Jenn, 23 years old

Type of Cancer: Invasice Ductal (Breast)

Cancer Treatment Received: Partial Mastectomy, Axillary Node Dissection, Chemotherapy

Relationship Status at Diagnosis: Married 8 months

Current Relationship Status: Married

Age: 23 years old

Were you a parent at time of diagnosis? No

Fertility preservation and fertility support services are important to me because:
Ever since I was a little girl I’ve always wanted to be a mommy. I have long known that my purpose in life is to raise a family. As I got older that grew into not only wanting to be a parent but wanting to experience pregnancy and childbirth. Adoption was simply not an option for me, neither was surrogacy or getting a donor egg, I feared it would not complete me the same as bearing my own children.

At time of diagnosis, did you know that cancer treatment could affect your fertility?
When I was diagnosed my initial fear was not being ale to finish my degree, but when I met with a general surgeon who told me I had to consider fertility preservation, finishing school seemed insignificant. I had no idea that my fertility could be affected by the treatments and finding out was devastating.

Do you feel you received adequate information and/or support regarding fertility risks associated with cancer treatment and fertility preservation upon your diagnosis? Why or why not?
Since the time frame was so limited there really was no time for any delays. I was basically told if having kids was important I needed to do this and if it wasn’t important I needed to start treatment right away. That’s about all the information I got! As for support, well clearly that was very lacking. No one helped me to find funding or pointed me in the right direction. I wish the doctors who told me I needed fertility preservation would have also told me about organizations like Fertile Future. Luckily I was determined and resourceful enough to figure it out on my own.

If you were not already aware, how did you feel after learning about the possibility of cancer-related infertility?
I was crushed, my life long dream of having children was being taken away from me. I felt overwhelmed at the idea of having to pay thousands and thousands of dollars just to be sure I could have children. I was confused about what to do, I was a soon to be University graduate with $40000 debt and no savings. How could I justify another $10000 of debt for something that may or may not be needed? Could I live with myself if I didn’t and then needed it? I even contemplated forgoing treatments to be able to have a family, an idea my husband did not approve of.

Briefly describe your life prior to your diagnosis (work, education, family, location):
I was newly married and in my last semester of a four year degree program in Nursing. I was working three 12 hour shifts a week at the hospital and attending classes 2 days a week. I was also working part time 2 days a week. My mother lived 4 provinces away from me and my husband and I were caring for his family. We did their groceries, cleaned their house, did their laundry, made meals for them and helped with renovations. We had a place of our own to take care of too. I was always on the go and had what seemed like endless energy. Quite different from the way things are now that I’m going through chemo.

Did your diagnosis change your life or alter your plans for the future?
Having cancer has drastically changed my life. I don’t know how it couldn’t. Things moved very quickly from diagnosis to treatment, in the week immediately following I had tests nearly every day, two weeks after diagnosis I had surgery and a month after that I started chemo. I did not have time for school or work, and after the surgery I was in no shape for either. Luckily I had completed all my assignments and was still able to graduate. However my plans to start job hunting fresh out of school are on the back burner while I finish chemo and radiation. The treatments are like a full time job, the day I go for chemo I’m there ALL day, the rest of the week I have nightly injections to keep my blood counts within acceptable limits. I’m tired and achy and not my usual energetic go-getter self. On my off week when I’m feeling better I catch up on housework and errands that didn’t get done chemo week. Then it starts all over again. Unfortunately our plans to pay off my loan, buy a house and save some money are also on hold. When we got married we said we would wait 3-5 years before having kids, it seems now it will be closer to 6 or 7.

How did your diagnosis impact your desires to become a parent in the future?
Being a mother is still my reason for living and I know someday I will experience it. What has changed is my eagerness, being told you can’t do something just makes you want to do it even more. Knowing that I have no choice but to wait 6 years before I can start my family just makes me that much more anxious to do so.

If you did undergo fertility preservation, please briefly describe your experience.
Up bright and early, actually not bright just early, to go to the clinic. Have blood drawn to monitor hormone levels, have a wand inserted to check the size of my ovaries, go home. Wait for the phone call in the afternoon when they tell me what dose to take. Inject myself with that dose at the exact same time everyday. Repeat for two weeks, possibly the longest two weeks of your life. Go to the clinic, draw blood, insert wand, go home, find out I’m ready to be harvested. Inject trigger shot, book hotel, tell the boss we need time off, drive 4 hours to the harvest site. The harvesting itself wasn’t bad at all, I was expecting the procedure to be a little painful, and to walk funny for a few days after. Once I slept off the anesthetic I felt fine, the tiniest bit of bleeding but no pain. We got the call the next morning to say 10 eggs were harvested, 8 of which were mature, and all 8 fertilized. I was octo-mom!

Have you become a parent post cancer treatment?
I am currently still in treatment, I have 2 chemo sessions left followed by daily radiation for 5 weeks, Herceptin infusions every 3 weeks for a year and 5 yrs on Tamoxifen. I hope when all this is over with I will be able to conceive naturally, but I have a back up plan just in case.

What advice would you give newly diagnosed cancer patients who are facing the possibility of infertility?
Clearly if it is something that has been a life long dream, as it is for me, then you have to do every thing possible to ensure you get your chance to have children. If you are open to adoption, surrogacy, or donor eggs, and you think those options would satisfy you then save your time and money. However if you are unsure about what you will want to do as far as having a family in the future, I think it’s better to be prepared for the worst. I personally couldn’t imagine not taking the necessary steps to make sure I can have kids and then finding out the chemo has made me infertile. I hope I don’t have to use the eggs and can get pregnant on my own but if not I can rest easy knowing I have a back up plan and my life long dreams will be fulfilled.

If you would like to add any additional information please do so here:
When looking into what was covered by OHIP I was shocked to learn that the only instance in which IVF is covered is when both fallopian tubes are blocked. I could not understand how infertility caused by cancer treatment wasn’t considered a good reason to cover the cost of fertility preservation. I was fertile until now, I could have had a baby this year instead of having cancer, but that wasn’t the case. I think it’s incredibly unfair to put that extra burden on a cancer patient. It’s bad enough we’re faced with a life altering, life threatening disease, to have the added stress of fertility preservation and the costs associated with it is just terrible. We should lobby for a change in policy so that no other cancer patients have to face this obstacle. Until then I am so grateful for programs like Fertile Future’s Power of Hope.

How did you hear about Fertile Future?
I had a small window of opportunity to get everything done, less than 2 months from diagnosis to start of treatment. In a frantic search to find someone who could help keep our dreams of starting a family alive, I sent emails and made phone calls to every cancer organization and fertility clinic I could find, only to get reply after reply saying they could not help us. We didn’t live in the right community, I didn’t have the right prerequisites, they didn’t help with fertility related costs. Then finally I got one reply from the Infertility Awareness Association of Canada that said to contact Liz at Fertile Future. I am so happy I did