PSA: If you’ve read any of my other stuff it’s probably abundantly clear by now that dark humour is my go-to. I mention this only because I know that not everyone copes in the same way, and I really don’t want to upset anyone who might be reading this and dealing with a similar situation. Okay? Okay.
A list of some things that I am not:
- A fan of grapefruits, daddy longlegs or the sound of polystyrene squeaking
- Able to maintain a regular skincare routine
- In any way, shape or form athletic
- One of those weirdos who likes Enterprise (DS9 & TNG all the way baby)
- Good at responding to texts or emails
- Adept at decisively choosing what I want for dinner
- Born to be a parent
These are of course, all vitally important insights in to my completely thrilling personality. Cough. Yet only one of the items on the list has played a particularly large role in my life over the last two week and, I’m sorry Jean-Luc, it’s not Star Trek.
No, instead I have been wading my way wide-eyed and babbling incoherently through myriad conversations about my fertility. Basically, am I ever going to want to grow some sproglets inside of me one day? Because [spoiler alert], cancer and its subsequent treatment might make my chances of natural conception as likely as Trump winning an honorary ACLU award.
Fine, maybe not that unlikely. However, with the chemotherapy I’m having (BEACOPP Escalated) to treat my Stage IV Hodgkin’s Lymphoma there is a good chance that I’ll experience infertility and early-onset menopause. Like cancer wasn’t enough of a pain?
Some questions I have been asking, and you should too if you’re in a similar position (thanks to Macmillan and Cancer Research for some of these):
- How will my fertility be affected by my cancer and treatment?
- Are there ways to protect my fertility during cancer treatment?
- Can I store embryos, eggs or ovarian tissue?
- What are the success rates of these treatments for someone like me?
- Will any of these delay my treatment?
- What type of contraception should I use during cancer treatment?
- Is there a fertility expert at this hospital who I could talk to?
Fortunately for me, and I say that genuinely, I’ve never been sold on the whole biological kids thing. I’ve never really been entirely sold on the whole kids thing in the first place.
It’s not that I don’t like children. I like them a lot more than I like adults (but slightly less than I like dogs). I love my friends’ children, and the new additions to my family. To be blunt, it’s more that I’m acutely aware that it takes a certain sort of person to be able to raise a child healthily and well, and that I simply don’t trust myself to be as good a mum as any kid would deserve at the moment, and I’m not sure that will ever change. I’m chronically selfish, endlessly restless and can’t commit to more than a new succulent without developing an anxiety sweat and eyeing up my passport.
In the past when discussing the topic, I’ve always maintained that adoption appealed to me should I ever decide to pursue having a family. On top of wanting to avoid passing on my faulty genetics, I’m lucky enough to be friends with a number of adoptees whose families, stories and love have inspired me enough to want to offer someone else that opportunity if I’m ever in the position to do so.
So it’s with a nod to the fact that I am possibly in an unusual position as a 30-something womb-haver. It’s telling that, even as I write this, my mind is far more preoccupied worrying about the other effects of possible early menopause than with the infertility issue.
I know that for a lot of people the idea of starting a family and raising some kidlets is paramount and integral to their life plans, and I say more power to you.
We desperately need more parents like you in the world. I hope that you never have to face the possibility of not being able to live your dream. But, in case you do, here’s some info on the discussions I’ve been having over the last couple of weeks.
Some of the risks that cancer & treatment can pose to fertility. according to Cancer.net:
- Low levels of sperm or eggs
- Low levels of hormones that control reproduction
- Scarring or removal of the reproductive organs, which prevents conception or normal development of a pregnancy
Symptoms of early menopause:
- hot flushes
- dry skin
- vaginal dryness
- loss of energy
- less interest in sex
- mood swings
- feeling low
- Freezing eggs – your ovaries are stimulated to produce more eggs which are collected and frozen. This wasn’t an option for me personally, because it was so important that I start my first round of chemotherapy ASAP.
- Freezing embryos – the collected eggs are fertilised with sperm. If they develop into embryos, these are frozen.
- Freezing ovarian tissue – around 60 babies have been born worldwide after freezing ovarian tissue. It’s still too early to tell if the technique will work well enough to be made more widely available. I was offered this by a lovely Doctor from Oxford, but honestly didn’t want to risk delaying my treatment or getting an infection for something so experimental.
- Temporary medical shutdown of ovaries – the choice I’ve gone for! Medicines such as Zoladex and Lupron can be used to temporarily stop the ovaries from making estrogen. These are usually given as injections once a month for several months. Once you stop taking the medicine, the ovaries begin functioning again, but of course there is no guarantee that you will definitely be fertile – it’s really a gamble.
Other fertility options available according to Cancer Research include:
- using donor eggs
- using donated sperm so doctors can freeze embryos rather than eggs
- using donated embryos
- surrogacy (when another woman carries the baby for you)
I hope that this post is in some way useful for anyone dealing with a similar situation, or close to someone going through this. I’m happy to chat about it further if you want to contact me, but it seems to help me to bear in mind that no one is guaranteed fertility, no matter what their circumstances, and that there are so many options out there today should the worst happen. Keep your heads up, friends.