“I can’t imagine not having my daughter now,” said Amanda Hopwood-Brophy, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at age 28.
She underwent fertility preservation treatments along with a chemotherapy regimen until being declared cancer-free. She now has a two year old daughter.
Allegheny Health Network (AHN) has launched a program to help more patients like Hopwood-Brophy have children even after undergoing cancer treatments.
For cancer patients, chemotherapy can be life-saving. Unfortunately, these harsh drugs often damage more than cancerous growths—according to the American Cancer Society, they can temporarily or permanently harm men and women’s reproductive functions.
Hopwood-Brophy’s doctor encouraged her to consider treatments to protect her ovaries during chemo, and she was able to become pregnant a year later.
However, not all cancer patients are so fortunate. According to Dr. Bryan Hecht, Director of the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility at Allegheny Health Network, many patients cannot afford fertility preservation treatments, which are not usually covered by insurance. Since cancer patients begin chemotherapy almost immediately after diagnosis, Hecht says they are left with little time to raise money for fertility preservation.
“There’s a very special, unfortunate challenge for cancer patients because they need to go through this procedure very quickly and so trying to budget like others might is impossible,” Hecht said.
AHN’s new program will cover all fertility preservation costs for eligible cancer patients who meet certain income restrictions. The program is currently funded entirely by AHN, but Hecht says donors will be necessary to maintain and grow the fund.
Whether or not a person’s reproductive health will be harmed by chemotherapy depends on the age of the patient and the strength of the drugs. According to Hecht, men and women can be eligible, but costs are higher for women.
“For men, of course, it’s very easy and inexpensive and safe for them to bank a few semen samples before they start chemo,” Hecht said. “The process for women is quite a bit more complicated and expensive.”
According to Hecht, women first take drugs that stimulate their ovaries to produces eggs, then have those eggs harvested and frozen. A woman can also combine her eggs with sperm from her male partner to form embryos, which can be frozen then re-implanted after chemo is over.
Hopwood-Brophy says she is glad this new program will call attention to the issue of fertility for young cancer patients, who might not yet be considering having children someday.
“You just want to get through the cancer, you just want to kind of take it a day at a time,” Hopwood-Brophy said. “But now that it’s all over, it really makes a huge difference.”