Imagine getting a cancer diagnosis, and learning the treatment to save your life could end your hopes of having children.
It happened to Rochester resident Jessica Drexler, 28, who learned she had colon cancer in September 2015. Doctors told her she would need surgery to remove the cancer, followed by chemotherapy. Cancer treatments have become more effective and survival rates for young women like Drexler are increasing. Unfortunately, these treatments also can reduce or eliminate the chances of a young cancer survivor ever having a child.
Women in that situation often have just days to decide whether to have their eggs harvested from their ovaries and frozen. Drexler didn’t need that much time: “The first thing I said to my doctor was, ‘I want to have more children.’ I knew steps would have to be taken to preserve my fertility.”
Drexler wanted to give her 2 ½ year old son, Logan, more siblings, and knew that chemotherapy could make it more difficult for her to conceive in the future. Her oncologist at Wilmot Cancer Institute, Aram Hezel, M.D., referred her to Strong Fertility Center’s Wendy Vitek, M.D., for fertility preservation.
Each year over 140,000 young people are diagnosed with cancer. While freezing sperm in young men faced with cancer has been available for decades, more recent technology allows for harvesting and freezing eggs and/or embryos in young women. Banked eggs and embryos can then be successfully thawed for future use once a patient overcomes their disease and is ready to have children.
But cost remains a barrier for many patients, and is not covered by health insurance.
The Strong Fertility Center, part of the University of Rochester Medical Center, a not for profit institution, has offset some of the cost to patients through its Childbearing After Recovery (C.A.R.E) program. Each year it hosts an annual fundraiser, Care After Cancer: Childbearing After Recovery, to enable more young cancer patients like Drexler to receive financial assistance. This year’s event is 7-9 p.m. Friday, March 11 at The Strathallan Hotel’s new City View Ballroom, 550 East Ave.
13WHAM’s Doug Emblidge is the evening’s master of ceremonies; the event includes live music, a silent auction, complimentary wine, beer and non-alcoholic beverages, hors d’oeuvres and desserts. Emblidge will lead a call to action segment to help raise money for cancer patients who need fertility preservation in 2016.
Drexler was able to get assistance from Strong Fertility Center’s patient fund to help pay the costs of the procedure, and borrowed the remainder of the costs from family. But each year the fund is depleted as more patients seek help, and she was the last patient in 2015 for which C.A.R.E funds were available. Drexler will be a featured speaker at the event to help raise awareness and funds for others in her situation.
Her story is inspiring: After seeing Vitek, Drexler delayed the start of chemo by two weeks in order to begin fertility treatment. Each night she gave herself the prescribed hormone injections, and every few days would go to Strong Fertility so Vitek could check her readiness for egg harvesting. Doctors usually hope to get 12 to 18 eggs from the procedure; they collected a total of 22 eggs from Drexler and preserved them for when she and her husband, Steve, are ready to add to their family.
“A diagnosis of cancer is devastating for young patients, and then learning that treatment may threaten their ability to have children is especially painful,” said Vitek. “Undergoing fertility preservation empowers patients to plan for children once they have completed cancer treatment, and that spirit of optimism helps them get through their treatment. It lets patients focus on the future and their goals to have a family.”
Drexler is looking forward to the event, and to having more children. “As soon as I get the all-clear signal from my doctor, we’re going for it.”
Tickets for Care After Cancer: Childbearing After Recovery are $50. To purchase tickets or donate, visit www.event.urmc.edu/care16. To learn more about the event, visit https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/ob-gyn/fertility-center/c-a-r-e-event.aspx.