Fertility & Chemo
So a lesser known fact about cancer and chemotherapy is that it can make you infertile, ruining any potential dreams of conceiving a child naturally.
Fortunately, with modern medicine there are amazing things that are available to help preserve your fertility. Once I knew I needed chemotherapy my first phone call was to the best IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) clinic in Florida.
Now, let me first start by saying that IVF is f*cking expensive. HOLY CRAP, I had no idea! But don’t be scared, because there are plenty of grants out there to help patients with cancer. Fortunately, I had excellent coverage through my insurance (AETNA), in addition to being given a grant given by Livestrong fertility preservation.
Overall, the out-of-pocket cost for me was still a few thousand dollars, but that’s better than the average of $10,000 – $15,000 you’d pay without any assistance.
So let’s get down to what actually happens during fertility preservation. First you’re going to meet with a ton of doctors and nurses again. I was only given 6-8 weeks by my oncologist to take a shot at fertility preservation, which isn’t a lot of time (it’s one cycle) so I was fast-tracked for all my appointments. Expect numerous consultations, because the doctors really want you to understand the science behind the process. It’s basically a sex-ed refresher course; think awkward diagrams of the sex organs, cycle maps, eggs and sperm, birds and bees.
You’ll do a lot of blood work. If you’re squeamish of needles like I was, you’ll get over it fast after visiting an IVF clinic a few times. You’ll need initial testing of any major genetic mutations and diseases to see if you’re a carrier to hand down anything harmful to your baby spawns. If you have a partner you’re including in this, they will also need to be tested. Once you’re good-to-go they start loading you up with hormones. You’ll start with a few days of just some hormone pills, followed by daily shots in the stomach of … more hormones. Yes, in the stomach. This goes on for about 10-12 days; morning shots and evening shots that you’ll first mix yourself in little syringes like a scientist before injecting. I made Jeff give me these shots because I just couldn’t do it myself. If you can give yourself shots, you’ve got serious balls and I’m in awe of your willpower.
Meanwhile, all while you’re getting these delightful cocktail injections in the belly you’ll also be visiting the IVF clinic nearly every single day. They will draw blood to test your hormone levels and perform a sonogram on your egg follicles to see how they’re growing from the hormones. Grow little eggys! They will be looking for a certain number in there, typically it’s like 10-15 follicles before you’re chock full and ready for extraction.
When you’re ready for extraction, your doctor gives you another take-home shot to take the night before the surgery. This shot — I nearly passed out from — was a large-gauge needle, in my butt cheek. You can’t do this one yourself so you’ll definitely need a courageous assistant. You might want to karate chop your assistant in the throat when you’re done, so choose wisely.
The day of extraction surgery is just like any surgery, you can’t eat, and you probably feel like shit. I was given anesthesia for what had to be the most awkward surgery I’ve ever had. They walk you into the surgery room where you lay on the table half-naked and they put your legs high up over your body in stirrups while being stared at by half a dozen masked people. So awkward! But then the anesthesiologist hits you with the drugs once you lay in position and you’re OUT.
During the surgery they take a sonogram guided stick and poke around in your vajay-jay to find the location of the eggs which they then extract with a big needle. It looks like a horrifying needle-dildo-contraption which I imagine aliens probably invented to torture humans. But you can’t feel it because of the drugs, so eh, whatever!?
My doctor got 12 eggs, which were then combined with Jeff’s sperm to make 4 embryos or “babysicles” as I call them. We choose to do the embryo preservation rather than just freezing my own egg because the eggs had a much lower survival rate than the embryo’s after freezing. So, in a lab somewhere in Florida we have 4 embryo’s cryopreserved for the future when I want to become pregnant! Totes cute right? ☺
In addition to the embryo freezing, I also take another monthly shot of Zoladex. This is the shot of nightmares. It’s a 10-gauge needle that injects a pellet of medicine into my stomach. Thankfully the nurses used numbing cream on me before the shot so it wasn’t too bad. It’s always the anxiety of getting the shot that really kills me. This shot sends my body into chemical menopause; it stops all ovarian function and sends the ovaries into hibernation with the hopes that they won’t get harmed during chemotherapy.