Cancer and Fertility: A Couple Plans for When the Rain Ends
Erin McKinney and Rob Curran got married last October, but the marriage celebration didn’t last long. Just 10 days after they said “ I do,” Erin was hit with the shocking news that she had breast cancer.
“It was a pretty quick turn around from the highest of the highs to the lowest of the lows,” said McKinney, who is 33 years old.
McKinney says that having a family was something the couple talked about, but it wasn’t part of their daily conversation—not until the cancer diagnosis.
“You don’t think about cancer and fertility,” said Curran. “ What the heck is the relationship there?”
But there is a relationship, and it’s an extremely close one.
“Many treatments that we use for cancer, such as chemotherapeutic agents and radiation, while excellent for cancer treatment, are what we call gonadotoxic, meaning they are potentially toxic to the ovaries,” said Dr. Anate Brauer, a fertility endocrinologist at Greenwich Fertility and IVF.
“Within a month, we had to make some pretty serious decisions about how we wanted to move forward,” said McKinney.
The newlyweds made the decision to go ahead with fertility preservation after speaking with Dr. Brauer at Greenwich IVF.
“Currently, where it stands today, non-experimental access to technology revolves around egg freezing and embryo freezing,” Dr. Brauer said. “ Our number one priority is to treat the cancer, but there are ways now to stimulate somebody, to harvest eggs, to freeze them or create embryos, that will not delay chemo and will preserve fertility for the future.”
“It was very emotional,” McKinney said. “ I would venture to say that the process of figuring out our fertility options- egg freezing verses embryo creation—all of that was tremendously more emotional than the cancer diagnosis.”
The couple decided on creating embryos. “ We also had the embryos genetically tested for the BRCA gene. I found out a week before we started the fertility process that I carry that gene,” said McKinney.
“The BRCA is a tumor suppressor gene,” Dr. Brauer explained. “ Its a gene in your body that basically tells cells to stop dividing rapidly. When that gene has a mutant version of it, you don’t have that control over your cells and things start to get out of control, things divide rapidly—which is a cancer.”
Clear advice from the staff at Greenwich IVF, McKinney says, helped them through a very stressful and emotional time.
“They will do everything they can to help you feel better,” said McKinney. “ You rely on the people that are treating you to give you the best support, advice, and care, and they do if you choose wisely.”
And fertility preservation is not just for women battling breast cancer.
“Any woman of reproductive age who is about to undergo chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery even to remove their ovaries, should consider this,” said Dr. Brauer.
McKinney says she would recommend the process to anyone, whether it’s someone battling a cancer diagnosis or a couple having a hard time getting pregnant.
“Knowing that we have that in our back pocket to look forward to after all this is over is hugely comforting and reassuring,” said McKinney.
McKinney says she finished chemotherapy in May and radiation in August. She now has to keep up with medications, exercise and eat right, but she and her husband are hopeful for the future.
“I felt relief that, as Dr. Brauer put it, we provided this insurance policy for our family and for our lives. Hopefully, we will be able to have a family one day, and it will happen the way that it’s supposed to happen,” said McKinney.
“As we are just coming out of it and coming onto the other side of treatment, getting back to our ‘ new normal’ as we like to call it, we are definitely hopeful. That’s for sure,” said Curran.
“When looking back, it seems like it was just a very brief chapter of time in our whole life together,” McKinney added.
You can find out more information about fertility preservation at www.greenwichivf.com.