Shawneen, 36 years old

Type of Cancer: Breast Cancer. (BRCA1 mutation)

Cancer Treatment Received: Chemotherapy, bilateral mastectomies with reconstruction

Relationship Status at Diagnosis: Married

Current Relationship Status: Married

Age: 36 years old

Were you a parent at time of diagnosis? Yes.

Fertility preservation and fertility support services are important to me because: I had a miscarriage 3 months before I found a lump in my breast and my husband and I wanted to have a second child.

At time of diagnosis, did you know that cancer treatment could affect your fertility?: Yes. I knew a lot about the risks of cancer treatment as breast cancer runs in my family and I know how it has affected my sister, mom and aunt.

At time of diagnosis, did you know that cancer treatment could affect your fertility? Yes I was aware that it could affect my fertility.

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?: Yes. I met with a fertility specialist prior to starting chemotherapy.

Briefly describe your life prior to your diagnosis (work, education, family, location): I was married and the proud mother of a beautiful 3-year old daughter. I worked part-time as a physiotherapist which allowed me to spend more time at home with my daughter. We lived in a small village outside of Thunder Bay.

Did your diagnosis change your life or alter your plans for the future?:>I knew that I was at risk of developing breast cancer as I had genetic testing when I was 25 years old. After much soul-searching I decided that I would have bilateral prophylactic mastectomies when I turned 35 years old (after I finished having my family). Deciding to have children was also a difficult decision as I knew that there is a 50% chance of the child carrying the genetic mutation. My daughter was not a planned pregnancy- a wonderful surprise! She has brought so much joy to our lives. I wanted my daughter to be able to share her childhood with a sibling, like I did. I thought about how I had a great life even though I was at risk (and was eventually diagnosed) of cancer. We decided that we would go ahead and try to conceive again. Unfortunately, I was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 34 years old- my plan didn’t work.

How did your diagnosis impact your desires to become a parent in the future?: My diagnosis has put my parenting desires on hold. I underwent two surgeries and 6 months of chemotherapy. It also has taken some time for the post-chemotherapy fatigue to go away. I am currently waiting for my oncologist to write a letter to my fertility specialist saying that it’s safe for me to become pregnant. I was hoping that my children would be close in age but that will not be the case.

How did your diagnosis impact your desires to become a parent in the future?: My diagnosis has if anything fueled my desire to become a parent in the future. Knowing that I could go into early menopause, that I could possibly not be able to carry my own child to term scared me but it forced me to put everything into perspective. It forced me to make the hard decisions to ensure that I get the future that I want. Knowing that egg preservation is an option for people in my situation is a blessing >because they did not have these options available before.

If you did undergo fertility preservation, please briefly describe your experience.:I had to travel to Toronto for fertility preservation which is very expensive with the cost of flights and accommodations on top of the cost of the fertility preservation. I was not entitled to benefits at work and neither was my husband. We really appreciate the Fertile Future grant! The past couple of years have been difficult financially. We ended up with 12 embryos. We were also very lucky to have genetic testing performed on the embryos. The embryos developed to the blastocyst stage and one cell(!) was removed for genetic analysis. Out of the 12 embryos, 5 embryos do not have the BRCA1 mutation. When I decide to become pregnant I will chose one of those 5 embryos. There is the potential for the BRCA1 mutation which has affected 5 women in my family (grandma, mom, aunt, sister and me) to be eliminated in this generation!

Have you become a parent post cancer treatment?: Not yet!.

What advice would you give newly diagnosed cancer patients who are facing the possibility of infertility?: I would recommend that they look into fertility preservation. I felt that the cancer diagnosis took a lot away from me- my breasts, financial security, my hair, and placed strain on relationships. I still have the option of having another baby.

How did you hear about Fertile Future?: My fertility specialist.