As I’ve written many times before, life as a young adult cancer survivor comes with a whole host of unique challenges! One of those, specifically, is the fact that many adolescent/young adult (AYA) survivors have to face possible infertility after their treatments. Though the road may be a bit more winding, there are many options for survivors to have thriving families beyond their diagnoses. I understand that having children isn’t for everyone, but for those of you who do want kiddos, keep on reading to learn more!
*FYI – for this post, I’ll mostly focus on options for those assigned female at birth who are undergoing or have undergone cancer treatment, but know that there are also options for those assigned male at birth as well!
Before and During Treatment
Upon diagnosis, many doctors now recommend fertility preservation prior to treatment. There are a few options and you could choose either or both if recommended by your MD. The first type of fertility preservation would include freezing eggs or embryos before treatment. This is usually done by a reproductive endocrinologist and may require blood work, ultrasounds, and outpatient procedures for egg retrieval itself. Oftentimes, treatment can be delayed just long enough for egg or embryo preservation to allow for future family planning options. These procedures are usually timed with the menstrual cycle for the best results, but it can be done any time if you’re worried about delaying treatment too long or if you’re not cycling regularly!
During treatment, your oncologist may also recommend anti-hormonal treatments (like ovarian suppression) during treatment to try to minimize damage to the reproductive organs. This type of medication can put you into “medical menopause” which is usually reversible once discontinued, but can have side effects similar to those you’d experience during actual menopause (i.e. hot flashes, joint pains, weight gain, etc.).
If you’re newly diagnosed, be sure to ask your doctors about these options and weigh the pros and cons for your unique situation. Remember, there is usually adequate time to figure things out before starting treatment if it’s something that’s important to you!
If you’d like to read more about my personal experience with fertility preservation, click HERE!
Family Building after Cancer Treatment
It’s important to remember that, no matter what happens, there are always options for starting or expanding a family after a cancer diagnosis. Whether you never come out of medical menopause, your eggs/embryos weren’t viable, or you didn’t have time for fertility preservation before treatment, there are many ways to grow your family. Below are a few of the options that many cancer survivors choose. The decision is very personal and there are plenty of reasons why some would choose one option over another.
In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF)
IVF is a type of assisted reproductive technology. A physician would use fertilized eggs (embryos) retrieved prior to cancer treatment and then implant them into your uterus for you to carry your own pregnancy. Of course it’s much more complex than that, but I’m not a reproductive endocrinologist (learn more HERE)!
Partnering with a Gestational Carrier (Surrogacy)
For some who can’t carry their own child, using a gestational carrier can be a good option. Learn more about gestational carriers and surrogacy HERE. This site has a great breakdown of the whole process and outlines the difference between traditional surrogacy and gestational surrogacy!
In case IVF or partnering with a surrogate aren’t good options, you can always consider fostering or adopting a child. There, again, are many options down this path and each agency and state have varying rules/regulations. HERE is a good overview.
Financial Assistance for Family Building
One of the biggest road blocks in ALL of these processes, however, is the actual cost. For many, the out-of-pocket cost renders nearly all of these options to be out of the question. Most insurances do not cover fertility preservation as the patient (who is otherwise “healthy” – you know, besides the cancer thing) does not have a diagnosis of infertility. Some (but not all) insurances will cover the cost of IVF if a true diagnosis of infertility exists. So then, what?
Many organizations do offer some financial assistance or grants for cancer survivors seeking options for family planning around their diagnosis. Here are a few to look into:
Alliance for Fertility Preservation
A Damn Good Life (For those seeking support during their surrogacy journey)
I personally benefited from the Livestrong Fertility Program and The Heartbeat Program which discounted my fertility preservation costs and covered the costs of the medications required for my egg retrieval ❤
For those considering adoption, there may be grants or loans available as well. Check with the adoption agency you’re using or use THIS site to get you started. Know that there may be more local resources for you as well!
Virtual Family Building Panel – February 2022!
Finally, on February 17, 2022, I’m collaborating with Breast Cancer Hawaii on a virtual Family Building after Cancer Panel to bring information to AYA survivors on options for starting or expanding their families after treatment! (HOW LUCKY AM I?!) This will be a great intro for anyone who is newly-diagnosed, in active treatment, or who’ve completed treatments. We’ll have experts in oncology, reproductive medicine, fostering/adoption, and surrogacy on board to give us the details on what family building after cancer may look like for us survivors! It will be a bit heavy on options for those of us living in Hawaii, but all are welcome to join us and ask questions. For more information, please check out our Eventbrite link HERE!