Randi Fishman was 28, newly married, and ready to start a family when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2011.
The crushing news was made all the more painful when her Maryland doctors said that, even if she overcame the disease, carrying children could be a risk that could cost Randi her life.
She immediately got her eggs frozen, and along with husband Zach, then also 28, started the lengthy and expensive process to find a surrogate to carry their embryos fertilized by IVF.
But after their daughter Parker was born, their Wisconsin-based surrogate revealed she would not be able to carry any more, as she was older and had underlying conditions that could prove complicated.
That’s when Randi’s older sister Erin Silverman, who had recently had her second and final child, stepped in, offering to carry a sibling for Parker to save them another agonizing few years to complete their family.
Speaking to Daily Mail Online two-and-a-half months after little girl Austyn was born, Randi, now 34, said she is still in shock at her sister’s generosity, but 35-year-old Erin said she would do it all again.
Erin Silverman, right, became a surrogate for Randi Fishman, left, and gave her a daughter, Austyn, center, on December 8, 2017
‘It was a long process, a long journey and I’m thankful for everything,’ said Erin, who at the time of Randi’s second diagnosis had only been married for six months and didn’t have kids.
‘I always told her that when I was done having kids, I would have a kid for her.’
Regardless, mother-of-two Randi remains stunned at how her life has turned around in six years.
She had no symptoms of any kind of illness when her gynecologist found a lump in her breast a year after she tied the knot with Zach.
A few scans and a biopsy later, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Tests also revealed she was a carrier of the BRCA1 gene, which dramatically increases the risk of developing breast and ovarian cancers. Her father and younger sister Jamie also tested positive.
‘I couldn’t believe it was happening to me,’ Randi told Daily Mail Online. ‘I never heard of someone that young having breast cancer.’
‘My family was beyond upset,’ she added.
Two weeks after her diagnosis she underwent a double mastectomy.
Three to four months later she opted to freeze 10 of her embryos out of fear that Tamoxifen, a chemotherapy drug, could cripple her ovaries.
She was given the all-clear in late spring, and started embarking on pregnancy plans.
At the time, Randi still thought she would be able to carry her own children. The purpose of the fertility treatment was two-fold: to test the embryo for BRCA1 to ensure she didn’t pass the gene down, and to maximize the chances of conceiving using IVF.
That changed in September 2012 when tests revealed the cancer had come back.
Randi underwent a lumpectomy and received radiation treatments as a preventive measure, and has been in remission ever since.
Doctors warned pregnancy could trigger another relapse, since her progesterone and estrogen levels would elevate, and Randi’s cancer was made up of estrogen receptor (ER)-positive tumors.
Though a 2017 study has since shown that there is not an elevated risk, even in those with ER-positive tumors, there was little research to that effect at the time and Randi couldn’t risk it.
‘They didn’t think [pregnancy] would be good for my body and my health,’ Randi said.
Erin, right, became a surrogate after doctors advised Randi, left, to not have children
Randi’ children, Austyn, second to left, and Parker, second to right, with Erin’s children
Erin immediately offered to Randi’s children, but since she was just starting a family of her own the sisters decided to postpone their plan.
Randi and Zach had been dreaming of starting a family for years, so they found a surrogate in Wisconsin who gave birth to their first daughter, Parker, in September 2014.
Besotted with their little girl, it wasn’t long before they started wishing for another child.
‘I wanted to give [Parker] a sibling,’ Randi said. ‘Coming from a family of three, I knew that I wanted a bigger family.’
After Erin had her first daughter in April 2014 and her second daughter in October 2015, she was ready to carry Randi’s baby.
She waited until after her youngest daughter turned one years old to undergo the procedure.
Erin said the first embryo implantation attempt – a process in which a fertilized embryo is placed through the catheter and into the uterus for implantation – didn’t take in February 2017.
The second attempt in April 2017 was successful, but the pregnancy wasn’t an easy one.
Erin had an easy labor and delivery during her first two pregnancies, but during the surrogacy she suffered bleeding in her placenta at the beginning of the third trimester and developed high blood pressure during the last five weeks of her pregnancy which led to bedrest and an induced pregnancy three weeks early.
‘It was harder than I anticipated,’ Erin said. But she said she was happy she was abble to give her sister a happy and healthy daughter, named Austyn.
Because she has the BRCA1 gene, Randi underwent a hysterectomy to remove her Fallopian tubes, uterus, cervix and ovaries as a preventive measure against ovarian cancer.
Randi, left, has a three-year-old daughter, Parker, center, from a surrogate in Wisconsin. Pictured: Randi with her husband Zach, right, in September 2017
According to the National Cancer Institute, about 72 percent of women who inherit the BRCA1 mutation gene will develop cancer compared to 12 percent of women in the general population.
And about 44 percent of those who inherit the gene will develop the ovarian cancer compared to women without the mutation who only have a 1.3 percent risk of developing the disease.
Randi, who has been in remission for six years, said she doesn’t plan on having anymore children.
‘We are done financially, mentally and emotionally,’ Randi said.
But she insisted she is overjoyed, and breast cancer has changed her view on life.
She told Daily Mail Online it’s a ‘blessing to wake up every day.’
‘I can’t believe I have two daughters,’ she said. ‘I didn’t think that this was possible.’