Amelia’s story

Article from 2019/2020 Impact of Giving Annual Report

At 13 years old, Amelia Di Virgilio was obsessed with basketball. When she wasn’t playing, she was refereeing, and it was after one of these games that her family friend noticed a lump on her neck.

“I went to the mirror and there was a lump the size of an apple or golf ball that was bulging out of my neck. The lump was not there that morning, so it had come up in just a few hours,” said Amelia.

Her family first thought it was glandular fever, but doctors at the RCH had much worse news – they had found a tumour growing off the vertebrae in her neck. Amelia was diagnosed with an aggressive form of bone cancer called Ewing’s Sarcoma.

Amelia’s life was turned upside down as she began preparing for rounds of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Before she started treatment, her oncologist Dr Lisa Orme introduced her to Dr Yasmin Jayasinghe, Clinical Lead of the Fertility Preservation Service at the RCH, who oversaw Amelia’s care into adulthood.

“I know for me at the age of 13 I didn’t think it would be something I would be discussing, or thinking about having children but it’s something I had to do at the time and I’m so thankful that I got the opportunity to,” said Amelia.

Made possible thanks to philanthropy, the Fertility Preservation Service is ensuring effective communication about fertility and offering preservation options so that as many patients and families as possible can make informed decisions about their future.

“There is such a stigma associated with talking about fertility because it is something that I considered embarrassing. I was embarrassed to talk about that in front of my parents but I’m so glad that I did.”

At the time, a new treatment called ovarian tissue harvesting or grafting had become available.

“That’s where little pieces of ovarian tissue have been collected via surgery and frozen to use later in life. Once the patient is ready, the tissue can be placed in the body so it can get a blood supply and produce its own hormones. Once eggs are produced, doctors can then collect them to use for IVF. If the ovarian tissue is put back near the ovaries, then it is possible that pregnancy may happen naturally,” said Yasmin.

After talking it through with her parents, and doctors, Amelia decided to have her ovarian tissue preserved.

“I had the keyhole surgery the next day. It was so simple, quick and easy,” said Amelia.

Now 22 years old, Amelia is in her final year of study for her Occupational Therapy masters and she is cancer-free. Although she isn’t thinking about having children any time soon, she has peace of mind knowing that everything was offered to minimise the impact of her cancer treatments on her ability to start a family. Thanks to donations to the RCH Foundation, many more children like Amelia can receive coordinated fertility care which will last well beyond their cancer treatment.

“The RCH offers critical cancer care at a time of need,” said Yasmin.

“Thanks to the RCH Foundation, the RCH now provides essential fertility care that protects wellbeing and life decisions into adulthood.”