Monday, June 4, 2007


Yesterday was National Cancer Survivors Day. This year marks the 20th anniversary of this celebration of survivorship.

Survivorship rates are increasing every year. And that's fantastic. I'm proud to say that I am one of the first generations of adult survivors of childhood cancer. What's not so great is that those of us who were on the cusp of new and different (and admittedly, successful) treatment techniques are now growing up and dealing with all the other effects of injecting toxic chemicals (aka chemotherapy) into our bodies while at the same time willfully exposing ourselves to radioactive materials.

That sounds about as modern as leeches if you ask me.

Most of the times, our doctors knew that treatments would render us sterile. In the case of Stage III Hodgkin's, even the clinical guide from the American Cancer Society admits, Girls receiving such therapy will not be able to bear children; boys will probably be sterile. However, as the potential for cure is quite real, this therapeutic regimen can be recommended for children over 10-12 years of age, provided the probability of sterility is accepted.

Provided the probability of sterility is accepted.

Who asked me?

At a young adult survivors retreat held a few years ago, I was reunited with several people who had received treatments with me. Leukemia, Hodgkin's, brain tumors, bone cancers, all of us, we had seen each other puke, cry, wince, and finally celebrate when x-rays and scans finally started coming back with some good results. Now, there we were, circled around the free buffet commiserating like old war veterans.

Many of us now had significant others. Most of them came with us to the retreat. There was one theme that day that found its way into every seminar, every discussion group, and I don't think it was one the organizers were really that prepared to discuss: How can I cope with (my partner) never being able to have kids?

In one of the sessions, one of my former nurse practicioners asked us point blank, are you angry with us? Do you blame your doctors?

What can you say?

I said what I was truly feeling at that time, which was, how can I be? You saved my life.

Hubby reported that the sessions for spouses were a little more brutal, with lots of tears and angst and anger and frustration. Some had known their partners through treatments, others, like hubby, had met long after the needles and scans and surgeries were through. Hard to say which set bore the brunt of infertility harder. Those who had watched their lover suffer and now must see them suffer again or those who knew cancer only as an abstract, something in their partner's past, like an old boyfriend who had left permanent scars. Either way, they were now living with the baggage (or lack of, so to speak).

At that time, honestly, hubby and I had already resigned ourselves to life sans baby and found most of the day pretty draining and overwrought. I had convinced myself, as I had when I fully understood the implications of my no longer getting a period, that I really didn't want a baby anyway. I wasn't cut out to be a breeder. Who needs kids anyway.

Things change.

After a series of events, long talks, lots of tears, and some serious soul searching, we decided to pursue (again) the idea of egg donation. You see, we had tried this a few years ago but we were dissuaded after a consultation with a doctor/fertility specialist who we have now decided must have been clinically depressed. Not only was he completely opposed to the concept of anonymous donors ("ethically questionable," he said, "an uncomfortable market," he said), he asked us if we thought "the world had enough babies in it anyway." I am dead serious. We left his office slightly stunned and certainly rid of any thought that we might someday be parents.

I began, like most of my fellow bloggers, looking around online for some leads. Search after search pulled up articles and exposes about the growing price of "designer" or Ivy League eggs, reports on the lengths desperate couples would go, the money they would spend, for the promise of possible conception, or even worse, blogs from people who felt victimized or hoodwinked by their programs or clinics.

This was not at all what I was looking for. Not what I hoped to hear.

There MUST be someplace reputable out there, I thought. I KNOW I am not the only person in this situation. I cannot be the only woman who had cancer as a kid and now wants a kid of her own.

Click. That's the light bulb finally going off in my head.

I revised my searches, I started where I should have started in the first place. I called my pediatric oncologist and my old child life specialist (aka social worker). I dug up my materials from the survivors retreat and started calling the nurses and specialists listed on them. I found fertileHope.

fertileHope is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping cancer patients faced with infertility. Their primary mission is education and assisting those about to undergo treatment plan for the future. But they also have a great Cancer and Fertility Resource Guide, which lists all of the fertility specialists in your area who are familiar with the issues surrounding cancer survivorship. This is where I found my clinic.

Hope, at last.

Happy Survivors Day.


Michelle Constantinescu said...

Sounds like you've been through a lot! I'm glad you found a place that you can trust. I can't believe that specialist you went to see who said there are too many kids in the world! Think maybe the guy is in the wrong business??

AwkwardMoments said...

WOW what a journey- I am so glad to find that there are organization that are in place such as fertilehope. It gives me more faith in this world when i see others caring for eachother!

battynurse said...

Ok, the first fertility doctor sounds like a total quack and like he is definitely in the wrong line of work.
You have been through so much and while I haven't read any of the rest of you blog this post touched me. At the time you were sick thinking of some far off thing of would you be able to have children would have definitley taken second place but it is something that hugely affects your life now. This organization to help cancer survivors sounds truly heaven sent.

HereWeGoAJen said...

I came via the Creme de la Creme. It is a beautiful post and an angle I hadn't thought much about yet. Thanks for writing it.

Kami said...

Oh my gosh. I can't believe that doctor. Glad you are back on the DE track!

Anonymous said...

I'm here via Creme de la Creme - amazing post. Thank you...

dayzofrain said...

Hey..Im here from C dl C and I just wanted to say "Thanks!!" because I never knew such an organization existed!

Bea said...

This is a great post to chose for your post of 2007. Happy survivors' day (for last June, and many more to come) and keep spreading the word.


Shinejil said...

I too am here thanks to Creme de la Creme. This post was so moving, and you are amazing! Thanks for writing this!

Kathy V said...

I have never read your blog before. I came because of the Creme. I am glad that you have found hope in your new clinic. You are right as a young person, what are you supposed to chose. Having a life shortened because of cancer or overcoming cancer knowing that you won't be able to conceive. That is not an easy choice even as an adult. Hopefully the fact that you have life, you will also get the chance to be a mother no matter which way your child comes to you. Best of Luck in the coming year.

Tracy said...

Found this through Creme de la Creme. What a crazy story about your old fertility specialist. Somewhat of an oxymoron, I'm thinking. With an emphasis on moron.

Glad you found a direction...good luck to you.

Rachel said...

I came across your blog through Creme de la Creme, I am glad that you found fertilehope.

Anonymous said...

I came over from the Creme de la Creme. I'm so glad you found what you're looking for! Your story is inspiring, and I've only read one post. :o)

Rachael said...

I found your post in CdlC too. A beautifully honest and inspiring post. Thank you.