When Claudia Hopper was a junior at Texas State University (then Southwest Texas) she felt a pain in her chest. Her parents were visiting and worried that her childhood thyroid cancer had recurred.
Testing confirmed that a tumor the size of an orange had wrapped itself around her sternum. Doctors in San Marcos diagnosed her with an aggressive form of osteosarcoma. Because it was so rare, the family withdrew Claudia from college and moved to Houston for chemotherapy treatment at MD Anderson that would save her life but destroy her fertility.
She was 21, single and diagnosed with cancer. At that time, fertility preservation was cost prohibitive and only effective for freezing embryos, not eggs.
“There was nothing we could do,” Claudia said. “My parents were trying to pay medical bills.”
Life after cancer and before fertility treatment
Claudia would eventually finish her junior year. She moved back to Austin to finish chemotherapy, graduate from college and start her professional life as a child life specialist working with children with blood disorders and cancer.
At the Children’s Blood Cancer Center, now Dell Children’s Medical Center, Claudia provided psycho-social services to patients before, during and after treatment. It was there that she met Dr. Kaylen Silverberg at a LiveStrong/Fertile Hope program for fertility preservation.
Claudia shared her story, and Dr. Silverberg suggested that she come in to Texas Fertility Center to assess the situation. Elevated follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) levels confirmed what she had suspected. The cancer treatments had nearly wiped out her egg supply.
A new love renewed her resolve to restore fertility. Grayson came into Claudia’s life and supported her through initial fertility treatment and testing. He knew her story, and from the beginning, reassured her that adoption was a good option if necessary.
“We both had the attitude that fertility testing and treatment would help us get ahead of [any potential problems] so that when we did get married we would have options.”
Fertility surgery, IUI and success
The couple got married and quickly scheduled surgery to remove the polyps Dr. Silverberg found on Claudia’s uterine lining. They waited a few months and retested. Still more polyps were blocking the fallopian tubes, but a second surgery corrected the new problem.
“Dr. Silverberg recommended IUI because my FSH was high,” Claudia said. “I was 30 at the time. We waited a couple of months and the first IUI failed. The second was successful.”
Claudia remembers sneaking a few pregnancy tests on a Friday even though she was supposed to wait until scheduled blood work on Monday. “I took one, and it was positive. I took another one and another one. You don’t feel like it’s real. But I remember on Monday my husband came to work with me and we called the TFC nurse at lunchtime. She said: ‘Congratulations!’”
The next milestone came with the first sonogram.
“After hearing that strong heartbeat, we were all crying, even Dr. Silverberg,” Claudia said. “It was very surreal and amazing.”
Grayson and Claudia had their daughter and they eventually returned for another round of IUI. This time they would hear two heartbeats.
“After all that my body had been through, it amazed me that it was strong enough to carry two babies to 36 weeks. That was miraculous. And they were born wonderfully healthy.”
A cancer veteran’s advice to men and women who wish to preserve fertility
Claudia has a noticeable scar and would tell people about her medical history when they asked about it. “When I was pregnant, I would open up abut how I got to that point. I recently had a friend who was diagnosed at age 21, and immediately sent her information about Fertile Hope and Dr. Silverberg.”
She encourages people facing a cancer diagnosis to conduct research, ask questions and go see a fertility specialist. Be as proactive as possible.
“Dr. Silverberg was always so upbeat and calm,” she said. “I would get so disappointed after all the bad news, but he would stay positive and reassuring, and that really made a huge difference in my mental state.”
If you have recently been diagnosed with cancer, please ask about options for preserving fertility. Contact us at Texas Fertility Center if you have any questions or concerns.
Dr. Silverberg talks to TWC News about how times have changed thanks to recent medical advancements in fertility preservation and fertility treatment after chemotherapy.