On Feb. 14, 1996 at age 19, Gaffney — who was on a swimming scholarship to University of Illinois — was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma of her right ureter, the tube connecting the kidney and bladder. The rare form of cancer usually affects young children.
Gaffney returned home from college for her surgery, and completed the bulk of her chemo and radiation treatment at Aflac.
“My mom was worried that I was having radiation to the pelvis. I always thought on the fertility thing that it would be a yes or no, not to a certain time period. I just kind of figured it would be OK,” said Gaffney, who grew up in east Cobb. She graduated from Walton High School in 1994.
Although Gaffney regularly went to her primary doctor, she soon realized that he could not address some of her physical issues caused by the cancer.
“They just don’t have the experience, the education for cancer survivors,” the Atlanta resident said.
A co-worker at Camp Sunshine where Gaffney worked during the summers urged her and other cancer survivors at the camp to look into the Survivor’s Clinic. In September 2008, Gaffney went to the Survivor Clinic at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Scottish Rite for the initial visit where her records and a history were gathered.
“I felt kind of funny going (to Scottish Rite). Here I was 32 years old, and I’m going to the Children’s Hospital and seeing all my friends,” she said.
Gaffney met with Medical Director Lillian Meacham, who leads the Survivor Program. At the clinic, she received the big picture on her health, treatments, and lasting effects.
“They said I needed to see an endocrinologist. They said, ‘you need to see a fertility specialist now.’ I was not married and I was like ‘what’s with the panic,’” she said.
“I don’t know where I would be today if I had not gone in that day for that appointment. As a survivor, you try to move on, past cancer. I am so thankful that I went there. I always knew I would be a mother one way or the other. To be able to have a child that is mine biologically means more than anything,” she said.
A week after her initial appointment at the Survivor Clinic, Gaffney met with a fertility specialist and started the process to freeze her eggs.
“I felt very empowered,” said Gaffney, who works with Dr. Sanjay Gupta as a medical producer at CNN.
Around Christmas in 2008, her husband Andrew, a 1993 graduate of Pope High School, proposed and the couple married Sept. 6, 2009. When a test showed that Gaffney could not carry a baby, she started searching for a surrogate through friends and family.
A childhood friend of Gaffney’s sister volunteered to be a surrogate for her when she spoke with her at a wedding shower.
“She said, ‘I think it’s my calling in life to carry your child, and I would like to do that for you,’” Gaffney recalled.
“I was stunned. It took me by surprise. I took it in stride,” she said.
The friend’s intentions were serious, and she pursued the situation with Gaffney. “It was a Godsend for sure,” she said.
On April 11, 2013, the Gaffney’s baby, Isabella, was born.
“(Being a mother) makes me cry. It’s the best blessing anyone could ask for. It’s the biggest gift. I just never knew you could love someone that much. She makes me smile,” she said.
“I still don’t believe it because she’s such a joy in my life. Sometimes I have to pinch myself because it doesn’t feel real,” Gaffney said.
To learn more, visit cancersurvivorlink.org or aflaccancercenter.org or choa.org.