Read the stories below from people affected by cancer, who were generous enough to share their experiences with us. These stories delve into the impact of cancer on fertility and sexuality. Read the story of:
I was diagnosed at age 29 with oestrogen-receptive breast cancer. My partner and I had been dating for a year and a half. Our relationship was strong and I wanted kids in the next 1–2 years. My older sister was having problems conceiving, so I didn’t want to wait and discover that I had the same problems.
From day one, the health professionals talked about fertility with us. However, when I mentioned to the medical oncologist that I was going to see a fertility specialist, her response was, “A lot of people are concerned about their fertility, but we need to save your life.” I found her cold, but I didn’t want to regret not exploring my options.
The fertility specialist harvested eggs through the IVF process. We were able to use a drug that didn’t introduce more oestrogen to my body. The timing of the egg harvest also worked well with my cycle, so it was only a two-week delay before I could start chemotherapy. This timing made the medical oncologist more positive.
They can’t say how successful the IVF process is going to be – unfortunately, for me, they could only harvest one mature egg.
At this point, my partner and I had to decide: do we freeze my egg, or a combination of the two of us in an embryo? We needed to consider what would happen if we didn’t stay together for the long term. You know, it takes a lot of courage to acknowledge these difficult questions.
We decided to freeze an embryo, because the success rates of having a live birth from an embryo are slightly better than a frozen egg. We feel we will be together for a long time, so hopefully the embryo will give us the best chance possible when we want to have a baby.
After I was diagnosed with chronic leukaemia, I still wanted to pursue fertility, so I discussed this with a fertility doctor.
For the last couple of years, I’ve been on a drug that has done really well for me. As the cancer has been undetectable for the last four tests, we’re hoping in the next few months to stop treatment and try again with a donor embryo.
The fertility clinic couldn’t really help us find donor eggs, so we went through a national egg donor organisation. We met our donor through one of their monthly get-togethers. We now have four embryos waiting for us to use.
The organisation is for people at all points in the fertility process, from just starting through to going to meetings so their children can meet other children who were made through egg donation.
The group also has an active support group forum. I learnt a lot about IVF through this forum and there’s a lot of emotional support. There are quite a few people who have lost fertility due to cancer, but the majority are there due to non-cancer infertility.
Because we’ve been through the process a few times, I’m a little circumspect in terms of committing to thinking I’ll get pregnant. I want to make sure that I do all the right things so that if it doesn’t happen, I know I’ve tried everything.
One of the things I don’t like about the situation is that I’ve got to do a lot of planning in case I get pregnant – what happens if I relapse, what treatments are available, would they induce early. Yet, I’m still nervous about whether I can get pregnant. The multiple goal setting has been quite difficult.
When I was 25, I’d been feeling quite ill – I had back pain, night sweats and weight loss. I was diagnosed with advanced Hodgkin lymphoma.
The doctors recommended I bank sperm immediately, because fertility would be an issue post-treatment. Fertility wasn’t my main concern. However, my partner – now wife – and I were together at that point, so we knew it could be an issue for us down the track.
My chemotherapy regimen was aggressive, but the cancer went into remission. The chemo permanently reduced my testosterone levels. I’ve taken supplements for years, and I will be on them for quite some time. However, the supplements didn’t restore my fertility.
Years later, my wife and I tried artificial insemination using my banked sperm. When that didn’t work, we tried IVF. The first cycle was unsuccessful. We told ourselves if a second IVF cycle didn’t work, we were going to give up for a while. Being told we were pregnant was one of the happiest days of our lives.
We now have a beautiful child, and we’ve decided we don’t want to do more IVF – it’s financially and emotionally draining. Even though we have no intention of using it, my remaining sperm is still stored. We were advised to keep it until my wife reaches a certain age – I guess in case we change our minds.
At times, I’ve felt responsible for everything. My wife is a healthy woman and probably capable of conceiving a pregnancy naturally, but she had to go through IVF. Our son asks why he can’t have a sibling. But it’s something we’ve accepted.
We feel blessed now with one child – the result was worth everything we went through.
I was diagnosed with leukaemia when I was 13. I had six weeks of chemotherapy followed by a bone marrow transplant. After this, the doctors checked my fertility and told me I was sterile.
Obviously I wasn’t thinking of having kids at that age, but the possibility of not being able to made me pretty upset. It sent me into a bit of a depression spiral.
Now when I talk about my diagnosis and fertility comes up, I still get upset. It’s patronising as well because a lot of people, even family members, say things like, “Oh you can still adopt.” But to me, it’s not the same.
I’m 20 now and I have a girlfriend. After we’d been going out for two years, I asked her if our relationship was to go any further and we couldn’t have kids, would that be an issue? She didn’t seem to have a problem with it.
But I’ve still got that in my mind that if I do find someone and it gets to that time, and I say, “Oh, I can’t have kids,” they’re just going to get up and go.
My brother told me recently that he was trying for a baby and that made me feel sort of shit, but at the same time I was happy for him.
After my treatment, the doctors said they’d give me more information later, so I’m waiting to hear about my other options. There are other ways of having kids, so I’ve got to wait and see what happens. No point getting worked up about it yet.
Prof Roger Hart, Medical Director of Fertility Specialists of Western Australia and Professor of Reproductive Medicine, School of Women’s and Infant Health, University of Western Australia, WA; Dr Antoinette Anazodo, Paediatric and Adolescent Oncologist, Sydney Children’s and Prince of Wales Hospitals, Director of the Sydney Youth Cancer Service, NSW; Brenda Kirkwood, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Queensland, QLD; Dr Michael McEvoy, Director of Clinical Services, Flinders Fertility, SA; Eden Robertson, Research Officer, Behavioural Sciences Unit, Sydney Children’s Hospital, NSW; Kayla Schmidt, Consumer; A/Prof Kate Stern, Head of Fertility Preservation Service, The Royal Women’s Hospital and Melbourne IVF, Head Endocrine and Metabolic Service, Royal Women’s Hospital and Clinical Director, Melbourne IVF, VIC; and Prof Jane Ussher, Centre for Health Research, Western Sydney University, NSW.
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