The following is an excerpt from a blog post provided by a former Texas Fertility Center patient and mother. It details a family member’s journey from breast cancer diagnosis through fertility preservation. By Caitlyn Allen – TFC Blogger
On March 30th, 2014, Jessica felt a lump in her breast while taking a shower.
Jessica and Connor had been trying to get pregnant for a few months prior to her discovery. We had connected over stories about my own fertility treatment; Jessica was just starting to think that maybe she should talk to her doctor about their failed attempts.
Those of us in the midst of trying to get pregnant know the feeling of being caught in the two-week-waiting loop. Getting pregnant is always in the back of your mind, consuming your mental energy. When Jessica visited her gynecologist, she wanted to address the lump she’d found, but also: Why was it taking them so long to get pregnant? Was it normal? Should they do something?
Her gynecologist’s advice was to biopsy the lump.
So, on April 30th, 2014, she had a lumpectomy, and the tissue was sent to a lab for a biopsy. Jessica, Connor and her doctor believed that it would be benign, and then they could get back to the business of trying to conceive. Instead, they had an about-face. Instead of trying to make a new life, they were going to have to focus on saving one.
Jessica was diagnosed with Triple Negative Stage III Breast Cancer. It was aggressive, and her oncologist strongly recommended that they start chemotherapy immediately.
Fertility preservation precedes chemotherapy
Throughout fertility treatment, we come across decision points: IUI or IVF? How many embryos should we transfer? Should we take a break or keep plowing forward? And how much more of that precious time, energy and money can we afford to sacrifice?
These decisions compound over time and can feel as though they carry the burden of life with them. But what if that literally was the case?
For Jessica, pursuing fertility preservation meant delaying chemotherapy, giving her already aggressive cancer room to grow. Her oncologist and fertility specialist had gut-wrenching questions for Jessica and Connor.
- What happens to the eggs that you harvest if Jessica doesn’t make it?
- Does Connor get them with the intention to have a baby if Jessica is gone?
- Do you want to fertilize the eggs and freeze the embryos, or just freeze eggs knowing that the process is more successful with embryos?
These were heavy questions to consider while the stakes were high and the timeline short. Jessica says: “When you first get diagnosed, you know nothing, except that cancer is terrifying.”
In the end, Connor and Jessica decided to delay chemotherapy and proceed with egg retrieval. As evidence of how eager her oncologist was to begin treatment, the retrieval was on June 9th, 2014. Jessica started chemotherapy on June 10th.
“With fertility preservation I was able to start chemo with a clear head knowing that I had eggs safely tucked away, protected from the poison,” says Jessica.
The egg retrieval was successful, which gave Jessica an emotional boost before starting five months of intensive chemotherapy, followed by a double mastectomy and radiation. Today, she is classified as “NED,” a patient who shows “No Evidence of Disease.” It will be something she revisits for the rest of her life, but for now, Jessica is in great health.
When I asked Jessica about what their decision looks like in retrospect, she still recalls how incredibly difficult it was, sensing that she was in a race against time, fearing that the cancer was spreading as she waited for her eggs to multiply, worrying that she’d made a huge mistake.
Despite the anxiety that it brought, she is grateful fertility preservation was the route she and Connor took. They still hope for the ability to get pregnant one day, and so her frozen eggs, she says, are their “insurance policy.” They are a sigh of relief at the end of a very long battle.
Contact us at Texas Fertility Center to schedule expedited egg retrieval for fertility preservation prior to cancer treatment.