By Cathryn Smeyers
A recent article in the Chicago Tribune entitled “New programs give hope to young cancer patients about bearing children,” discusses the field of oncofertility and how it can positively impact the lives of female cancer patients.
The article opens with the story of Jenna Benn, an Oncofertility Consortium favorite who was diagnosed with a form of lymphoma in her late twenties. For Benn, the possibility that she could lose her fertility from life-saving cancer treatment was of great concern. Fortunately, as Northwestern is the home base for the Oncofertility Consortium, Benn was in good hands and immediately introduced to Kristin Smith, the hospital’s Fertility Preservation Patient Navigator. Smith outlined the primary fertility-sparing options that exist for young women facing cancer diagnosis: embryo banking, egg banking, ovarian tissue banking, or surgical procedures to remove or protect the ovaries. Benn ultimately opted for egg banking and had her own eggs frozen before undergoing six rounds of intensive chemotherapy.
As the article goes onto discuss, though, unlike Benn, not all female cancer patients are made aware of the potential threat to their fertility and the choices available to them. Dr. Teresa Woodruff coined the term “oncofertility” in 2006, and it is still a relatively young field. While great strides have been made in availing patients of fertility preservation options, challenges still exist. For example, there are many doctors who feel that it’s important to stay focused on saving a patient’s life and not necessarily her fertility. Many women who are informed of their options are ultimately deterred by the cost of fertility preservation measures, which can run between $10,000-$15,000 and are not often covered by insurance. Also, ethical questions arise with the question of how to handle unused embryos.
Everyday, the Oncofertility Consortium and our partners are working to overcome these hurdles. We spread the word through our research, blogs, iphone app, and advocacy work. After her struggle with cancer and fertility preservation, Benn is now a regular contributor to the Oncofertility Consortium and was our featured guest at last year’s gala. Living in remission and now newly engaged, Benn runs her own cancer support group called Twist out Cancer, which “leverages social media to help survivors and their loved ones combat the feelings of isolation, loneliness, and helplessness that often accompany cancer diagnoses and treatment.” Make sure to check out their upcoming event Brushes with Cancer, an evening celebrating survivorship and hope through art, music and storytelling, on Wednesday April 17th at Floating World Gallery in Chicago. Tickets and additional details can be found here.