There is a lot of communication that happens between couples dealing with infertility. It is inevitable. There are lots of decisions to be made regarding treatment options, hopes, dreams and fears that are expressed. Even if you are not a talker (which my husband is not) you cannot escape certain discussions. Yet, I have found that there is always one thing never talked about at length, if at all, one giant, pink elephant in the room. The long term effects on all of these infertility treatments on the woman, and the fear of developing cancer.
I will never forget when my mom first realized how many drugs I actually took for an IVF cycle. As life has a crazy way of working out sometimes, we were in the middle of moving when I was going through my second IVF cycle. I had tried to pack as much as I could before I started my ovary stimulation drugs because once I was stimulated, I couldn’t do much of anything. My mom came in and saw this extra large box in my foyer and asked if it was all of my kitchen items. I informed her that it wasn’t, that was just one of my boxes of medications for this round of IVF and the smaller box next to it was also filled with medications and needles. My mom looked like she was about to vomit and just muttered worriedly, “Oh, Casey.”
I told her the same things my doctor told me to try and put her mind at ease. Because I was on birth control for many years in my early twenties, giving me a break from the constant ovulation and high estrogen , I was at lesser risk of developing ovarian or uterine cancer. I also told her because I was pregnant with my daughter and breast fed I was also at a lesser risk. My doctor also said that he usually stops people at stimulated cycle #10 to prevent long term risks. I participated in 6 cycles. These facts did not seem to put my mom at ease. She had reminded quietly throughout my infertility journey that these drugs cannot be good for me. Honestly, her fears have been my fears and my husbands fears as well. But the feelings of self sacrifice and doing anything for your children exhibits itself with just the mere longing for children.
The statistics are more harrowing for women who never give birth. They are at a greater risk for ovarian and uterine cancer. My aunt, who never had children of her own, was recently diagnosed with an aggressive type of uterine cancer. Within two weeks of her diagnosis she had a hysterectomy and is now discussing further treatments with her doctor. Luckily, she had been to her gynecologist regularly and caught it fairly early. She had been spotting post menopause which is a major warning sign for cancer. A huge problem is that for cancers like ovarian or uterine, often when the symptons of pain and spotting occur the cancer has progressed.
I am terrified for my aunt. The particular type of cancer she has can show up anywhere in her body later on. I hate that this is a part of her journey. I wish I could take away all of her pain and suffering. I feel for all women who carry the burden of cancer. Some of these women have struggled for years trying to get pregnant, only to find their little ones through adoption later on in their journey. Some women have chosen to use their nurture and motherly instinct to help others in their community, either their family and friends or on a larger scale. Others find their calling through creating loving homes for pets. My aunt has spent her life volunteering, being there for family and friends, providing a loving home for rescue animals and spoiling her nieces and nephew!
I also can’t help but think about myself and my risk for developing cancer. Before I got pregnant with my daughter, I had a whatever it takes attitude with regard to fertility treatments and scoffed at worrying about my health. When going through all of my fertility treatments after my daughter was born, I started worrying about my health more. Despite assurances from my doctor that it shouldn’t affect my long term health, I am was nervous. How could the boxes upon boxes of drugs have no effect? At the beginning of trying to conceive again, I kept worrying about my daughter having a sibling. After my third IVF coupled with my third IUI, I started worrying my daughter having a mother. Because of this worry, and my chronic pain from my endometriosis, I have even recently started thinking about a hysterectomy which is a blog for another time!
My heart goes out to those struggling with cancer and to the families who have lost incredible women to cancer. I also pray for those young women who are now cancer free, but now may have limited options when starting a family due to their battle. None of it is easy. In the meantime, I am trying to help carry my aunt through this part of her journey, as she helped carry me throughout mine.