Cancer survivor spreads fertility preservation message
Angela Mulholland, CTVNews.ca
Published Tuesday, May 8, 2012 9:36AM EDT
When someone young has just been told that they have cancer and need weeks of radiation or chemotherapy, the last thing on their mind is having children.
But a Canadian mom and cancer survivor is hoping to spread the word to young patients to think about how to preserve their fertility, so that when the treatments are done, they can still fulfill their dream of having a family.
A recent study out of California found only 1 in 25 female cancer patients under the age of 40 took steps to preserve their fertility after cancer diagnosis, even though at least half said they'd like to have kids after treatment.
Karma Brown is trying to spread the message, as a spokesperson for Fertile Future, a group that helps cancer patients cover the costs of freezing their eggs, sperm and embryos.
Brown and her boyfriend, Adam, had only been dating for three weeks when they were forced to decide whether they wanted to have children together. Then just 30 years old, Brown had just been diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a form of cancer whose treatment would likely leave her infertile.
Her doctor urged her to go see a fertility specialist, who asked her if she knew someone who would donate sperm to create embryos. Brown admits she was a little taken aback.
"I was thinking, ‘I'm not even sure I know his middle name right now'.'" Brown tells CTV's Canada AM with a laugh.
"It was quick but it was an insurance policy."
It was only at her oncologist's urging that Brown looked into fertility preservation.
"I didn't think about it at all. I was just concerned with the cancer and my treatment," she remembers.
"I said to her in the office that day, ‘Just take everything out if that's going to improve my chances. I'll find another way.' And she said 'You need to go meet with a fertility specialist and talk about your options'."
Brown decided to take the plunge with her new boyfriend and have her eggs fertilized and frozen.
Not long after, she and Adam married and decided to use the embryos. When their attempts to get pregnant didn't work, Brown turned to her sister, Jenna, and asked her to be a gestational carrier. She agreed and together they welcomed a baby girl named Addison.
"We were all in the room when she was born. It was a really special experience," Brown recalls.
Brown says she wishes a group such as Fertile Future had been around to help her when she was going through her treatment. The group works to raise awareness about the need for fertility preservation, and they also help to subsidize some of the costs of fertility treatments.
The IVF (in vitro fertilization) treatment that Brown underwent to harvest some of her eggs was one of the options available to her – and more expensive. It cost $12,000, a cost that for many young patients is simply too high. That's why Brown is glad Fertile Future is able to help.
"It wasn't around when I was going through my treatment, but it will make the difference for some people," Brown says.
"It can be cost-prohibitive to do this, so it can make the difference for people to be able to have the opportunity to have their own child in the future, which is amazing."
Brown has moved on with her life and says she's "just a regular mom now" who's happy to be healthy.
"My health is excellent. I'm nine years cancer-free now and I have my four-year-old daughter who keeps me on my toes," she says. "It seems like a long time ago and yet, not that long ago."