Fertility after Cancer
by Kara Skaflestad
Is it even an option?
Back in June of this year, I moderated the Fertility after Cancer panel discussion at Oregon Health and Science University, Center for Women’s Health alongside three amazing physicians: Dr. Michael Savin - medical oncologist, Dr. Melissa Moffit, gynecologic oncologist and Dr. David Lee, gynecologist and fertility specialist. Did you know that I actually work at OHSU full time, and run Fighting Pretty on the side?
Well, while I was working my full-time gig, I sat with another marketing manager and we spoke about the need to raise awareness of all the amazing things OHSU is doing for patients who need help having babies.
We went around the table, and I immediately shared my story. First, I wasn’t sure if I should. But then I remembered that’s why I’m working in this job as the marketing manager for oncology services at OHSU: to help cancer patients get the resources they need!
I shared my story, and everyone was in tears. It’s not a fun, uplifting journey, that’s for sure. Well, I think it’s time to share it with you.
At 26 years old, I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. I was dating someone, but certainly not ready to start family planning! When the doctor told me to get my eggs frozen, I of course agreed and went ahead with the process. I was “Fertile Myrtle” – 32 eggs were taken! That’s unheard of. But again, I was in my prime – only 26 years old.
After that, I went through it all – double mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation, Herceptin treatment and 10 years of Tamoxifen. During those ten years, I met someone, got married and hoped to start a family.
…To that of despair.
In 2010, my oncologist said it wasn’t really safe to carry a baby. She wanted me on Tamoxifen for 10 years. But I wanted a baby!
I went on to get married, and even explored adoption with my then-husband. His amazing, gracious, beautiful sister, offered to carry a baby for us. At last, I was going to have a family! We went forward with the process, and over $30,000 and many months later, the pregnancy didn’t take. Zero out of 32 eggs worked.
Three months later, my husband said he didn’t want do this anymore. He didn’t think he wanted to be married. He wanted a biological baby, but didn’t want to go through this process again. He didn’t want to adopt, because that would never really be “his” baby.
My heart shattered into a thousand pieces, and I had been sucker-punched like never before.
Now, at 37, I’m done with Tamoxifen. I’m single, and yes dating (an amazing man with an incredible daughter actually!) But I'm still thinking about my future plans as a mom. What does this mean for me? What are my options?
A few months ago, OHSU was lobbying to try and get Oregon state to pass legislature that insurance companies pay for fertility treatments for cancer patients. I testified alongside two other amazing women who are not only breast cancer patients, but women who have received Pretty Packages, and also want to have more children. Unfortunately, the bill did not pass, but there is still hope.
Just last month, I had a talk with an oncologist here at OHSU, as well as my oncologist from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. After those discussions, I couldn't believe my ears. There is new research and procedures to obtain eggs without hormones. So, that's the plan! I'm going back in to get more eggs. Who knows if there are any, or if they are all scrambled. But we are going to try!
So once again, I'm Fighting Pretty through it all. #alwaysfightingpretty
Do you have a fertility story you'd like to share? If so, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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