One of the most universal rights of any person is the ability to have children. A week before my 18th birthday, I was diagnosed with testicular cancer and lost this ability as did my future wife. After being diagnosed and told about the decrease in fertility that may occur from a necessary surgery, I was persuaded to bank my sperm. I was only given a couple of days between this initial consult and my surgery so things had to move quickly. In fact, I would not receive the results of the sperm test until after my surgery. At the time, that was fine; who really cared about banking sperm when my life was on the line?
The surgery went well, the mass was removed and there was no indication of the disease spreading. When I went to see the urological surgeon, he had a solemn look on his face and I was thinking that the disease had spread. His first words were “the surgery went well but…”; my heart stopped on that but, in fact the whole world stopped; “… your sperm were unviable.” Both my Mom and I exhaled at the same time, well that’s not so bad. Everything was moving so fast that this was the least of my concerns at the time. In fact, this was the last time it was ever brought up with anyone on my healthcare team and that was just fine with me.
A year after this diagnosis, I met a wonderful woman who many years later ended up becoming my wife. Cancer itself was an incredibly difficult subject to bring up let alone my infertility. It took a number of months to bring up my diagnosis and a number of years to bring up my infertility. Unfortunately for us, I was diagnosed a second time at 21 and forced to deal with survival all over again. This placed fertility on the back burner for both of us.
“When my boyfriend was diagnosed with cancer, fertility was the furthest thing from my mind. Doctor’s appointments, surgeries, chemotherapy treatments, then more imaging and follow up visits kept us busy and kept my focus on survival. Day by day. Our relationship survived the trials of a cancer diagnosis and treatment, not once having discussed my boyfriend’s infertility.”
As I survived this second bout with the disease and was finally allowed to move on with my life, I soon discovered that I had never really dealt with the emotional burden of infertility. This was not only difficult emotionally but grew to strain our relationship.
“During our engagement we talked very little about fertility. We both wanted kids, we discussed adoption vs. in vitro fertilization but these were very hard topics. My husband felt guilty for not being able to have kids. I felt guilty for wanting kids. We turned our focus to building a life for just the two of us.”
As I have recently finished university and have moved into a stable position, we have begun to focus on having children. This can be a very difficult topic for me and my reactions fluctuate depending on the day. Some days I am fine; I have no problem discussing the future; I realize that these are the cards we are dealt.
“Some days we can sit on the couch and pick out baby names together. On these days I get excited, start researching different adoption agencies and look at the paperwork that needs to be completed.”
Other days, I feel like I have placed this giant burden on us; my cancer has taken so much and left us in this enormous hole.
“Other days he is withdrawn and impatient with my questions about kids. On these days I feel like we are never going to have kids. I understand that couples argue about when the best time to start a family is. However, I feel that I have no right to argue with him about fears surrounding changing a life that he fought so hard for. This is where my guilt returns.”
Emotions aside, adoptions are incredibly expensive and time consuming. As a recent graduate and home owner; I never really thought that starting a family would take a $10,000 down payment.
“I had no idea that an open adoption was such a huge expense. It seems so unfair that we would have to pay so much up front for a child and then have the expenses of raising the child after. When is the best time to have a stranger take a magnifying glass to your life and scrutinize your finances, beliefs, relationships and home? Why do we have to go through this when other couples can just have a child?”
If I could change one thing about my experience; I would definitely bring up fertility earlier and with my healthcare team. It is important to be honest with them, yourself and the situation.
Going through cancer, losing my ability to have children and dealing with this financial burden has been a struggle. However, this is the hand we have been dealt and at the end of the day; we have been through worse and can make it through this.
Timothy Buckland is a 26 year old two time testicular cancer survivor. He recently completed his Master’s degree in Biochemistry where he studied pro-growth signalling in breast cancer. He has also begun working at the Canadian Cancer Society as a Revenue Development Coordinator.