Receiving a cancer diagnosis at any age is excruciating, but for young women in their 20s and 30s there are additional concerns that need to be addressed in a timely manner. While a young woman’s oncologist will move swiftly to initiate a treatment protocol to rid her of cancer as much as possible, it is essential that young women during their reproductive years explore the option known as oncofertility, where a patient undergoes an egg freezing process prior to beginning cancer treatment. Chemotherapy and radiation treatments are often used to eradicate cancer; however, treatments also have the potential to damage a woman’s eggs, making it challenging to have a baby if and when she wants children. Last week Self spoke to two Shady Grove Fertility patients about their cancer treatment and the egg freezing procedure that preserved their ability to bear their own children once cancer-free.
Eileen’s Story: How a 21-Year-Old College Student Took Action
Eileen Fauteaux was a junior at Virginia Tech in November 2015 when she was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a type of bone cancer that affects children and young adults. “After I found out it was Ewing’s sarcoma and I needed chemotherapy, the first appointment I made was with a fertility doctor,” Fauteaux told Self. Naveed Khan, M.D., and the staff at Shady Grove Fertility’s Leesburg, VA office worked swiftly to begin the egg freezing process prior to Eileen’s cancer treatment. “For oncofertility patients it’s essential to not delay the egg freezing process so patients like Eileen can begin treatment to remove the cancer,” said Dr. Khan.
Ultimately, Dr. Khan was able to retrieve 27 mature and immature eggs that have been cryopreserved for later use if Eileen needs to use them. One unplanned side effect of the hormone shots Eileen administered every day was that by the time she underwent chemotherapy, Eileen was comfortable giving herself shots and it had prepared her for what was to come to eradicate the cancer.
Recently Eileen returned to Virginia Tech to complete her studies. She’s hopeful for the future and comforted knowing that when the time is right, and if needed, she has the eggs to build her family. “Who knows if I’ll even need to use the eggs in the future—maybe I’ll be perfectly fine and fertile—but knowing I still have the opportunity to have children is a big sigh of relief.”
Kelly’s Story: PCOS Led Her to a Doctor, but Freezing Her Eggs Later Led to Hope
For Kelly Collevechio, a patient of Isaac Sasson, M.D., Ph.D., at Shady Grove Fertility’s Chesterbrook, PA office, a diagnosis of PCOS in her teens led her to consult her OB/GYN after 6 months of trying to conceive without success when she was 26 in 2013. Kelly’s doctor referred her to Shady Grove Fertility where she underwent a hysterosalpingogram (HSG), a test where dye is injected into the uterus. The test revealed a hydrosalpinx, a blockage in the Fallopian tube, and required surgery to remove. Kelly was required to undergo an MRI before surgery revealing a mass in her right ovary that turned out to be malignant.
Dr. Sasson and Kelly’s oncologist worked together to devise a treatment plan. “During a second surgery, doctors removed Collevechio’s right ovary and both of her Fallopian tubes, leaving her uterus and left ovary behind. After removing her right ovary, they still recommended chemotherapy, but her medical team decided it would be OK to delay chemotherapy until she could freeze her eggs.” Stimulating her left ovary, 14 eggs were retrieved. Seven embryos in the blastocyst stage were created using her husband Jim’s sperm, and then frozen, waiting to be thawed once Kelly’s cancer treatment was complete. “Working as a team with Kelly’s oncologist was not only the best way to proceed with treatment, but provided her with much needed peace of mind while going through a stressful and confusing ordeal,” said Dr. Sasson.
After being declared cancer-free in Spring 2014, the Collevechio’s were told to wait before beginning fertility treatment. Kelly says that during the following months she focused on her health and feeling good about herself again. In February 2015 she and Jim were finally ready to return to Dr. Sasson and the team at SGF for a frozen embryo transfer. Given the option to transfer one or two embryos, the couple chose to transfer two. Kelly told Self, “I don’t have blinders on—there’s always a chance the cancer could come back. The doctor said, ‘As long as you’re OK with having twins,’ and I said, ‘Let’s do it!’” Now a year old, James Thomas and Brielle Marie are the light of their parents’ lives. Kelly describes them as a “handful,” but a very worthy one.
Fertility Preservation Prior to Cancer Treatment
When a patient with a recent cancer diagnosis comes to Shady Grove Fertility, a specially trained team guides them through the entire treatment process. This team helps to navigate patients through each step, from finding ways to afford treatment to the actual medical procedure. Due to the time-sensitive nature of treatment, women with cancer can expect an expedited treatment plan and to see a physician for consultation as soon as possible—usually within a few days of calling our office.
If you or a friend or loved one has been diagnosed with cancer and are interested in learning more about fertility preservation before cancer treatment, we encourage you to contact our New Patient Center at 1-877-971-7755 to schedule an appointment.