It was our second trip to the fertility specialist in two days and her sixth medical appointment that week. The sun was warm, the windows down, and cars were whizzing past us on the highway the day when my 26-year-old daughter, Lindy, turned to me and said, “You know Mom, it has never occurred to me that I am going to die.” I gripped the steering wheel and felt my shoulders tense, I realized that Lindy dying was all that I could think about.
I’ve endured thousands of needle pricks, undergone painful surgeries, and have withstood innumerable grueling treatments. I’ve been sick, bald, weak, over-medicated, under-medicated, poked, prodded, pained, and simply desperate for life. I’ve been triumphant, encouraged, accomplished, fortunate, blessed, and hopeful. I’ve gained insight, wisdom, and more medical knowledge than I could have ever imagined. My perspective has flourished and evolved. I have found a depth of joy that many never will. I’ve grieved loss. I’ve suffered hardship. I’ve authentically experienced mortality. I’ve overcome. I am brave and strong and alive. Yet among those things, I am also overwhelmingly burdened.
by Dr Michelle Peate, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Royal Women’s Hospital, University of Melbourne, Australia
The idea that we can have a child when we choose to is an important part of human identity, and having this taken away from us can be really upsetting. Unfortunately, many young women who are diagnosed with breast cancer face this issue. Treatments for their cancer such as chemotherapy, may mean sacrificing their chances for future children.
“I’m sorry to tell you, it’s cancer. You will need an emergency hysterectomy followed by chemotherapy and radiation.” With one fell swoop, my life, dreams, and plans dramatically changed. Not only did I learn that I had cancer, but also that my chances of bearing children were erased.
As both a health lawyer and a new mom I have a message to share: oncologists and young adults diagnosed with cancer need to have the fertility talk. If the doctor doesn’t bring it up, the patient should.
It is well known that cancer treatments can lead to infertility. That is the nature of the beast. But it doesn’t mean that someone fighting cancer can’t have children in the future. However, it may be necessary to take steps to preserve fertility in advance of treatment so that children do remain an option.
The survival rate for pediatric cancer is now over 83% due to tremendous medical advances. There are currently estimated to be over 420,000 pediatric cancer survivors living in the United States. (Robison, 2014). Survivors are living well into adulthood and maintaining productive and fulfilling lives. Pediatric cancer therapy has evolved over time to include not only a curative approach, but one that allows the survivor to live a healthy lifestyle with as few therapy-related side effects as possible.