"But I Wanted to Be a Mommy"
by Maimah Karmo
I never expected to hear that at the age 32 a doctor say I had breast cancer. No one expects or wants to hear that they are now a statistic- someone with breast cancer - but when you are in the prime of your life and in the middle of your child -bearing years, it can be devastating.
I found the lump when I was 31, had a mammogram, but was told that the lump was only a cyst, and I was "too young to have breast cancer". I was given many reasons – “not to worry”. Yet I remained insistent that something was “not right” and I strongly requested for a breast biopsy to be performed. It was then that I found out the unfathomable, as I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer, and my life would be forever changed.
So much to do including having to choose a surgeon, oncologist and radiologist, I had to decide on treatment options, follow up on insurance claims, work, make sure I had all my medications available and ready before and after treatment, and all the while, making sure I kept up with my most important job of all...being a mommy to my then 3 year old princess. It was hard and at times seemed impossible.
I always wanted to give my daughter siblings. I had taken for granted that I had more time. While discussing my chemotherapy treatment with my oncologist, I learned that chemotherapy could cause irreversible menopause, and make me infertile. My oncologist referred me to a physician who specialized in reproductive medicine and fertility. There I learned that told chemotherapy could damage my eggs, which could make my periods irregular or stop. In fact, I ran the risk of having infertility even if my periods resumed following treatment. So, I needed to explore fertility options, but what if they didn't work?
So much to consider – including the possibility of not being able to have a second child. I never thought I would have second- child infertility – and after my cancer diagnosis it was a real risk. There were many other factors that I need to consider and fertility options (And, from what I understand my story is not all that unique and may resonate with readers of this blog.)
What are fertility options for those who have had cancer?
- What if you are single and diagnosed with cancer? There was a chance that I could get married and have a child with my husband, but what if I couldn't? I'd have to use a donor, perhaps. Who's sperm and where? How would I ensure that the person would not interfere with the life of me and my baby, and how could I ensure that the sperm would produce a healthy child? So much to consider. Something that I would need to research more and become educated about with the guidance of fertility physicians.
- What if my eggs didn't work? One option is to get eggs donated from a woman who has had her hormones stimulated and had her eggs harvested. Once their eggs are fertilized, the embryo can be put into your uterus. You can also have a fertilized egg from a couple put into your uterus. This seemed like an option that again I would need to understand all the logistics with the help of specialists.
- Surrogacy. Much focus has now been centered on surrogates being a viable option for those who have lost their ability to conceive – including due to cancer. There are reputable organizations that can help you find a surrogate who can be inseminated with your partner's sperm, a donor's sperm or that of a couple. The surrogate carries the baby to term for you.
- Adoption is another option. There are agencies that can help you select a child who is a good fit for you. Counselors and therapists help you through the process.
Some may opt after cancer to not pursue parenthood. Instead they may wish to be involved with mentoring children such as via volunteer organizations (such as with a Big Brothers, Big Sisters) or enjoy the company of their family and friends (and their offspring). There are no right or wrong answers when one has cancer and is exploring fertility options. There are many resources and amazing fertility specialists who are able to help you explore what is best for YOU.
Read more about fertility options for those who have a cancer diagnosis via the HavingBabies.com website.
Look for breast cancer support groups in your area via this link.
Learn more about our guest blogger, Maimah Karmo and her work with breast cancer patients and survivors, also read her own cancer journey in her book titled, FEARLESS.