Holding on to hope: preserving fertility after breast cancer

Catherine was 37 years old, single and wanting to have a child when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Faced with the imminent impact treatment would have on her fertility, she had to make some big decisions very quickly.

‘It was a huge shock, and I really felt like there was no one else in my situation who was also single,’ she says. ‘Most were either older women with partners and already had children, or they were young mums.’

Catherine had felt a small lump while she was in the shower and thought it was probably a hormonal cyst. She went to her GP who told her she would treat it as if it was cancer until it was proven otherwise. After receiving the results of Catherine’s ultrasound and biopsy, her GP asked her to come back in and bring a support person along.

‘At that stage, I knew something was wrong, so I went online and came across BCNA. The information helped me prepare for that appointment and for what followed. I was ready with lots of questions as soon as my GP told me I had stage 3 breast cancer and that it was also in my lymph nodes.’

Catherine had always wanted to have a child, but the opportunity hadn’t eventuated.

‘I had previously thought about freezing my eggs, but when I was diagnosed, I had to make that decision pretty much immediately so I could start the process of preserving my fertility before I started chemo,’ she says.

Knowing that maintaining her fertility was a top priority, Catherine’s medical team moved quickly. She had her surgery first, followed by a round of IVF treatment to collect eggs for freezing, before she started chemotherapy.

‘Given my cancer is a hormone-receptive type, taking hormones for my fertility preservation had to be very carefully managed. There was no resting after my surgery. I still had my drains in at my first fertility clinic appointment and the day I started the fertility hormone injections.’

‘There were times when I felt really alone, especially during trips to the fertility clinic and doing my own hormone injections at home. But I also had lots of support from friends and family, and I think I mostly coped OK because I was so strong in my resolve to keep my fertility,’ Catherine says.

Catherine’s ovaries responded well and she now has seven eggs in storage. She is hopeful of meeting someone to have a family with, but will also consider donor sperm.

‘Freezing my eggs was a huge relief,’ she says, ‘I now have peace of mind, knowing I’ve done as much as I can to preserve my fertility.’

‘I’m not sure what my plans are. Dating is off the table right now. It’s not easy at the best of times – throw in cancer treatment and a pandemic and it feels near impossible. But I am grateful that having a child is still an option for me in the future.’

Catherine will have to wait for a while after she finishes her targeted therapy and seek her oncologist’s advice before she can try to get pregnant.

She says the information on fertility in BCNA’s My Journey app helped with making her decisions, and when she sees other people asking questions online she recommends they check out what BCNA offers.

‘It’s advice you can rely on from a trusted source when you need a safe place to find information that empowers you and eases your worries,’ she says. ‘I’ve also found it invaluable hearing from people who have been through breast cancer. If there are others out there going through what I have, I hope hearing about my experience makes them feel less alone.’

For more information on fertility and breast cancer, visit My Journey or watch BCNA’s webcast Fertility and Breast Cancer – Knowing Your Options

Issue 88
Winter 2021