New Jersey Woman Acts as Surrogate for Her Sister After Breast Cancer Treatment

Lisa Ackerman with her daughter, Madison, and sister, Lauren Mozer

April 22, 2022

As terrified as she was to receive a breast cancer diagnosis at age 34, Lisa Mehler Ackermann was just as disturbed that her illness might stop her from her lifelong goal: to become a mother.

“Two things went through my head: Is this going to kill me? And am I going to be able to have a baby? They were equally important to me,” recalls Lisa, now 38, who underwent months of chemotherapy and several surgeries to eradicate her cancer. 

But it took a village to make motherhood a reality for the Brick, New Jersey woman, including her sister and a team of clinicians from Ocean University Medical Center.

Within days of Lisa’s diagnosis of hormone-receptive breast cancer in late 2018, she and husband Chris met with reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist William Ziegler, D.O., who laid out a plan to quickly harvest and fertilize Lisa’s eggs.

Meanwhile, Lisa’s sister, Lauren Mozer of Point Pleasant, New Jersey—a mother of two—offered to become Lisa’s gestational carrier to fulfill her sister’s dreams of motherhood. When doctors at Ocean delivered baby Madison Ackerman in July 2021, the birth was the culmination of many dreams and much effort.

“It still blows my mind that the technology is even possible that could make this happen,” Lisa says. “My egg retrieval was years ago, then my embryos were frozen, then my sister carried her. I could never have imagined this was how I’d become a mom. I’m just so grateful.”

Considering Fertility During Crisis 

Because of uterine problems, Lisa had already consulted Dr. Ziegler for fertility help before her cancer diagnosis. But that event pushed efforts into overdrive, with Dr. Ziegler having only two weeks to retrieve eggs from Lisa’s ovaries, fertilize them with her husband’s sperm and freeze the resulting embryos before Lisa’s treatment began.

“The five-year survival rate for women under 40 with a breast cancer diagnosis is over 90 percent, meaning more women are surviving breast cancer and can possibly conceive,” he explains. “One big decision after a cancer diagnosis is what a woman thinks about her childbearing potential, something that’s often not discussed until after the fact.”

Ovary-stimulating drugs taken during those two weeks wouldn’t prompt Lisa’s cancer to worsen, Dr. Ziegler notes. But Lisa was told she shouldn’t carry a baby because the hormonal medications needed to sustain a pregnancy might fuel any remaining cancer cells. 

For Lauren, who’s always been close with her younger sister, that news was all she needed to galvanize her decision to be a surrogate.

“I definitely felt protective of her and wanted Lisa to take the safest route,” explains Lauren, whose daughters are now 7 and 9. “It wasn’t really too much of a decision for me. Of course I would do this for her.”

‘Perfect Happy Ending’

Even before undergoing IVF (in vitro fertilization) to be implanted with Lisa and Chris’ embryo, Lauren consulted Ocean OB/GYN Darlene Morgan, M.D., who made sure she was both physically and emotionally ready for the pregnancy. Along with partner Ann Pagano, M.D., Dr. Morgan also prepared the hospital’s Labor and Delivery team to accommodate both sisters and their husbands during the birth, which required special considerations since it took place during the thick of the pandemic.

“Lisa, Lauren and their husbands were so appreciative that everyone was trying to go above and beyond to make sure they would all feel involved,” Dr. Morgan says.

Baby Madison is thriving and happy, matching the moods of her parents and doting extended family. Lisa and Lauren live minutes away from each other, and Lauren is thrilled to be close to the niece she helped bring into the world.

“When I see her, I think everything’s been worth it,” Lauren says. “It’s kind of a perfect happy ending that Lisa has this baby that she’s clearly obsessed with. We all love her, and I couldn’t be happier.”

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The material provided through Health Hub is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.  

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