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Tonya Caldwell and Crystal LaSonde were both diagnosed at a young age with cervical cancer, a disease that is known to leave women unable to bear children later in life. Thanks to a groundbreaking surgical procedure performed here at UNC Lineberger, both women are now mothers of happy, healthy baby boys.

Tonya Caldwell was just 25 years old when she received a diagnosis of stage IB cervical cancer. Most women with that diagnosis are treated with hysterectomy. “I was devastated,” she recalls. “I didn’t know what to do, what to think – and I was told I may never have children.” As hard as it was to hear she had cancer, it was even harder to for her to hear she might never have children.

Crystal Lasonde hadn’t thought much about motherhood prior to her diagnosis of cervical cancer in 2011. Only 31 at the time, she was focused on her marriage and career. So frightening was the diagnosis of cancer, that the possibility of losing the ability to have children didn’t cross her mind. “I was scared because I had cancer, so I didn’t think about it,” she says.

Fortunately, Caldwell and Lasonde were referred to Dr. John Boggess, at UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. Boggess is one of a small number of doctors in the U.S. offering another procedure to young cervical cancer patients known as a trachelectomy. This surgery removes the cervix, nearby lymph nodes and the upper part of the vagina. The uterus and ovaries remain intact thus preserving fertility. Following a trachelectomy, women are often able to carry a pregnancy to term and deliver by cesarean section.

Caldwell was thrilled to have a treatment option that could preserve her ability to bear children. She was told that the surgical team would go in with the intention to remove only the cervix and surrounding lymph nodes. However, she was cautioned that if they saw the cancer had spread, they would have to perform a hysterectomy.

She recalls that the first words she spoke when she woke from surgery were “Can I have kids?” And happily, the answer was “Yes!”

Six years after her diagnosis of cervical cancer, Caldwell and her husband are parents of one year old Eli.

Caldwell’s obstetrician had never taken care of a patient without a cervix before and wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Some extra precautions were taken including progesterone injections and frequent ultrasound examinations. Caldwell says that Dr. Boggess’ surgical work was so good that one ultrasound technician couldn’t believe that she didn’t have a cervix because it looked like she had a complete cervix on the ultrasound.

Lasonde was also happy to have a fertility-sparing treatment option, but she says she didn’t fully appreciate it until she and her husband welcomed their son, Jacob in 2014. “I think it’s so cool that I was able to become a mother!” she says. “I love it! I didn’t think I would love it this much. People tell you that you’re never going to experience love like this, but you don’t really understand. Then it happens, and it’s just the coolest thing ever.”

Boggess was among the first to hear the news of Caldwell and Lasonde’s pregnancies. Both women say that he was as excited as they were.

Boggess still watches the new moms closely. He followed their progress throughout their pregnancies and has met both Jacob and Eli. “Every time I see him he gives me a high five and a big hug. He’s a very good man,” Caldwell says with emotion.

Caldwell wants others to know that there is hope for young cervical cancer patients saying, “It’s not the end of the world. It is devastating to hear, but there is something that can be done.”

“Eli is truly our miracle baby,” says Caldwell. “I am overjoyed,” she says. “I always wanted to be a mom, and I’m a mom now.” And soon, Eli will be a big brother. Caldwell is expecting her second child later this year.

The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 12,000 new cases of invasive cervical cancer will be diagnosed in the United States this year. Although cervical cancer is rare in young women, the common surgical treatment (hysterectomy) leaves them unable to bear children.