By Anjum Choudhry Nayyar
It was an early morning on December 20th, 2011, when Lynn Manwar had a meeting with her doctor and had been given the diagnosis that she had breast cancer. That cancer was in the form of a malignant tumour on her right breast.
Having already been diagnosed with thyroid cancer at age 24, Lynn had been down this road before. Only this time it was different. She had learned shortly after her diagnosis that having breast cancer would mean her fertility would be at risk.
“On Christmas Day, I decided to spend the day with myself, I went to Church, prayed and cried for a bit,” said Manwar. “I realized that tears would only take me so far. I made a decision on December 25th, 2011 to get all the support I can for fertility preservation and keep my dream of having a family alive. ”
With a strong will to remove her cancer as an obstacle to having a baby of her own, Lynn went to a fertility clinic shortly after her holidays and was informed of her options. With her mother by her side in full support, she decided to pursue fertility preservation. After spending an entire day at the clinic, she was then told that she would need to come to the clinic the next day for a blood test and an ultrasound. Her fertility treatment lasted for two weeks and included visits to the clinic on weekends.
“Chemotherapy affects fertility so many cancer patients opt to go through fertility preservation,” said Manwar. “I made a decision on the spot to move forward with fertility preservation and it was one of the most difficult days of my life.
Lynn isn’t alone in the stress of living with a cancer diagnosis as a mom-to-be. Each year, an estimated 10,000 young Canadians, aged 20-44, face a cancer diagnosis. Approximately 80% survive (statistics via Fertile Future Canada). Without knowing the importance of fertility preservation prior to their treatment, many are left infertile with few options.
Lynn’s research from a binder of information for newly diagnosed cancer patients led her to an organization called Fertile Future, a group that aspires to change the reality for cancer patients. The organization aims to inform, educate and support cancer patients who are facing fertility-risking medical treatment and oncology professionals who are providing this care. Through its ‘Power of Hope’ Lynn was able to get financial assistance toward the cost of fertility preservation.
Female cancer patients who qualify for the Power of Hope Program receive; compassionate pharmaceutical product, reduced clinic fees of at least 33% for egg retrieval and egg or embryo cryo-preservation and a reimbursement of up to $1000.00. Male cancer patients that qualify for the program are entitled to a reimbursement for sperm cryo-preservation of up to $350.00.
“I had filled out the application for Power of Hope program on Christmas Day 2011 as one step towards getting support for my fertility preservation. After I went through the fertility preservation and egg retrieval procedure, I felt relieved and at the same time, that I had something bigger to live for. I was extremely delighted when I received a cheque in the mail from Fertile Future and became a recipient of the Power of Hope Program.”
Since then she’s been through rounds of chemo, ups and downs and says through it all being a South Asian mom-to-be with fertility as an issue, isn’t always easy.
“The South Asian culture is deeply rooted in family values and bearing children is just one of those expected duties that a women must fulfill in her lifetime,” said Manwar. “Both immediate and extended family members look forward to welcoming children into the family.”
A bigger issue for many women in the South Asian community is the decision to have a child on their own with out being married.
“I have always wanted to become a mother and experience the joy of pregnancy ever since I was a little girl. I recently had down 3 down days of body pain after my 4th chemotherapy treatment. I have used social media as one of means of garnering community support and inspiration, when I temporarily lose faith or hope. My belief in the higher power above (God) gets me through the tough times. My mother has also been a pillar of strength as she has a strong faith in God and is an excellent caretaker.”
She says coming to terms with her diagnosis and how it might impact her fertility wasn’t immediate.
“The diagnosis was initially a shock as it came very unexpectedly. I was first diagnosed with thyroid cancer at age 24, so cancer has been part of my journey already, but this time it was different. Learning that treatments for breast cancer may put a woman in her 30s into early menopause and affect her fertility was difficult to digest.”
She says Fertile Future has given her an opportunity she never thought she would have.
Throughout her ordeal, Manwar says she’s learned a lot about the medical community and has also learned to empower herself with knowledge as a single woman trying to overcome such life-changing obstacles in order to conceive.
“Sharing my diagnosis on social media networks, enabled me to connect with other breast cancer survivors who informed me about the risks of cancer treatment to fertility. The medical community is sometimes too focused on treating the patients, other issues like fertility fall to the way side and is often forgotten about. The biggest misconception is that a woman who is undergoing cancer treatment can’t have children after and that is not true.
A woman has the options of:
2) invitro fertilization using harvested eggs (which is still experimental) and a partner’s sperm or using a donor egg and a partner’s sperm or donor sperm (if required)
3)Using a surrogate mother to carry the pregnancy
4)Local or international adoption
After her ordeal, Lynn says she’s a believer of miracles as well.
So what advice does she have for other moms-to-be facing a medical challenge that prevents them from conceiving?
“My best advice to any woman diagnosed with cancer and who have completed treatment, is to visualize an end in mind, have faith in the power above and never give up on your dreams,” said Manwar. “I beat cancer once and visualization helped me achieved what seemed impossible at the time. Miracles are possible, just begin to believe and the let the universe deliver it to you, in divine time.”
You can follow Lynn’s journey and blog at:www.wellnessdetective.com
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