Barbara M. remembers the moment her doctor told her she had cancer. “It was like an explosion in my head. I think I was there for another half hour, and I really don’t remember anything else that was said. I kept thinking ‘I’ve got cancer, what am I going to do?'”
Barbara’s story is common. It takes time to process the diagnosis, and then there are a million questions and a lot of appointments and even more anxiety. For too many patients, thinking about whether they want to have children may come too late once the treatments have begun.
The Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson is one of only six cancer centers in the nation designated a Center of Excellence by Fertile Hope, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing reproductive information, support and hope to cancer patients and survivors whose cancer treatment may pose a risk to their fertility.
Anne Delengowski, RN, MSN, AOCN, an oncology clinical nurse specialist at Jefferson, works closely with young people who have had a cancer diagnosis. “The last thing they may be thinking about is having children. They may not be thinking at all, it is such an emotional rollercoaster. So that’s our role. We want to make sure that anyone who is of childbearing age understands the implications of their treatment and that we can explore options to preserve their fertility.”
Preserving a woman’s fertility
For women, the standard practice is embryo freezing where some of her eggs are retrieved and with her partner’s sperm, fertilized using in-vitro fertilization (IVF). In Anne’s experience, this is when the conversations can be challenging.
“What do you say to a teenager or even a young woman who isn’t in a relationship or may not even be sexually active? There is no partner in the picture so we have to discuss using a sperm bank for fertilization. They’re scared, sick and just want to focus on beating the cancer. As a COE for Fertile Hope, our staff is trained to lend comfort and support and to help our patients think about their future in a way they never thought they would.”
While embryo freezing is standard practice, there are other options such as egg freezing, ovarian tissue freezing and ovarian transposition. But these procedures are considered investigational, and success rates are not known.
Fertility and men
For most men, sperm banking is the most proven and successful method for preserving fertility. The good news is the sperm can be stored for an unlimited amount of time, giving younger patients peace of mind knowing that they can still think about starting a family when they’re ready.
Experts in reproductive medicine
In addition to being a COE by Fertile Hope, Jefferson has one of the most sophisticated reproductive medicine centers. The Jefferson Reproductive Medicine Center combines expert, sensitive staff with the newest breakthroughs in assisted reproductive technology (ART). We offer services for IVF and intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), as well as other options such as donor sperm and donor egg programs, preimplantation diagnosis and embryo freezing (cryopreservation).
In addition, we are one of the only programs in the area to offer IVF with gestational carrier. Psychological counseling is also a strong component of our services.
For more information about Fertile Hope, visit www.fertilehope.com.
Making an appointment
To schedule an appointment with a Jefferson physician, please call 1-800-JEFF-NOW or use our online Find A Doctor tool.
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