Valerie lived in California most of her life where she met and married her husband Karl and had two wonderful kids, Elora and Daniel. In 2009 the couple moved from California to Texas and now call it home.
At a preconception visit, her new obgyn found a lump in her breast. Valerie said she was not concerned since she has had benign lumps removed from her breasts since she was 16; however this time she was diagnosed with hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer. This young mother of two heard the devastating news that it was stage 2A breast cancer DCIS (invasive ductal carcinoma).
With this type of cancer, fertility treatments and egg freezing posed a challenge. Medications that help women produce more eggs rely on hormones to fuel the process. Plus, Valerie says that her insurance company wouldn’t cover any part of fertility preservation because she had children already. When weighing her options, these factors were the heaviest:
At Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Tulsa, the medical team designed a plan that would keep Valerie’s reproductive organs intact. She considered having a hysterectomy, but statistically it didn’t make sense. Removing her uterus added just a 1% bump in reassurances that the cancer wouldn’t come back.
Valerie remembers her oncologist asking: “How do you want to live after cancer? That will dictate your treatment.” She replied: “I want to have more children and stay active.”
Valerie chose to have a double mastectomy, which showed that the cancer had not gone into the lymph nodes, then followed up with reconstruction and chemotherapy. “If it was in the lymph nodes and traveling then I would have made a different decision,” she said. She has been in remission since March 2012.
After treatment and as part of her recovery, Valerie focused on short distance races, 5Ks and events like the Dirty Girl Fun Run, Zombie Run (with her husband) and Muddy Miller in Round Rock.
“I do it for fun and as a deterrent to stress eating,” laughs Valerie, who also plays in a beach volleyball league with her husband now. “One of my survivor sisters runs the league and got me into it.”
Valerie had taken Tamoxifen for almost five years. At the four-year checkup her oncologist wanted to extend her Tamoxifen regimen to 10 years. Valerie pointed out that the deal was five. Anxiously waiting for the next chapter to begin, Valerie and her husband began to discuss having a third child, all the while keeping it to themselves to avoid people who might try to talk them out of getting pregnant after breast cancer.
At her four-and-a-half-year checkup, the couple asked her oncologist about having another child. Valerie emphasized that both she and her husband wanted at least an opportunity to try. Her oncologist insisted she see a fertility specialist, so Valerie got a recommendation from her obgyn who suggested Anthony Propst, M.D., with Texas Fertility Center Round Rock, a center known for successful fertility treatment after breast cancer. Valerie’s obgyn refers a lot of patients to TFC.
The couple couldn’t pursue IVF because of the hormones involved, and with only one ovary, Valerie was concerned that she couldn’t get pregnant. After she and her husband had a consultation with Dr. Propst, they felt confident in the options.
Valerie’s fertility journey started after she had been off Tamoxifen for six weeks. After a few months of trying the old-fashioned way, Dr. Propst recommended having a hysterosalpingogram, blood work and ultrasounds. She was ovulating, but not getting pregnant.
Dr. Propst determined that Valerie’s eggs just needed a little push. The next month, he added Femara to her therapy and she got pregnant.
When you have cancer, says Valerie, you have to treat it right away…make decisions on the fly. “The last thing you are thinking of is infertility.”
She said she couldn’t go the rest of her life afraid of cancer coming back. “I didn’t want to be 80 and look back never even trying to have a baby because of the fear. I don’t want to live with regrets…no one wants to live like that. The decisions I made for my diagnosis didn’t change what I wanted for my future, it just made me take a different approach.”
She shares her story because too many women with breast cancer are told that they have no options. She searched online for stories of women who got pregnant after breast cancer, but they were incomplete or hard to find.
“Dr. Propst was always confident,” she recalls. “Everyone else was cautious – my oncologist, my gynecologist – but he was always very supportive and showed me where I could succeed.”
Karl and Valerie, and Elora, 11, and Daniel, 9, will soon find out the sex of their new sibling.
Having another child was not a decision Karl and Valerie made lightly. “Our kids were a part of the decision making,” says Valerie. “We take a lot of family trips,” she says. “I told [the kids] that if we have another baby, we may not take as many and they may not be as grand. But they said they want a baby brother or sister.”
How has life changed? “Not really much, we just don’t push off things that we can do now.”