It is probably fair to say that most people don’t give infertility a second thought until they are confronted with it themselves. For many people infertility brings with it a tidal wave of emotions that can include anger, fear, desperation and envy. With 1 in 6 couples struggling to conceive it always surprises me that it is not a topic that is widely talked about, it is surrounded by silence. It can leave those coping with such emotions feeling very alone and not knowing where to turn for support. Add a cancer diagnosis into this mix and you have a potentially devastating combination. At first it can seem clear cut, surely anything you can do to keep yourself alive you will do and worry about the consequences later. But imagine taking those steps to save your own life and then finding out afterwards that there was something that could have been done without comprising your treatment.
When I was diagnosed, fertility wasn’t something that was at the forefront of my mind. As a thirty something singleton I wasn’t at the point of starting a family, but I had always thought children would play a part in my life. I had barely had time to process the initial shock of my diagnosis before I also had to absorb the devastating fact that the treatment that would potentially save my life could also leave me infertile. Thankfully my oncologist was very forthcoming and if it wasn’t for her I might have found myself in the situation Becki McGuiness found herself in, a situation that I now realise is very common amongst young cancer patients.
Becki McGuiness and Myself were both diagnosed with cancer at a young age however our experiences regarding fertility preservation are very different. Becki was left infertile at the age of 23 following aggressive treatment for osteosarcoma. When she was first diagnosed she wasn’t given any option of fertility preservation. You can read her full story at the link below:
What I find heart-breaking, and what is highlighted by Becki’s story, is that not everyone has the chance to talk about possible fertility preservation options. Individuals like Becki have the choice taken away from them, only to find out later that something could have been done. As is highlighted in the article it is very much about prochoice. Some people won’t be able to have the fertility treatment due to aggressive nature of their cancer or potentially their cancer may react to the hormone injections required. However, whatever the situation is I feel that is important for the individual that these are discussed at the same time as their treatment pathway to minimise the potential emotional impact this could have on their mental health down the line.
Back in February 2016 I sat in my first appointment with my oncologist discussing my treatment pathway. This meeting was just 48hours after I had first been given my official cancer diagnosis. 48 hours in which my mind had been flicking through different possible scenarios at the speed of light. I hadn’t even begun to come to terms with what a diagnosis could mean for the future, I was in fight or flight mode. My main priority was getting on with treatment and getting through this so I could live a long and happy life. When it comes to information I am like a sponge, I had started reading copious amounts of literature surrounding bowel cancer and treatment yet mentions of fertility passed me by. I was consumed with the here and now, chemotherapy, surgery, work.
During that first meeting, we went we through a barrage of information regarding my treatment and finally we came to the side effect of fertility, she asked me if I saw myself having children in the future and whether I would be interested in exploring the options with a fertility expert. To me it was a no brainer, I didn’t know if I wanted children but I wasn’t ready to be denied that choice.
I was referred to a specialist and there began my road to being the owner of 8 frozen eggs.
The entire process for me was very easy, I was told I would be able to undergo one cycle of short cycle IVF prior to the commencement of my chemotherapy. I had this treatment at IVF Hammersmith. It involved injecting hormones daily for 12 days and then one final trigger injection before being admitted for the egg retrieval. I was lucky in the amount I managed to produce and there we have it. Whatever happens to my fertility down the road I have 8 eggs that keep the possibility of having children alive.
Becki and I have very different stories, yet hopefully by sharing our experiences we can help others who find themselves in our situation to be able to ask the right questions at the right time.