More than 150,000 people of reproductive age are diagnosed with cancer each year. Many cancers and treatments can cause infertility issues in women and men. Facing infertility after cancer can be a devastating outcome from trying to save your life.
Picture being told you have cancer. And your chance of having a family, whether now or in the future, may be threatened because of treatment. Fertility preservation can be stressful. Insurance coverage often doesn’t include expensive treatment costs. Many oncologists urge patients to start treatment right away, possibly impacting fertility. Yikes, it all can be overwhelming.
As an osteosarcoma, melanoma and breast cancer survivor, I understand facing infertility after cancer. There is so much to think about from the moment you hear those impactful “you have cancer” words to making treatment decisions to preparing for treatment. It’s almost overwhelming to think about life after treatment.
And many of us, both male and female cancer survivors, face side effects, additional surgeries and treatment after the initial treatment ends. Which is what I’m preparing for now.
I’m having surgery to remove my ovaries and fallopian tubes very soon. Since breast cancer treatment ended almost two years ago, I’ve been on monthly shots to stop my ovaries from creating hormones (this is a common treatment plan for hormone/estrogen + breast cancer survivors like me). Removing the ovaries/tubes will let me stop the shots (I’ll still take a daily inhibitor pill to decrease estrogen). And I’ve grown weary of going to the cancer center every month. Yes, medical menopause will kick in but it was going to happen anyway.
My personal journey
When I completed bone cancer treatment at 22 years old, there was nothing stating I definitely couldn’t have children after 13 months of chemo and a surgery to replace my femur/knee with titanium. However, the amount of the types of chemo drugs I had caused a higher risk for heart issues (I thankfully have a strong heart, motivating me to be active) and other side effects, which could be exasperated by pregnancy. There were additional considerations too. So while no one truly said to not get pregnant, the risks were always in my mind. Did I risk the health I just fought so hard for?
While I’ve been in many good relationships, there hasn’t been one that screamed ‘have a child with him!’ Even when my ex-husband and I talked about children, he wanted my health to come before a child (I totally appreciated that). So we didn’t focus on children. Then we divorced and well, life leads us the way it’s supposed to (shrug).
Ask before assume
For years, people assumed that I didn’t want children because I didn’t have children (ah, society. A soapbox topic for another day). It was often easier to let them assume rather than face their pity or even efforts to ‘fix it.’
I no longer get annoyed, angry or sad when people say stuff like “you should adopt!” Adoption isn’t cheap nor easy. I looked into the idea years ago and discovered it could be difficult to be accepted with my health history. Other suggestions, like finding an egg donor or so many other ideas, often are tossed at me. Trust me, it’s all flitted through my head at some point. While most likely well-meaning, it all often made me feel more alone, as if no one understood. It sometimes makes the journey more emotional.
So it simply became easier to not talk about, to face alone or talk with a fellow cancer survivor along the way.
Hey society, it’s okay to not have children!
Being childless doesn’t mean your life is any less fulfilling nor fun (despite what some of society tells you!). I enjoy my life and am grateful for every day.
Because here’s the other side of the coin – it’s okay to not want children, whatever the reason. And be happy without children! Despite hundreds of years of society, families and friends acting like you’ll be miserable without children or something is wrong with you if you don’t want children, especially women. It doesn’t mean your maternal or paternal instinct is damaged or missing. You can still love children. I feel like that perspective is slowly changing, however, it’s still there. A conversation for another day.
But if you have children and know someone without children, be thoughtful and respectful of that person, regardless of their reason for not having children. Just like you want people to respect your decision to have children.
I really am okay with where I am in life. I am so very blessed that my sisters and brother in law willingly share their children with me and I love being part of my nieces’ and nephew’s lives.
Let’s talk about fertility in cancer survivors
Unfortunately when I went through bone cancer treatment at 21 years old, fertility preservation wasn’t a common conversation. So my parents and I didn’t even think of preserving my eggs. I often wonder what the outcome would be now if I had. But life moves on and I know I’m on the right journey for me.
The good news is oncologists talk about fertility/family planning and include in treatment plans much more often now. And there are many organizations and resources available for cancer survivors to plan before treatment and/or get assistance after treatment.
Fertility resources for cancer survivors
Livestrong Fertility: Reproductive information, access to discounted fertility preservation services, and free medications are offered to survivors whose cancer and its treatment could risk to their fertility.
The SAMFund: Young adult cancer survivors can receive direct financial assistance and free online support and education. Support includes grants to help with fertility treatment (and other stuff), assistance with medical bills and more.
SaveMyFertility.org: This website provides a lot of information on preserving fertility before and after treatment.
Resolve: This national association offers a wealth of information on infertility for anyone (cancer survivor or not). I appreciated that there is even a section on living child free, acknowledging the grieving process and more. There is also a list of organizations offering financial relief, scholarships and grants for infertility treatment and more (I didn’t check too much into the organizations on their list so do your due diligence when reviewing).
Creating a Family: You can find information on infertility, including grant opportunities to help with costs for treatment. There is also a helpful section on adoption.
The important thing is to respect someone’s decision, whether that’s trying to have a child or not. Being supported through various life situations, whatever those may be, can really help someone.
All information is shared as a helpful resource but it’s your responsibility to do your own research with any resource provided here and elsewhere. All liability, costs and other are your responsibility. Read more.