The videos above, from the Moving Forward series, introduce the topic of fertility during cancer treatment very well and definitely cover the most important aspects of the issue. However, they do so more from the perspective of a young adult, someone who is old enough to think about eventually having a family. If you are a young teenager like I was, it can be really difficult for you and your parent(s) or guardians to think ahead, about the fact that you may, in the future, want to have a family of your own. Nonetheless, my number one piece of advice is that you and your parent(s) or guardians consider and talk about this with your doctor at the very beginning of your treatment. If your doctor does not know how to address fertility during cancer treatment, ask him/her to find you someone who does, or find that second opinion yourself. In any case, it is crucial that you address this at the very start of your treatment. Waiting even 3-4 weeks can cause all the eggs or sperm to be killed by the chemo.
Related to this, I’ll tell you my story of dealing with fertility and cancer treatment. Yes, this is a personal topic, but I think it can help to hear another person’s story either way!
When I relapsed, I was at an age at which my treatment was going to affect my fertility. Because I had to start my treatment right away and in order to try to protect my reproductive system, I was put on birth control pills immediately. However, because I was lying down so much in the hospital and at home due to the intensity of my chemo, those pills gave me a blood clot in a large vein in my hip. Because of the blood clot, I was put on blood thinners. Unfortunately, needing those blood thinner shots required me to get numerous platelet transfusions. To summarize, the pill stopped being effective for me in the same week that I was about to begin the most serious phase of my treatment, the one that would be the most dangerous to my fertility.
Therefore, thanks to my mom who was thinking about my body and my future, we met with a reproductive specialist who had a great deal of experience working with cancer patients trying to protect their fertility. We talked about all of the options and decided to use a monthly shot called Lupron Depot, which would basically stop my entire reproductive system from functioning. In this way, it would “hide it” from the chemo, enabling me to retain my fertility. The doctor said this had been one of the most successful methods of protecting the reproductive system for many teen patients who had gotten the chemos I was going to receive. She also noted that it would be much more effective than the pill. Another consideration was that this option was a lot less invasive than freezing eggs or ovaries, so we opted for the monthly Lupron shot.
Now that I have been done my treatment for the last 4 years, I can happily say that Lupron was effective for me. While I don’t know what will happen in the future, whether I am able to have kids or whether infertility becomes a problem that I do eventually face, I am so glad my mom took the time to get the help we needed. Thanks to her, I was able to make a decision that would protect my reproductive system, for the near future at least!
In terms of what you should do, it can vary greatly between people, gender, and types of cancer. Therefore, it is best you talk with your doctor about what method of protecting your fertility is best for you. If you don’t think your doctor has enough experience with the subject (typically, pediatric oncologists don’t have as many patients in the reproductive age), don’t hesitate to find someone who has the necessary knowledge.
So, when thinking of the bigger picture, what does this have to do with coping with cancer treatment? EVERYTHING! Making the right decision in regards to protecting your fertility means you and your support system have to be actively involved in your treatment. Although oncologists are often amazing at what they do, they cannot be experts at everything, meaning you and your support system have to pay attention to your body too, making sure to ask questions. Remember, oncologists are focused on treating your cancer. It is up to you and your support system to ensure your overall health needs are addressed. If necessary, you should not hesitate to reach out to physicians in other specialties.