Chemo: a fertility killer?

I consider myself lucky.  If I could have chosen which of the dreadful forms of cancer I was going to have to fight, Breast Cancer would be it. Its curable and I know that many brave women have kicked it’s ass. Waiting for my PET Scan results which we flew from Phuket to Bangkok for, was the most horrific anxiety my partner and I had ever experienced as we waited for the results to see whether the cancer has spread to other parts of my body. “What if’s” haunted my mind and created so much distress and torture thinking about what my future might entail…. Or not entail.

The PET Scan uses a special dye that has radioactive tracers which were injected into a vein in my arm which was absorbed by my  organs and tissues and thus if metastasis (spread of cancer) has occurred, it highlights the disease. In my case, the results came back clear, and metastasis had NOT occurred. Despite slight metabolic activity in my spleen, I was in the clear and words cannot describe how grateful I was and am for that.

With this in mind, I feel a bit hesitant to express how I now really feel  since being faced with further hurdles in the fear that I may offend some cancer patients who are indeed suffering metastasis.

But it’s my blog which is a platform for me to express my feelings and experiences so apologizes in advance if it seems like I’m kicking a gift horse in the mouth by complaining when I should be appreciative that my cancer hasn’t spread and is isolated and treatable.

But here goes. What’s crazy is that my Breast Cancer diagnosis has actually been over shadowed by something more heart breaking: Chemo and the possible loss of my fertility. Despite the incredible medical advancements, my lovely IVF specialist can’t miraculously create more eggs for me. Every woman is born with an set amount that can’t be recreated, no matter how genius these medical scientists are. In my case, my egg count for a 31 yr old is considerably low and is “quite concerning as  it is comparable to a 40yr old“, according to my IVF Specialist. (insert clock ticking)

Chemo can cause permanent shut down of my ovaries. Menopause. At 31. Ovaries literally can just shut up shop. Closed for business.

This has since become one of the most awful and challenging parts of my whole diagnosis. The one thing I want more than anything is to have a baby, to be a mum, to nurture and protect a baby of my own with my amazing man. The idea of this not happening creates agony and distress far too great to focus on as it would ruin me.

You might be wondering then why would I choose chemo as a treatment option? Well there’s a few reasons, with the main one being that I’m too scared not to. I’m in the 1/3 of my life and already have an aggressive form of cancer;  cancer is strongly present in my Paternal line; it’s a triple negative cancer so it is non-responsive to hormone therapy meaning if chemo doesn’t work then what? And also because I don’t want to live a life wondering whether the little ninja cancer cells have spread.

Big picture: sacrifice 6 -8 months to ensure I have 60+yrs to live.

With all of this in mind I then have to think well losing my fertility isn’t as bad a losing my life. Perspective goes a long way.

As soon as the word Chemo was mentioned my heart sank and the flood gates opened, and didn’t stop. And continue to flow erratically now and then when fear takes over my faith and trust in the universe. Replacing the fear with faith and remaining optimistic with  positive visualization and manifestation of a future holding our baby is what helps me get through this dreadful time.  There will be a silver lining at the end of this.There must be. Right?

I hoped that despite the Thai Oncologist recommendation for Chemo treatment and radiation was a bit extreme. But then to hear the words from my Oncologist in Sydney hit me hard as the dreadful images of  loss of fertility and menopause at age 31 seems inconceivable. (pardon the pun)

There is normally a 6 weeks threshold post surgery for chemo treatment so I had 3 weeks up my sleeve to have 1 cycle of IVF treatment in the hope that they could “harvest” my eggs to freeze. So hormone injections every night for about 16 days to stimulate my ovaries in hope that they would produce a decent amount of eggs that we could try and fertilize and make into embryos to possibly create pregnancies after chemo treatment.

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The average amount of eggs collected at a “harvest” (dislike that expression immensely!) is between 12-15. From this amount the average that successfully fertilize and multiply into embryo’s is about 2. Just this statistic alone, scared the shit out of me . But then combine this with fact I have a low egg count, the average drops again. With only enough time to perform one cycle of IVF (1 egg harvest) the reality that I might not successfully develop an embryo has been the most fucked up and perplexing reality.

The harvest was on Monday 28th Nov. I woke from my general anesthetic and saw the number 5 written on tape attached to the inside of my left hand. 5 glorious eggs. I was happy as that was the amount I had been told on the previous Friday when I had my last internal ultrasound and blood work done.

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From those 5 eggs, 4 were good quality and fertilized successfully with my partners sperm so now its the waiting game for 5 days to see if the 2 cells keep multiplying…. So 4 possible embryo’s to freeze. 4 possible pregnancies.

But what this whole process has taught me so far is to not count my chickens before they hatch…

First Chemo session on Wednesday 30th Nov. I received an injection called Zoladex which purpose is to shut down my ovaries and possibly protect them from chemo. My specialist said its “touch -and- go” and no guarantees that my ovaries will start up again, “You’ve got nothing to lose.”  So every month prior to chemo I get the injection with the most desirable hope that my ovaries will start up again within the 12 months of finishing chemo. The alternative?  Menopause at 31.

Day 3 of 5 the latest update from the IVF lab specialist is that of the 4 fertilized eggs, 2 of them are on track. She explained that normally at this stage they should be about 6-8cells per fertilized egg as this is a good indicator that they are developing into successful embryo’s and possible pregnancies. The other 2 fertilized stragglers were about 4-5 cells. So my daily mantra entails: Our fertilized eggs are multiplying. Our fertilized eggs are multiplying. Our fertilized eggs are multiplying.

Saturday will be the day we find out whether we will have any embryo’s to freeze. I’ve learned to let go of holding onto things like this that I can’t really control. But rather, I put positive thought into action to do the best I can to keep my mind on a positive & hopeful track.

Patience may be a virtue but it’s one that I’m still getting my head around.

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