Episode 144: Oncofertility: Building a Family after Cancer
Today’s guest has been on the podcast before. In Episode 54, Emily Rich shared her experience with freezing embryos prior to going through cancer treatment. Now, as that battle has passed, Emily shares with us something extremely special, what’s next in their plans.
Throughout this episode, we go along with Emily on her family building journey in real-time. Through video updates, she documented her process from the moment she came off her cancer medication, to the moment she first heard her son’s heartbeat. Emily takes us through the full frontal oncofertility experience, and every emotion that comes with it.
Guest: Emily Rich, Progyny member
Host: Dan Bulger
For more information, visit Progyny’s Podcast page and Progyny’s Education page for more resources. Be sure to follow us on Instagram, @ThisisInfertilityPodcast and use the #ThisisInfertility. Have a question, comment, or want to share your story? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here are some highlights from this episode:
From One Battle to the Next
00:20 – 07:50
Dan Bulger: Emily was diagnosed with breast cancer and decided to utilize oncofertility to preserve her fertility in advance of life saving cancer treatment. We actually featured that story on our podcast some time ago, in episode 54, titled, Oncofertility, Having a Fertility Benefit That Covers Fertility Preservation. In that episode, Emily shared her experience with IVF and egg harvest, and the decision to create and freeze embryos with her husband so she could focus on her cancer treatment without having to worry about how the treatment will impact her future fertility. When Emily’s oncologist cleared her to start trying to have a baby, Emily decided that she wanted to video journal the process and capture her thoughts and experiences along the way. Today, and this is very exciting to say as this episode has been a long time coming, we’re going to share those clips with you. So, follow along with us as we follow Emily and her experiences as they happened.
Emily Rich: We’ve decided that we’re going to move forward with using the embryos that we had frozen before I started my cancer treatment. I’ve started taking prenatal vitamins. I’m officially off all my cancer meds.
I got my period today which is good news. I was concerned that my cycle would not go back to normal after stopping Tamoxifen.
Dan Bulger: Emily already has embryos frozen in storage, so she doesn’t actually need to do another IVF stem cycle, or an egg retrieval, she only needs to do the embryo transfer. But Emily went forward with what’s called a natural FET cycle. This cycle allows the endometrium to thicken naturally as part of a normal cycle. So, it works by monitoring the cycle by checking egg follicles on the ovary and the thickness of the endometrium by ultrasound. And once the follicles have reached an appropriate size and the endometrium an appropriate thickness, then ovulation is triggered with a trigger shot just like in IVF.
Emily Rich: Just had a saline ultrasound, I had the most amazing doctor who walked me through every step and prepared me. So happy with that done. And then hopefully the next step will be a transfer.
Flipping Over the Test
14:16 – 18:25
Emily Rich: Monday, I went in for bloodwork and an ultrasound to check my levels and see how that was going. And the good news is things are progressing but not quite as fast as we would like. So, I go back in on Thursday to check the follicle development again. I’m hopeful that tomorrow we’ll get good news. But it’s all exhausting.
Dan Bulger: After this, there was a bit of silence from Emily. And to be honest, we were getting worried that the cycle might have been canceled or something. But then we were sent another file sometime later. And this came after the embryo transfer. It’s a video of Emily and her husband and they’re in their bedroom. And they have two pregnancy tests with them face down on the bed. The music playing is to set the mood, I think.
Emily Rich: You just flip it, 1…2…3… mine says pregnant, it’s faint but it’s there. We’re pregnant!
So, nine days after my embryo transfer, we had a pregnancy test, which was Monday, and it came back positive. And two days later, I took a pregnancy test, and it was negative and had my blood drawn and they said, yeah, your HCG levels dropped drastically. It feels like the rug just got ripped out from under me. We went from the highest of highs celebrating a positive pregnancy test two days ago, to suddenly just being at the lowest of lows. For now, I’m just going to kind of grieve this and let it work through me and move on to the next day. But this is, I think, one of the most emotionally aggressive experiences I think I’ve ever had to go through. So, time for sleep and to take care of myself a little bit.
Reflecting and Retrying
20:04 — 28:39
Emily Rich: Okay, so we are on cycle two, day 12. I just left my doctor’s office to have bloodwork done, my follicles look great. So, we’re just waiting to see if my blood work looks good for me to trigger. Crossing my fingers that we trigger tonight. Obviously, I’m still hopeful that this next round will work. But I’m trying not to get my hopes up too much the way that I did last time, because I think getting my hopes up as high as I did for that first round kind of added to the devastation when it didn’t work out.
You know, you go from getting excited about getting married. And then soon as we hit that peak of excitement, then we’re diagnosed with cancer. So that puts the dreams of the family on hold for another two years. Okay, so then we hit that two-year mark. And now we’re at a place where we can start to try for a family great. And in your head, you think it’s going to happen. And it’s going to be easy, and it’s going to be wonderful and joyful, and you get pregnant and you’re on such a high. I mean, the night that we took the test, we were just floating, we were so happy and overjoyed. And then two days later, for it to just not be there anymore was hard. Hard is an understatement. It was devastating to me because I felt like I was at the bottom of a very big hill all over again.
So, this morning, I had my beta HCG and we’re pregnant. It worked. The beta HCG this morning was 2828, which is so much higher than it was last time. So, I’m very excited about that. Sounds like it’s a nice strong number. I go back again on Thursday just to get my levels checked. And then we will have our very first scan next Friday. So, we’ll get to see the baby’s heart rate, and hopefully see the baby, very excited. Can’t wait to meet you.
Dan Bulger: With the help of modern oncofertility medicine, the brilliant men and women who serve as oncologists and reproductive endocrinologists and with the support they have for each other, Emily and Ian were able to reach their goals and meet their son Myles.
Dan has been in the healthcare industry for the last six years as a multimedia content producer. Better known as ‘Video Dan’ he has interviewed numerous doctors, patients and other experts in the world of fertility. He’s also the producer for this podcast, This is Infertility. On a personal note Dan’s parents started fostering kids when he was four years old, and he considers himself a proud older brother to over 100 foster children.
Two months after moving across the country with her fiancé for work, 32-year-old nonprofit executive, Emily Rich, was diagnosed with a rare form of breast cancer. A strong advocate for amplifying women’s voices, Emily is passionate about empowering women to listen to their bodies, become their own healthcare advocates in partnership with their care team, and to support each other through all of life’s challenges. She and her husband had never thought about preserving their fertility until they were faced with the risk of losing it. With the help of Progyny and an extraordinary team of Oncofertility specialists, Emily and Ian were prepared for their future family plans. Three years later, they are now a family of three with their son Myles.
Music From This Episode:
Artist: Lee Rosevere
Track: Not My Problem
Artist: Loyalty Freak Music
Track: I care
Artist: Doctor Turtle
Track: Wherever I Lay My Hat That’s My Wife
Track: Dawn I