet. All that effort, all those attempts, flying in from California, for this... for one egg! 

But I gripped my 1% of hope even tighter, and rang the lab everyday for updates. Everyday the lab would say the embryo was ahead of schedule, it was a freaking super egg, the rockstar of eggs! They transferred the embryo back into me, I was somewhat fearful my tragic body would let me down again, couldn’t the ball of cells just keep growing in the test tube for 9 months ?? But the famous quote from Jaws entered my head “We’re gonna need a bigger boat!”. We flew back to SF. 

A week later I did a blood test and the results were sent to New York, I had started to spot, my hope was still there but it was slipping below 1%. I began a conversation with my husband about other ways to start a family, I’d even seen a therapist on how to move on, my phone rang, a 212 number…

“Congratulations, you’re pregnant!”. I nearly collapsed, it was the best day of my life. That egg is now a happy and wild 6 year old girl called Roisin, who said to me yesterday “Mom, you carried me a lot when I was younger, I think I’m ready to carry you”. She has no idea how much she has carried me already. 

Róisín's middle name is Creideamh which is the Irish word for 'belief/faith'. We kept the belief that one day we'd meet the child of our dreams. Róisín, when you read this, know that you are the 1%, you’re the super egg that defied the odds, never give up on your dreams, and definitely never let anybody take them away from you.  


  1. You are on a role girl! Well done you. Fantastic piece Sheilagh. Fantastic woman!!


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