It Happened To Me: Facing Fertility and Chemo Treatments On The Same Day

There is no forgetting the day I had my eggs retrieved as a fertility procedure because it’s also the same day I had my first chemo treatment. I joke that this was the most productive day ever! It was a scary time but I’m glad it worked out this way. When I thought about having to drive to my first chemo session, it felt like I would be driving to my own death. But with the Band-Aid being ripped off before I could even think about it, just like that I had one chemo under my belt.

Since I was a little girl, I wanted a big family just like mine. I have four sisters who are still my best friends today and I want that kind of sibling relationship for my future children. I was married in May 2014 and before I was diagnosed with breast cancer I had my future all planned out. I envisioned becoming a lawyer, working for a few years and then starting our family.  After cancer, our plans changed.

My Oncologist referred me to the Mount Sinai Fertility Clinic at our first appointment after diagnosis back in September 2015 to discuss my fertility options before I started chemotherapy.  He had delayed my first treatment by a week since fertility preservation had to be done before that (and we had to start treatment as soon as possible).

It all happened so fast

My first fertility appointment was on a Friday afternoon, a week after receiving my official cancer diagnosis. I just thought it was going to be a consultation so I brought my sister with me instead of my husband (since he would have to attend appointments with me in the coming weeks).  As a married couple, we faced so many decisions like whether to preserve eggs or embryos. We decided on the latter since it has a better survival rate and luckily, I was in the right spot in my cycle and was able to start the process that night.

The next two weeks during the process were a whirlwind! I had fertility appointments nearly every two days for the first week and then about every day once I was close to the egg retrieval day.  It was hard to plan anything during that time because you found out when your next appointment was at each appointment, after the internal ultrasound of your ovaries.

I’m a planner and not having a set schedule was difficult for me. Also, during this time was my sister’s 40th birthday. Before I got sick, I had helped her husband plan a surprise party for her in our hometown, about four hours away from Toronto, and didn’t want to miss the celebration. So, my husband and I drove home after my fertility appointment and spent about 15 hours there to celebrate with my family before turning around to make my next appointment at 8 a.m. back in Toronto.

On top of my new week-to-week schedule I also had to be instantly ok with giving myself a hormone cocktail shot every day, and sometimes twice. At first, I was really nervous and needed my husband to administer the injection for me but eventually I just got used to it and did it myself. It’s amazing how fast we get used to things when we have no other options.

Egg retrieval day

The egg retrieval day came about a week and a half after the process began.  My husband had to go into a room to collect his specimen first. Then I went into the procedure room to retrieve my eggs. It hurt more than I was expecting but it was nothing compared to what I had to go through in the coming months. There was a moment when the nurses were pressing down on my ovaries because they were so full that they were moving around when the needle was trying to retrieve the eggs. I was apparently pretty fertile because they were able to retrieve 26 eggs. The next step was fertilization with my husband’s sperm. Sounds pretty romantic, doesn’t it? It is definitely not how I envisioned starting my family but I’m very grateful to have been given this option. Fertility can be hard for many couples, even when they are not faced with a cancer diagnosis.

After my egg retrieval procedure, I had an oncology appointment that afternoon. It was a good thing my husband was with me because I was still a bit loopy from the medication. My first chemo session was to begin the following week but I had asked to be moved up if there were any openings.  I just wanted to start shrinking the tumor because it had more than doubled its size within a few months and I knew it was already in my lymph nodes at that point. It turns out there was, at that very moment and so I made my way to chemo daycare right then. It was surreal to have my eggs retrieved and also my first chemo session on the same day. The following week was like having kids in a daycare facility, as I would get a daily call from the nurse telling me how my embryos were doing. It was such a joyful moment during such a dark time. In the end, 17 embryos survived the fertilization period and were able to be frozen.

The right decision

I am so happy that I decided to do the fertility preservation.  It has given me more options, when so much was taken away from me after my breast cancer diagnosis. Now, even just a few years later, when my husband and I pass the intersection of Dundas Street and University Street in Toronto, where our embryos are currently being stored and frozen, we always say to each other “There are our babies, waiting for us.” – Emily Piercell

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