“Do you want to harvest your eggs prior to chemo?”
(A surprised look on my face)
“If you want to have children one day, I must warn you, the chemo can harm your ovaries making you infertile. I suggest you harvest your eggs prior to chemo. That is, if you want to be a mother.”
How do you answer that in the middle of a mess like cancer? While facing all kinds of uncertainties?
I was already dealing with the stress of starting chemo. Now I had to switch gears and reconsider the idea of having a child. I had already accepted that I was probably not going to be a mother after cancer.
“Can you be a mother after cancer, really?” I asked my surgeon.
He said it was a consideration. Hearing my doctor suggest this option gave me some hope.
You see, I had already made up my mind when I heard the words “you have cancer.” I did not even know if I would survive the treatments, let alone try to consider becoming a mom. Even if I survived the treatments, I thought, I would have been worried that my child was not going to have a mother for too long. I still worry about that possibility today.
I went home and talked about it with my partner, who I was only dating for about a year— talk about pressure! He immediately agreed I should harvest my eggs.
A friend of mine who was 28 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer had harvested her eggs. She suggested I do it too.
“You better do it! I promise you won’t regret it. You want to have options available in the future,” she said.
My friend explained the process though she left some details out so not to scare me, as she admitted to me later. But I was glad she convinced me to do it.
I decided to go to NYU Medical Center to harvest my eggs, where I learned my insurance was not going to cover the cost. This isn’t right! Cancer patients need more resources. I was lucky I had savings but it was still a financial hit for me— A big thanks to the Livestrong Foundation who helped pay for the fertility drugs.
The Endocrinologist asked a lot of questions about my cancer, my treatment plan, everything. It turned out I was “ready” to start the process on that same day and there was no time to waste. I was given a lot of paper work to sign. I felt pressured in a way, not just by the medical team but by life. Life was putting me in a situation where I had to rush. I felt overwhelmed.
I won’t go into details about what the medical process was like — maybe in a different post. As Carrie wrote in her blog, those self-administered needles weren’t fun — especially the last one. But it’s all very doable. What I will say now is that I would have never harvested my eggs if it wasn’t for my cancer diagnosis.
The cost of harvesting my eggs didn’t end with the procedure of course. I continue to pay a yearly fee to keep them in cryogenic storage — out of pocket — until I decide if I want to use my eggs, which will be another major cost.
Now that I know I carry the ATM gene, doing the in-vitro fertilization would probably be the best option for me. So I have no regrets I harvested my eggs. I also like having options. It’s too bad insurance companies don’t cover this part of the cancer cost.
But guys, I am starting to feel discouraged because I am not even sure I can carry a child. People say that I could always adopt, and I’m aware of that. But I want to be able to feel my child growing in my tummy; feel his first kick; hear his heart beat. I want it all. I mean, a lot of money has gone into this harvesting/storage business. After doing all this work and really wanting to be a mom, I would hate to lose the opportunity to use my eggs.
Surrogacy, you ask?
It’s just not affordable for me. I actually looked into it right after I was done with treatments. Not only is it expensive, but not all states support it—NY being one of them (unless the laws recently changed). This means if I found a surrogate mother for my child, she can take me to court to keep the child. So I would have to find someone outside NY. This may not be an option for me.
I remember the day I went in to retrieve my eggs. I felt so nervous. I also remember waking up from the procedure an hour later.
“We retrieved sixteen eggs,” the nurse said.
“I have sixteen chances,” I replied.
But today I am not sure how much of a chance I have. My doctor says that, in theory, there’s a risk of my cancer being restimulated if I get pregnant, although there is no research backing this up. I am also getting older. This makes me feel sad because I want to have my own baby. I want that right and I feel cancer has taken it away from me.
I will need to make the decision about having a child next year when my oncologist and I have that discussion about taking a break from Tamoxifen— I will have completed my 5 years on the drug. She wants me on it for 10 but is willing to let me take a break. The theoretical risk with pregnancy is that the hormone levels increase, including estrogen. My cancer type is fed by estrogen, which Tamoxifen blocks. All these decisions are difficult and scary.
But — The thought of having my own child gives my life some meaning.
You guys might think I am crazy but…
…there’s a drawer in my bedroom full of baby clothes. I’ve been buying baby clothes for the last 5 years now–whenever I see something adorable I just buy it. At times I visit that drawer and start to fantasize about having a child. I keep telling myself I have sixteen chances. I have sixteen chances.