The Next Generation: Building a family after cancer

Ewelina Saputo opted to undergo in vitro fertilization, knowing that her cancer treatment would likely compromise her fertility. Her twin sons, Antonio and Julian, were born about five years after she underwent a bone marrow transplant.

It’s a frustrating fact: Preserving fertility for women who face cancer treatments that damage their reproductive organs is much more complicated than it is for men. But the options are slowly expanding for women who would like to build families after treatment.

For years, a myth about young people with cancer has circulated: If you’re facing a life-threatening illness, who cares about infertility? But for the nearly 6 million adults of reproductive age who have survived adult or childhood cancer, fertility is a significant factor in preserving quality of life after treatment, says Senait Fisseha, M.D., medical director of the University of Michigan Center for Reproductive Medicine.

The key is to seek out fertility counseling before treatment begins to understand the options, even if the options for women aren’t as straightforward as sperm banking, says Marcia Leonard, N.P., who leads the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Fertility Counseling program.

“I firmly believe that a fertility consult is extremely valuable. As a woman becomes knowledgeable about what’s going to happen, she gains some control,” Leonard says. “She can learn about her options and then decide if they’re in her best interests. Having that knowledge and control makes it a whole different ball game than finding out in 10 years that she’s infertile.”

Deciding which path to pursue to build a family is a personal choice. We talked with three women to learn how they became mothers after cancer. Continue reading

Read the latest issue of Thrive

The latest issue of Thrive, the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s patient publication, is now available online.

Check out our cover story about options available to women who would like to start a family after cancer treatment has impaired their fertility. The issue also features stories about helping children cope with their parents’ cancer diagnoses and 10 ways to make better decisions about cancer care. Our dietitians weigh in on popular supplements, and our art therapist discusses the benefits of spending time on creative projects.

Visit Thrive online at mCancer.org/thrive. Take time to browse our archive, too.

Preserving the future with sperm banking

Some cancer treatments may cause infertility, but not all. That’s why it’s important to speak to your doctor and to think ahead. Sperm banking is a good option for men who are at risk of infertility: Many children have been born using sperm that has been banked as long as 25 years.

But it’s key to talk to your doctor about it before treatment begins. The University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center recently became a participating partner in the Sharing Hope Program, which offers financial assistance for cancer patients seeking to preserve their fertility.

We talked to Marcia Leonard, co-director of the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Survivorship Program, about what men with cancer need to know about sperm banking. Read the full Q&A at the Cancer Center’s Living with Cancer site. Or, watch the first installment of a seven-part video about what young men should expect if he elects to bank his sperm.