Toronto couple shares journey through adoption and surrogacy after cancer diagnosis

The couple shares their story about facing infertility, hoping to provide peace to others dealing with similar stories.

By Stella Acquisto

Toronto couple Isrene Shao and Tommy Mui planned to start a family right away when they got married in 2019 but began having issues conceiving.

“We went to see a fertility doctor and at that point she’s said, ‘Let’s do a pap test.’ I had recently done a Pap test three years prior and it was all clean,” said Shao. “That’s when she did the pap test, and it came out as cancer.”

“That’s how we found it and the scary part was I had no symptoms,” Shao added.

The diagnosis came in 2021. It was revealed that Shao had Stage 3 cervical cancer. She underwent chemo, had to remove her cervix and ovaries. She is now cancer-free but can no longer conceive.

“The first thing we did it is looking to adoption because we still want to be parents through adoption, so we looked into Toronto. We actually also looked into international because the chance of getting an infant in Toronto is very slim,” explained Mui.

However, once they started researching, the couple found out many agencies had a policy that says their applicants need to be cancer-free for five years.

Shao and Mui said this five-year cancer-free rule was when they were looking to adopt in both the Philippines and South Korea. That wait also didn’t include the rest of the adoption process which Mui said could take close to another five years.

“[The] reality is that we assume that there are so many kids out there that are just waiting to be adopted but that’s not how the process really works so you could sit for years and years and years waiting,” said Angela Truppe, the CEO of Canadian Surrogacy Community

The Toronto couple decided to shift their plans once again.

Shao found an egg donor and they are now looking for a surrogate through their agency Canadian Surrogacy Community, founded by Truppe, who herself is a three-time surrogate.

“Canadian Surrogacy Community is a surrogacy-based program that helps intended parents find women in Canada that will help them carry their babies,” said Truppe.

Evolution eggs is their sister program that helps with egg donation that Truppe also runs.

“The surrogacy process gives an in for them to actually genetically be related, in terms of being able to have a child for themselves, but it also gives them a little control in terms of looking at all avenues, their immediate family, the outside world, social media, [and] through our program to help them find somebody who would be amazing enough to go ahead and actually carry for them,” explained Truppe.

Compensation for surrogacy is not legal in Canada so those who become surrogates are volunteers. It also makes them more difficult to find.

“The ratio of surrogates to intended parents is one to 200 so it’s just not enough surrogates in Canada and there’s too many couples that’s going through infertility and talking about that number, it’s quite scary,” said Shao.

Shao and Mui tell CityNews this journey has been tough on them, but they have found peace through sharing their story on Instagram through their account ‘Womb-mate for life.”

“There are tons of great resources and tons end up by people that can help you and by telling your story you are helping others as so everybody just heals and become better together,” said Shao. “I know there are really tough days out where life is just throwing lemons at you, but you really have to just believe in yourself, believe in each other and just strive on.”

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