This week, Anikka talks about the impact of breast cancer treatment on her fertility.
Breast cancer treatment is extremely hard and challenging for everyone involved. But then to be told that the very same treatment which saved your life can now no longer create life is devastating.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 33. I had just got married and had moved from London, to the countryside with my husband in the anticipation of starting a family. Breast cancer was definitely NOT part of the plan and when I found out that the treatment could leave me infertile and that I would not have the option of delaying treatment to freeze embryos or eggs as I needed to start chemo immediately, I was devastated.
I was diagnosed on a Monday. I had an MRI and CT scan on the Tuesday, my first meeting with my oncologist on the Wednesday, an operation on the Thursday to place a port under my skin to administer the chemotherapy, and treatment commenced on the Friday. I had no time to overthink the fertility issues. I had to pull up my big girl’s pants and get on with treatment.
Eight months later, once active treatment had finished, I was prescribed my hormone therapy that I was due to be on for 10 years, a delay which would certainly have pushed me past the child-bearing age. I was told by a fertility specialist that I could pay privately to have tests done to see whether my treatment had affected my fertility, but I would need to do so before starting my hormone therapy. Despite not having worked during my chemotherapy I managed to get the money together for the expensive tests and scans. More crushing and devastating news followed as I was told the tests showed that I would never, ever be able to have children.
It took months to pick myself up from this latest blow and I threw myself into setting up my business, Not Another Bunch Of Flowers. I welcomed the distraction. All of my friends were having gorgeous little babies, while I was having to mourn my fertility.
However, a few years later I suffered some gynae problems due to my hormone therapy and was referred to another specialist. I mentioned my experience to her and she was shocked and said that the tests wouldn’t have been accurate so soon after chemotherapy. She repeated the tests and they showed that my fertility was at the lower end of normal – but in normal range nonetheless. And with the support of my oncologist I took a break from Tamoxifen, and in January 2017 I gave birth to a beautiful and healthy baby boy, Monty.
So, my story is a happy story. But having experienced the heartbreak of believing that my cancer had taken my fertility, it is something I feel very strongly about. Infertility is often the most devastating side effect for younger women. And while there is the possibility of freezing embryos and eggs, this is only possible if there is time, if they get funding or if they have the cash to fund it themselves. Shockingly, many young women don’t have their options discussed before starting treatment but that needs to change.
I hope that my experience will provide some hope to others. My story isn’t unique and I have spoken to many other young women who have also had tests too soon or while on hormone therapy and were also given the incorrect advice that they would not be able to conceive, but many of them have also gone on to have children. If we had listened to the original advice and not had the ability to carry out research online or had the support of online forums, we would have carried on none-the-wiser, believing we were infertile, and none of our gorgeous little ones would be here now. I am not saying that everyone will have a happy outcome, unfortunately. Chemotherapy is a damaging treatment. But we deserve the correct information and advice. And everyone deserves having their fertility options discussed prior to starting treatment.
This is just Anikka’s story – everyone has a different experience. If you have questions about fertility before/during/after cancer treatment it is important to speak to your oncologist or GP so that they can refer you to the appropriate fertility/gynecologist specialist.
Anikka Burton was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011 at the age of 33 and is the founder of www.notanotherbunchofflowers.com – a website offering a range of thoughtful gifts and cards, including cancer care packages. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.