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The Harvest

June 16, 2011

I love children, and I can’t wait to have my own.  So after I was diagnosed, when it became clear that I would need chemotherapy, one of my first concerns was fertility.

Google returns many results of colon cancer survivors asking the question, but few answers; the one study I found had promising results, but the sample size was very small, only 15 women.  My oncologist told me that the effects of my particular chemo regimen (FOLFOX) on fertility hadn’t been studied much, but that at least one of her male patients had fathered children after his treatments.  Somewhat comforting, but hardly enough to assuage my fears.  She referred me to Shady Grove Fertility.

I called a week later.  Time was short; chemo was scheduled to begin exactly three weeks later, on April 18.  The doctor to whom I had been referred was out of town that week, but another could see me the very next day.  The receptionist transferred me to a nurse, who began to ask me questions to gather information prior to the appointment.  I explained my medical history and diagnosis, my voice matter-of-fact, unemotional.  I had been out of the hospital for nearly two weeks; I had accepted this.  Except then she asked whether I was married.

My voice broke; my strength disappeared.  I was crying.  I was supposed to get married on August 20 of this year, I explained,  but since I’d be on chemotherapy all summer, we’d decided to postpone the wedding.  The sudden breakdown took me by surprise – putting off our marriage had seemed like an obvious decision, and other than reserving the date and the venue, we hadn’t even begun planning. But it was the first big change this cancer had made to my plans, my future, my life.

The nurse said something kind and the moment passed; she gave me a phone number to call and we hung up. I dialed the number immediately – the Aetna Infertility Program. After answering another series of questions, I was told that no, I was not eligible for the program, that government health plans do not cover fertility preservation, and that egg freezing is considered experimental anyway, and would not be covered under any plan. Enter breakdown number two. (Did I mention this was also my first day back at work post- hospitalization, surgery, and diagnosis?)

The next day, still woozy from the procedure to have my mediport placed, I met first with the fertility doctor. If I wanted to pursue fertility preservation, egg freezing was the way to go – but I would have to decide immediately, since the process takes nearly two weeks. It is also extremely expensive.

What to do? This entire process might be entirely unnecessary – but what if it weren’t?

Then I met with a financial counselor, who told me about Fertile Hope, a LIVESTRONG initiative that helps survivors get financial assistance for fertility preservation through its Sharing Hope program. If I qualified (and I would almost certainly qualify), my medications would be donated, and the treatment would be discounted 50 percent. And if I qualified for the clinic’s own treatment discount program, the process would be discounted up to 30 percent more.

Suddenly this was sounding like something I could handle. How could I not?

I was approved for both programs and started the egg freezing cycle a few weeks later. (We pushed back my chemo start date by three weeks since the timing didn’t work out as well as we’d hoped; I still started within eight weeks of surgery, which is the standard treatment. This timing issue caused a few other personal kinks, which will have to be the subject of a separate post.)  After giving myself several injections each day for over a week and nearly daily doctor’s appointments, my egg retrieval was set for 6:00 in the morning on Sunday, May 1. I picked up a very good friend – who had every right to be sleeping – at 5:15, and we were off to the harvest.

I don’t remember too much after that – I had to put on a hospital gown and wait for a very long time (maybe the eggs needed to settle?), and once it was time to retrieve, they gave me general anesthesia (hence the friend – I needed a post-procedure DD). I’m told the procedure itself only took about 10 minutes; I was released shortly thereafter, grateful for the pain meds my friend had picked up at the pharmacy while I was under.

My fertility doctor called the next day – 16 oocytes had been harvested and successfully frozen. Maybe I’ll use them all – if you watch TLC, you’d think it was the Arkansas way. (Unlikely. But at least I’ll have the option.)

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Kent permalink
    June 16, 2011 12:44 am

    So what is the term for octo-mom x 2? Hang in there! This blog is amazing!

  2. Rain permalink
    June 20, 2011 1:20 pm

    If the harvesting doesn’t work, whichever babies you give love and happiness to will still most likely turn out with your quirks and be able to find all of the camouflaged eggs.

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