“Fertility preservation is one way to be in control. It's like telling cancer, ‘You can't take this away from me.’ No matter the outcome of my journey, I or someone else will benefit from my eggs. It's a metaphorical middle finger to cancer.”
In the United States, approximately 10% of all colon cancer cases are diagnosed in individuals under age 50. While many treatment side effects are the same no matter your age, there are unique challenges those who are diagnosed and going through treatment under age 50 may encounter.
One of the biggest issues we hear and get questions about is fertility. Very few doctors pause to discuss how treatment may impact your ability to start a family down the road.
Sandi, a high school English teacher at Ypsilanti New Tech and stage III survivor, was willing to share her journey with fertility preservation with us and open up about why she decided to be proactive about her reproductive health.
In November of 2014, a friend wrote on Facebook that he had been diagnosed with colorectal cancer. He included some of the symptoms and why he went to the doctor. I had been feeling discomfort like he had, but I thought it was a lactose or gluten intolerance. I had no signs of rectal bleeding at that time. But just to be safe, I reached out to him, as well as doctors. Luckily, my doctor recommended a colonoscopy.
The test revealed I had over forty polyps, and a two-inch tumor closer to my rectum. I had stage III colorectal cancer at 29-years-old.
How I Learned about Fertility Preservation
I learned about fertility preservation through the same friend. My doctor never suggested or mentioned it to me. When I told him I wanted to look into my options, his reaction was simply, "Hmm, that is a good idea."
My oncologist gave me a strict time frame in which I had to finish the fertility preservation. Since I was stage III, he wanted to get chemotherapy started as soon as possible. It was only three weeks, which seemed rushed, but the oncologist that I had originally seen at a different hospital made it seem like I didn't even have time for chemotherapy, and that I needed surgery right away.
I'm glad I got a second opinion from a hospital and doctor that listened to me.
The good outweighs any of the bad. When I found out I was diagnosed with cancer, everything seemed so rushed. Where is the "freeze" button?! Here are a few highlights from my journey that helped me get through:
- Fertility preservation allowed me to pause and absorb all of the new information and research the next steps: chemotherapy and surgery.
- The fertility preservation nurses are super nice! They are used to being around women with an abundance of estrogen, so they're very sensitive to their patients' needs. During the preservation process, I was at their clinic every other day for a blood draw and ultrasound. Since I was there so often, I was able to really make strong connections with the people who worked there. One nurse in particular, Kathy, gave me a hug every day. It's not a bad way to start your morning, seeing the same smiling faces.
- You get a discount! Since I was a cancer patient, I only had to pay a quarter of the actual cost because of the Livestrong scholarship. Luckily, my friend started a Fundly account in my name, so the rest of the fertility preservation costs were covered by donations.
- During the first week of injections, your estrogen hormones are depleted and you feel great. No more crying to "The Notebook" and over indulging in fudge.
- Lastly, you can make a football team! I'm not even sure if children are in my future, but cancer will not dictate my future opportunities. After my fertility preservation, I had 24 eggs frozen from the 43 follicles collected. I was told that each egg has a 20 percent chance of successfully implanting.
Fertility preservation is one way for you to be in control. It's like telling cancer, "You can't take this away from me." No matter the outcome of my journey, I or someone else will benefit from my eggs. It's a metaphorical middle finger to cancer.
Again, the pros outweigh the ugliness. And, no matter what, you're going to have some interesting stories from this experience. But, here are some of the not-so-comfortable experiences of fertility preservation:
- Part of fertility preservation is receiving daily injections. I had a three week span to make a football-team amount of eggs, so I had three weeks of injections. After watching Saw II and seeing one of the actresses fall in the needle pit, I have had more than a healthy fear of needles. Luckily, I didn't have to administer the injection myself. I would pinch the subcutaneous fat of my abdomen, and my boyfriend would do it. During weeks two and three, I had up to three injections daily, all of which must be taken daily at the same time. A bright spot: the injections never really hurt as much as I thought they would.
- Where I live, these injections are hard to find. I had to have them mailed from an out-of-state clinic. I was able to track the injections through Fedex. One day when I checked their status on Fedex's website, they claimed that injections were still "in transit." Finally, I called Fedex when the injections were two hours late being delivered--the plane had maintenance issues and never took off. Not exactly what you want to hear when you are on a strict schedule.
- You may have to get into a speeding car. When the plane didn't make it to deliver the injections, I panicked. I would have to wait until Monday for the injections--meaning I would have to skip two days. There is no room for error when you only have one shot for fertility preservation. It was a Friday at 4 p.m. The clinic closed at 5 p.m. Disregarding our own safety, my boyfriend and I sped through rush hour traffic to get to this clinic.
- It's possible that your ovaries will become the size of softballs. Only sit on soft surfaces.
- After the egg harvesting procedure, I felt fine for 24 hours but then I started to feel ill. I had Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome because of how many hormones I had injected in such a short amount of time. Having this syndrome had come as a surprise as I was not warned there was a chance I could have this. The syndrome, paired with the colorectal cancer syndromes, made for an uncomfortable weekend. But, on a positive note, I was told I should eat more salty things, like fries, to reduce the water weight.
Give cancer the middle finger. This was the most positive way to start my very uphill battle. Know that you are not alone.
Don’t forget, the Colon Cancer Alliance serves as a source of information about colon health. If you have additional questions about screening or are in need of support, please contact our free Helpline at (877) 422-2030. We’re here to help!