What I Wish I Knew: I Have to Think About Fertility Preservation Too?!
Wait … this could also impact my dreams of having a family? It was hard enough to hear a cancer diagnosis, but then you have to think about how treatment for survival can negatively impact your dreams of having a family. I was in this dilemma in late 2017, when I was diagnosed with stage II, hormone receptor-positive breast cancer at age 27. No one else in my family had experienced a cancer diagnosis so the cancer world was new and unexpected to me.
During this process I had great family support and friends, but no one who had experience with cancer. My husband and I would go to appointment after appointment trying to understand the little that we could, until one co-worker (with multiple cousins who had gone through the cancer journey) told me that I should see a doctor for a second opinion before starting any treatment. So I went to a second doctor for another opinion on treatment options for my diagnosis. This doctor guided me through the whole process. However, it was his vision of seeing past the diagnosis that impressed me. He was not only looking at Natalie as a cancer patient, he was looking at Natalie as a person with a future life in front of her eyes. He anticipated Natalie’s dreams of having a family and being a mother. This doctor promptly advised me to contact several doctors regarding fertility preservation.
It is astonishing how every time I share this story with young cancer patients, they wish someone had advised them about preserving their eggs before going through chemotherapy. They never knew this was available to them as an option. I can’t imagine going through treatment only to later find out my doctor did not mention the option of fertility preservation. As a cancer community (medical teams, patients, and caregivers) we must look out for each other and share our experiences so others can benefit from them.
I was able to book an appointment as soon as possible with one of the fertility clinics in the area. The doctor was knowledgeable about fertility treatments for breast cancer patients and quickly guided me through the whole process. We needed to act fast as the fertility preservation treatment had to be done before surgery to remove the tumor in my breast and before starting treatment. I was diagnosed the day after Thanksgiving, on Black Friday — it was literally Black Friday. My surgery was scheduled for December 18, 2017. The fertility doctor had about 2 weeks to retrieve as many eggs as possible.
Egg freezing is a complex and difficult treatment. At first there was a series of ultrasounds to determine if I was a good candidate. Everything was positive. After this I had to take injections in my stomach area. Some of the injections were done very early morning at the fertility clinic and some of them were done at home the night before. I strongly suggest you ask someone to help you with home injections. During those 2 weeks we traveled about 45 minutes every Saturday morning for injections, blood work, and ultrasounds. All of these visits were to determine if I was producing eggs normally and at the rate we wanted. The most difficult part were the injections I needed to do at home. My husband was my nurse, caregiver, and “fertility doctor.” He would give me injections every night to stimulate the production of my eggs. The whole session would last 30 to 45 minutes. Though these injections were difficult, doing them together was a bonding experience for us.
While I was going through the fertility treatment, I also find out my insurance did not cover fertility preservation. Without insurance the out-of-pocket cost would have been $10,000 to $15,000. I graduated from college in 2015 and have been working since I was 15 years old. My parents are not wealthy, and we live modestly. I’m originally from Colombia and we came to the U.S. for better opportunities and to create a life that was happy and fulfilling. Everything that we have is because we worked hard for it. I didn’t have a trust fund or a wealthy relative to pay for this treatment. I was fortunate to have a medical team that saw me as more than a number. They quickly provided me with organizations that could help cover the cost for fertility preservation. In addition, the clinic decided not to charge me for some of the ultrasounds, for which I am eternally grateful. Thanks to the help of the Livestrong Foundation I was able to have the fertility preservation treatment for $5,000. This was a tremendous help.
After 2 weeks, it was time to retrieve the eggs. I woke up with my husband early on a Monday morning and headed out to the clinic. Little did we know this was just the beginning of the cancer journey and — oh yes! — more moments would come that were scary and you just have to push through it as the warrior you are, and never knew you were.
The retrieval took about 1 hour with another 2 hours for recovery in the clinic. They gave me anesthesia to put me to sleep during the procedure. When I woke up I felt a lot of pain, as if I was having bad period cramps. The clinic gave me some pain-reducing medicine, and after that it was manageable.
The clinic informed us they were able to retrieve 9 eggs! We were so happy! And with this in the back of our minds, we embarked on this crazy and yet fulfilling journey.
Today, almost 2 years after my diagnosis, I get emails every month regarding the monthly payment for the storage of my eggs. My husband says, “Great we are already paying rent for our 9 kids!”
Having a doctor that saw more in me, that saw me as a human, as a potential mother, and advised me to act and preserve my eggs, was irreplaceable.
I hope you read this and are fired up by action and advise every cancer patient, newly diagnosed, or anyone in your community. Share information, talk to your doctors and your caregivers. Share because it can mean the world to someone who is going through this journey and just needs someone to look after her by giving her options she never thought she needed.
If you are recently diagnosed and would like to learn more, be sure to check out our Guide for the Newly Diagnosed. If you want to participate in the What I Wish I Knew series, you can share your story with Living Beyond Breast Cancer.
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