In 2018, months after Sarah Sharp gave birth, she had a period that lasted more than a month. After various tests, Sharp, then 31, learned some unexpected and scary news — she had a rare uterine cancer. To treat it, doctors eventually needed to perform a hysterectomy.
Sharp was devastated because she had hoped for another child. But her dream of having another baby came true when her twin sister, Cathey Stoner, volunteered to be her gestational surrogate.
“This is so healing and so incredible,” Sharp, 33, an architectural sales representative in Nashville, told TODAY Parents. “It’s such a great example of selfless love. For me, it has challenged me in ways to understand how I can love people better and ways I can be there for people selflessly.”
An ‘emotional roller coaster’
Nine months after having her first child, Charlotte James, now 4, Sharp had a period that didn’t stop for 35 days. At first, she thought maybe it was simply a postpartum change. But Stoner urged her twin take a pregnancy test, which was positive. After that, follow-up tests just led to confusion. The doctor thought maybe Sharp had miscarried and worried she had an ectopic pregnancy. But then they couldn’t find any sign that she was ever pregnant.
“The emotional roller coaster was almost debilitating,” Sharp recalled. “When they realized it wasn’t a miscarriage, the whiplash of that was devastating because it created more fear. OK, if it’s not a miscarriage, what is it?”
Her OB-GYN preformed a dilation and curettage (D&C) and sent the tissue to be tested. That’s when Sharp learned what had caused the bleeding — she had choriocarcinoma, a fast-growing and rare uterine cancer that starts in tissue that would normally become the placenta, according to U.S. National Library of Medicine. She immediately began treatment with an oncologist. But, being diagnosed with cancer in her 30s brought back memories of her father, who died of leukemia in his 30s when the twins were just 4.
“Cancer has touched our lives at a young age. He was diagnosed in his 30s as well,” Sharp said. “Cancer has always been a discussion in our family.”
Sharp underwent surgery and then began oral chemotherapy treatment, but she had to switch to intravenous chemotherapy because the first drug wasn’t working.
“It was five chemotherapy drugs where I was overnight in the hospital. That was pretty tough,” she said. “I did that for about six months and I was actually pronounced cancer-free.”
Then, in 2019, the cancer returned.
“That’s what led me to do more rounds of chemo and a hysterectomy,” Sharp said.
When Sharp had her first surgery, doctors mentioned that they might need to remove Sharp’s uterus in the future. At the time, Stoner said she’d be a surrogate for her sister.
“I jokingly said, ‘It’s OK, I’ll have your babies.’ And we laughed about it,” Stoner, 33, a dietitian in Franklin, Tennessee, told TODAY Parents. “I was trying to lighten the mood ... but it was my way of saying, ‘I’m here for you.’”
Sharp didn’t think her sister was making a serious offer.
“In the moment it was comic relief and I thought to myself, ‘How wild would that be?’” Sharp recalled. “She’s always had a really generous, serving heart so I knew it was coming from a deep genuine place.”
Even though Stoner was trying to make Sharp feel better, she meant it.
“When it got really serious, we were just hoping Sarah was going to be OK. It was really gut-wrenching and hard,” Stoner said. “Before she had her hysterectomy, my husband and I had another conversation about offering to help them in this way if it worked out.”
Remission and a new pregnancy
In the spring of 2020 when it was clear that Sharp was in remission, Stoner brought the matter up again. Stoner has two children, Ruthie, 6, and Sam, 4, and always had easy pregnancies and enjoyed being pregnant. So they then discussed it with their husbands.
“Sarah and Richard wanted to make sure we didn’t feel pressure,” Stoner said. “We had lots of talks about if this happens, what does it look like. ... After that, they started the process of creating an embryo.”
At first, Sharp didn’t know whether she had viable eggs. After undergoing so much chemotherapy, her egg quality could have been impacted. But it turned out that her eggs were unaffected, and she and her husband were able to create three viable embryos.
“We’ve been through so much with Sarah’s health that a little bit of waiting and a little bit of unknown was honestly nothing compared to the years before,” Stoner said. “We were prepared for it to take a long time.”
But it didn’t — the first embryo Stoner received implanted.
“It was really refreshing to get those green lights because we’d come from a couple of years with bumps in the road, taking detours, receiving hard information,” Sharp said. “It was an answer to our prayers.”
Stoner is carrying a boy, who is due on Aug. 18, 2021. Sharp will catch the baby and cut the umbilical cord. The pregnancy has gone well, and it’s easier to go through it with a twin.
“It’s been helpful to have Sarah do it with me,” Stoner said.
Sharp said she feels touched by her sister’s gesture.
“I am so honored and just grateful for this incredible gift,” she said. “I never thought in a million years we’d have another baby and the fact that we have a son is amazing. It felt really easy because Cathey and I just communicate really well.”
Sharp and Stoner both said they're grateful that this pregnancy brought them even closer together.
“We’ve learned a lot about each other,” Stoner said. “We’ve learned how to work together as a team through this pregnancy in a really incredibly special way. It’s rare that you’re in something that’s really special and once in a lifetime.”
“This journey has definitely been something we’ll never forget.”
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