When cancer comes knocking at your door, the last thing on a woman’s mind is how it might affect her reproductive health.
But once the shock of the diagnosis has diminished, the effect cancer treatment will have on a woman’s reproductive system is an element to think about when considering treatment options.
Chemotherapy is known to drastically reduce a woman’s egg numbers or even make her infertile. It also can kick start menopause in women as young as 30. Plus, most oncologists don’t discuss a patient’s options for starting a family in the future, according to breastcancer.org.
Breast cancer survivor Maggie Davis and her mother, Mary Jones, have been fighting to change this.
“(The doctors) are just so busy to begin with, the options are not always told to you,” Jones said.
Bringing more awareness to the fertility concerns that come with battling cancer is one of the goals of Team Maggie for a Cure. And the nonprofit’s mission is to help women with cancer fund their own fertility treatments and egg retrievals.
When Davis chose to go through with the process, she realized how expensive it was and how insurance didn’t cover some of the costs. She knew she couldn’t be alone in her struggle to pay for her chance at having a family.
In its experience working with reproductive practices, the organization has learned most offices require its clients to pay several thousand dollars upfront. After every appointment or egg retrieval, the funds are debited from the account.
“(The doctors) give you the resources, and they leave it up to you to decide,” Davis said. “It doesn’t have to be a huge conversation, we are just appreciative of getting the information.”
The resources include the information needed to decide whether or not to go through with the fertility process, the cost and the procedure itself.
For the women who are considering their fertility options, Team Maggie for a Cure has an expert to access. Davis has first-hand knowledge of going through the fertility process before undergoing chemotherapy. She elected to have her healthy eggs retrieved for possible future fertilization.
When it was time for her fertility treatments to begin, Davis’ oncologists gave her a list of the names of reproductive specialty clinics nearby. Davis chose the Reproductive Biology Associates as her main fertilization center, and her primary doctor was Dr. Monica Best.
“They were so nice and friendly, and they checked in with me,” Davis said. “The connection was really nice to have.”
At her first consultation, Best conducted an ultrasound.
“The ultrasound just made (sure) everything was fine, that there were no underlying issues,” Davis said.
Next, the doctors decided to start the treatment immediately since she had about 20 to 30 positive eggs.
“The doctors stopped counting because she had so many,” Jones said.
After that, she was put on hormone treatments, which were not a cinch for Davis.
“The process is grueling,” Jones said.
She started off by swallowing pills the first day and moved to needles the next day. Twice a day, Davis injected herself with a shot of hormones into her stomach.
“There was no other option for me,” Davis said, pointing out she had an ultrasound every morning to have her mature eggs counted. “It was just something I did every day. It was quick and easy, and I’m not afraid of needles.”
The needles and the pain did not bother her. It was the emotional toll, since the hormones affected her moods.
“I was crying every other day,” Davis said.
She said she often called her mom and cried, telling her she couldn’t do it anymore.
“It’s hard to remember everything,” Davis said. “I was just in the mindset of, ‘Let’s just do this.’”
While the emotional burden was intense, she was happy to have the option of starting a family later on in her life, she said.
The process and procedure is different for each person. Since Davis’ tumor was estrogen-positive, she had a much lower dosage of the chemical than others.
The length of time of the treatments also changes for each person. For some, it could take 10 days. For others, it could be 21 days.
Once her hormone treatments were over, it was time for the egg retrieval surgery.
Before the surgery, Davis was given one more shot to “make sure all the eggs stayed in place,” she said.
Altogether, the surgical process took less than three hours. She recuperated at home for two days.
In the end, nine eggs were collected. The number sounded disappointing to Davis.
“I didn’t feel like that was enough,” she said
But doctors reassured her nine eggs could lead to one or two babies.
Davis attempted a second round of treatments, but quickly decided it was too intense and stopped the shots.
Her grueling process did produce results, however. Davis is now mother to Layleigh, and doesn’t regret going through the treatments. She just wants to help other women with their journeys.