Surviving Cancer: The Quest to Conceive

Dr. Alan Isenberg, a cancer specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, said women with cancer risk losing their fertility depending on the type of cancer they have, and the drug or surgical treatments they agree to use.

“There are different chemotherapy treatments for each disease. Some render you infertile, some don’t,” said Isenberg, who has witnessed steady success rates in the treatment of Hodgkins disease, which he has studied for decades. “In the beginning, we didn’t cure anybody, and we focused on keeping people alive. Then, as people began living longer, we did focus on fertility options.”

Isenberg said the gravest aspect a woman with cancer who is contemplating having children must face is not that something will be wrong with the child, but that the cancer might return and the woman might die, leaving a child without a mother. And many times, he said, women compromise more aggressive treatments in order to protect their ability to have children in the future.

When it came to making a decision to keep her breasts or her fertility, 30 year-old Jodee Occhicone opted for a chance to have children. Last January, Occhicone was diagnosed with cancer in her left breast. Her doctors recommended she be treated with radiation and with tomaxafin, a drug which usually induces infertility.

“They told me that if I wanted to have children, I had better do it now,” said Occhicone, a property manager for a real estate firm in Queens, NY. “You can’t take tomaxafin and have children.”

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