By Dory Kashin. Above photo by @girlfriendsproject_
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2016 at the age of 29. At the time, I was dating my boyfriend (now husband) for two years and all of a sudden we had some pretty heavy-duty decisions to make as a couple, some of which were topics we didn’t think we would have to address for years to come.
Within weeks of diagnosis, I had to decide if I wanted to follow through with fertility treatment and if I wanted to preserve eggs or embryos. For my whole life, I always knew I wanted to have children. When my friends started having babies, I saw them more (even more so after diagnosis) since babies and kids just made me so happy.
I was told that embryos had a better chance for survival but of course, deciding to preserve embryos essentially meant that we were deciding to have a baby! This was a big decision that we had to make within days. Luckily we were both on the same page and decided to preserve embryos. We already knew that we wanted to be committed to one another so although the topic was a hard one, the decision wasn’t. (Cue the sappy love story music here)
Our fertility procedure was a success and we had one embryo preserved. We were told we would still have an 80 percent chance of conceiving on our own but of course we could not even think about babies during my active treatment or while I was on hormone therapy: Tamoxifen, which I would need to be on for 5-10 years, and Zoladex. Thankfully, my oncologist allowed me to go off of the drugs at 18 months, since having a child at 40 was not in my plans.
He did advise that it can be risky and there aren’t many studies around it. That’s where my interest in the Baby Time study (supported by Rethink Breast Cancer), started. Right away I wanted to be involved in this study so young women being diagnosed can be more confident in their decisions surrounding fertility post treatment.
I also knew that by joining the study I would be watched closely by doctors during pregnancy and after everything I’d been through I didn’t mind it. I knew I would be tested regularly specifically for recurrence, and, for those of you who don’t know, after having a double mastectomy there really aren’t any post treatment tests other than “how are you feeling” (unless there is something very troublesome). So I welcomed the idea of extra blood tests, CT scans, bone scans etc.
I’m not a doctor and have not done too much research but I knew right away that going off the drugs, trying to have a baby and essentially increasing the hormones in my system puts me at risk for recurrence. I remember lying in bed after everything was done and asking myself, “Would I go through all that again in hopes of having my own child?” and my answer was “yes”. I keep that top of mind whenever I get nervous about childbearing and the risks of my cancer to return. So here we are…
Last week I had my second appointment with the Sunnybrook Baby Time study where I was approved to go off my drugs immediately and wait out the three months for the drugs to leave my system in hopes that we can start trying soon. Once the doctor and nurse left the room, I unexpectedly started to cry. It was hard for me to decipher whether they were tears of joy or fear. Joy being told I can start to try and have a baby, which is such a monumental time in my life BUT then fear of being told to go off the drugs that I was taking every day in the hopes that they are keeping me alive.
The next steps would be the beginning of a three-month “detox” to be sure all the drugs are out of my system. And boy did I look funny checking out at the pharmacist with my prenatal vitamins, Replens (for menopausal symptoms) and condoms. Kinda ironic, no?!
Starting all the tests to check for recurrence before we even start trying, two years after being diagnosed has been terrifying. A lot of “what if’s” are floating through my mind. But as scary as it is, I am thankful for this experience and hope that I can report back with some good news soon!