- Tamika Felder had a hysterectomy after developing cervical cancer at the age of 25.
- The life-saving surgery in 2001 meant she could never carry a child herself.
- Another survivor who had IVF before her surgery gave Felder her leftover embryos.
When a consultant told Tamika Felder that she had cervical cancer at 25 years old, the up-and-coming TV producer could barely take in the news.
"When you're just 25, you're finding your footing and making a name for yourself," Felder told Insider. "If you're diagnosed with cancer, the bottom falls out of your world."
Felder had put off consulting a gynecologist or primary-care provider because she was focused on her career. Once she was more established in her profession and had met the right man, she thought motherhood would be part of her future. But in April 2001, she was diagnosed with cancer.
Felder consulted other doctors, but they all confirmed the initial diagnosis. At the beginning of June, her doctor said her survival depended on having a radical hysterectomy within two weeks.
Egg freezing and IVF were too expensive
Felder knew the procedure would leave her infertile and began researching her options.
She could either freeze her eggs — though egg freezing was still in its early stages at the time — or attempt in-vitro fertilization by creating embryos using donor sperm. But when her health-insurance provider refused to cover the expensive treatment, she knew that the thousands of dollars she'd need to pay were beyond her means.
"It felt as if I'd lost everything that I'd brought with me as a woman," Felder said.
After undergoing chemotherapy and radiation following her hysterectomy, Felder eventually returned to her job in TV news but quit soon after to "do something more meaningful."
Felder founded the nonprofit Cervivors in 2005; the organization raises awareness about treating and preventing cervical cancer by educating and encouraging people to get regular Pap tests and the HPV vaccine. Cervivors also campaigns for insurance companies to cover at least some of the cost of fertility preservation, which Felder's insurance had denied her.
She always wanted to be a mother
"It's a very hard thing to deal with," Felder said.
In 2013, Felder married Rocky Campbell, a 44-year-old Uber driver.
During an online seminar Cervivors hosted in April 2020, Felder met Ginny Steinbach, a fellow cervical-cancer survivor. The 36-year-old human-resource manager listened as Felder spoke about "burying" her hope of having kids.
The pair went on to chat in private and became friends. They discussed how Steinbach, who received her cervical-cancer diagnosis in April 2017, had successfully undergone IVF with her then-boyfriend, Sean. Doctors rushed to complete the procedure before her full hysterectomy the next month.
"I was very moved by Tamika's story," Steinbach said. "She wasn't really given the choice to preserve her fertility."
Steinbach, who married Sean in November 2018, was thrilled at the prospect of being a mom when doctors thawed one of the couple's frozen embryos. The fetus split and their gestational carrier gave birth to identical twins in March 2021.
Steinbach and her husband felt that their own family was complete but wondered what to do with the remaining four embryos.
It didn't take long for Steinbach to find a solution: She offered one of them to her friend.
"It was the most personal and beautiful gift I've ever been given," Felder said. "At that moment, I've never felt more loved."
A surrogacy agency offered its services for free
Despite their joy, Felder and her husband still didn't have the money to pay the approximate $150,000 to hire a surrogate.
But, as Felder puts it,"the kindness of strangers" came through. Felder's case touched Stephanie Levich, a children's book author who founded Family Match Consulting, so much that she arranged the surrogacy pro bono with help from her business associates.
The carrier, now three months pregnant, is set to deliver Felder's long-awaited child this fall.
"I can finally see myself with this adorable baby in my arms," Felder, who plans to travel to Portland this summer to thank Steinbach in person, said.
"Ginny and I have been through a lot," the mother-to-be said. "But it's because of our cancer that we've made a miracle."