“Let me get this straight. You’re telling me I have a cancerous tumor in my right breast and my chances of having children naturally are slim to none? Got it.”
A breast cancer diagnosis is overwhelming. How will my body react? What will happen? What does this mean for my life? And, for women, like me, in their childbearing years, learning about potential fertility challenges elevated the experience to the next, incomprehensible level.
How many times can I type chile? Because, chile….
It’s an extremely difficult process, and everything happened at rapid speed. Diagnosed on a Friday, I found myself in my hometown of Houston less than 2 weeks later greeted by a steady stream of back-to-back doctor’s appointments. I just wanted to scream. It was emotionally draining.
During my initial consultation with Dr. Jamie Terry, the ‘captain of the medical ship’ and breast surgeon, she discussed how my life would drastically change, then presented a plan of action. She was adamant about honoring my desire to become a mother and referred me to a fertility specialist.
Within days, I met Dr. S. Kemi Nurudeen of the Houston Fertility Institute, whose work includes consulting patients with medical conditions including breast cancer. She recommended I proceed with egg preservation as soon as possible before I commenced an aggressive chemotherapy regimen.
I was too numb and in shock to think that far ahead to the future, while trying to carefully process the present. I put motherhood on the back burner while I focused on my media career, and breast cancer forced me to readjust my priorities. I was so angry at myself for not preserving my eggs sooner and giving them a fair chance. I sunk into sadness for a few days, but honestly couldn’t linger there too long because I had to power through the egg retrieval process and start a medicinal journey that would remove the toxins from my right breast.
“Our job is to get you started as soon as possible,” said Nurudeen of her professional approach. “We offer the best, personalized counsel about potential outcomes and want our patients to know the process can happen quickly.”
It would indeed be the fastest rollercoaster ride ever.
My mom Ivy, a retired school administrator, quickly transitioned into an at-home nurse. She carefully mixed and prepped vials of medicine like a mad scientist, and injected me with hormones that would stimulate egg follicles. Within a week’s time (my body responded to the medicine super fast), I was rolled into an operating room for egg retrieval.
I have a much deeper appreciation for and understanding about the process of bringing a healthy life into this world. Every woman’s body is different. Every woman’s journey to motherhood is unique.
My paternal cousin, Shamekka Lewis, 45, who also carries the BRCA 1 gene mutation, was diagnosed with stage 2 triple-negative breast cancer at the age of 29. She was pregnant with her third daughter. Pregnant!
“I felt a lump, but never thought it was cancer. I went for an appointment with my ob/gyn, and she ordered a series of tests,” Shamekka recalls. “I declared life and victory right then, and put my trust in Him.”
The soon-to-be mother of three was able to safely undergo four rounds of chemo treatment, deliver her baby girl, then proceed with four more rounds.
“I feel like I was robbed of having more children,” she said. “I still struggle with that today. Despite me having three, I wanted more. My husband and I desired to have a boy, but I knew for my own health, I had to draw the line somewhere.”
Weeks later, she underwent a double mastectomy; six weeks after that, a hysterectomy. All of this by the age of 30.
Sis, I encourage you to take your fertility seriously because you never know what curveballs life will throw you.
Your clock is ticking
If you’re single or wed, you don’t want to miss your window of opportunity to preserve your fertility. Research your options. Think about it like this – freezing your eggs buys you time to plan with your spouse or partner, focus on your career, travel the world – without worrying about a specific timeline to naturally procreate. The sooner you do it, the better, because, yes, your biological clock does tick. And, a breast cancer diagnosis makes the clock tick faster.
Know your number
After scheduling your mammogram (yass!), schedule an appointment at a fertility clinic to determine your Anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH) level. The AMH level is a good reflection of your ovarian reserve and egg count. It’s a predictor of how many eggs you can produce and retrieve.
A high AMH level is good; a low AMH level indicates a diminished ovarian reserve (DOR). I have the latter. Fifteen rounds of chemo sucker-punched my ovaries and their function is nonexistent. They’re no good, so they’re going buh-bye. I’m scheduled for a bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy – removal of both ovaries and fallopian tubes – as a preventative procedure to reduce my risk of ovarian cancer. Drs. Terry and Nurudeen were on point. I’m so glad I preserved my eggs!
Get your coins together
Whew, Chile. It isn’t cheap. While some health insurance providers cover doctor’s visits and labs, the actual IVF (in-vitro fertilization) process requires a significant financial investment.
The process includes two parts: 1) egg retrieval and freezing and 2) egg thawing, fertilization and implantation. In total, one round of this process can cost, on average, an estimated $20,000. These costs don’t include the medication nor genetic embryo testing.
“I know the cost of the process can be intimidating. Patients should realize there are a lot of support resources. We’ll help guide you,” Nurudeen affirmed.
Women make it their mission to fundraise for other women. There are grants available nationwide. Fertility clinics offer in-house financing, and there are programs exclusively for women undergoing chemotherapy. I was especially grateful for the Livestrong fertility program that provided a discounted rate for fertility services. You’ll also want to talk to your health insurance company about any possible coverage or reimbursement. Because of my breast cancer diagnosis, I submitted an appeal to the insurance company for reimbursement and it was approved. A blessing!
After you’ve done your homework, do the research, make a plan and take action. You’ve got this and you’re not alone. It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a village to support a child’s mother.
I leaned on my faith during this phase of my journey. If you’re a believer, you know that your chances of getting pregnant and carrying a baby to full-term are ultimately in God’s hands. Let’s meditate on God’s promise for us in Jeremiah 29:11 in which He says, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope for a future.”
As women, our bodies, our temples are incredible. They work wonders. I’m truly amazed at the miraculous things they do and how they can surTHRIVE anything.