The Infertility Ache of Cancer

If we sat down to talk about my experience with cancer, you would usually find me optimistic and optimistic. I am a fairly positive person, and it shows when I tell my story. But it’s important to me not to coat the challenging parts. It’s true: Facing cancer brings both ups and downs. Some of the most joyful moments are usually contrasted with intense, heartbreaking aches. One of my most searing pains isn’t the scars, bathroom distress stories, or treatment side effects that linger today. It’s about the reality that I’m dealing with infertility because of cancer. This pain follows me every day.

The words are now flowing from my tongue as I quickly label myself sterile and explain why I don’t have biological children. I can talk about it without crying and even wrote this article relatively easily. But make no mistake: it took me over 10 years to get here. Nothing feels natural when you’re dealing with infertility.

Becoming infertile

At first, I was not concerned about my fertility situation. At the age of 17 I was diagnosed with colon cancer, I knew the treatments could affect my chances of having biological children, but I didn’t really care. I had always planned to adopt, even before I got cancer. Besides, I had other things on my mind. I was just hoping to enroll in my senior year of high school.

I haven’t thought much about what it meant for the doctors to perform an ovarian suspension prior to radiation therapy. Looking back, I can also see how I have blocked a lot of fear. Why were common fertility preservation strategies, such as egg freezing, not an option for me? There was no time. Doctors couldn’t prioritize my ability to create a future life and delay treatment while my own life was at stake. They were scary things, things I didn’t want to think about.

READ MORE: Maintaining Fertility in Adolescent and Young Adult Women With Cancer

For years I have not had much trouble with infertility. My husband and I were lucky to know I was barren when we got married. We were in no rush with kids, and even when the time came, we didn’t try to conceive for years, but ended up with surprising disappointment. Knowing in advance has saved us a lot of heartbreak. I could count my blessings.

But by the time I hit my mid-20s, when many of my friends and family members were starting to conceive, the pain of infertility hit me out of nowhere. The blessings I once counted were thrown out the window. Infertility went from something I barely thought about to something that, if I allowed it, consumed my life. It was like a thief in the night stealing what was so dear to me. But the funny thing was, it stole something that never had a chance to live. This made it even more difficult. When the reality of my infertility set in, it led me to a dark place. It is devastating to feel so helpless about whether or not to create a life, when you are physiologically built to create and sustain life.

Adoption does not take away infertility pain

I wondered, as I imagine most infertile couples considering adoption, the pain of infertility would subside once the role of ‘mother’ became a reality. Adoption agencies warned us to give ourselves enough time to grieve a biological child. I understood their wisdom when a girl gave me the proud title of mother. While our bundle of joy did indeed bring healing, laughter, and light into our world, it didn’t take away from my infertility pains and the reality that I couldn’t have children like her birth mother. As I processed this and became real and open about my feelings, adoption became the blessing on the other side of the pain. However, adoption alone did not take away the pain. Only time and healing can do that.

Healing takes time, but it is possible

As I said before, it has taken me over a decade to get to the point where I can talk openly about infertility. I started telling my cancer story within months of my diagnosis, but talking about what it’s like to be an infertile woman has taken a long time. I had to grieve and find non-judgmental spaces for my true feelings to come out. I had to give myself permission to feel angry, cheated, and hopeless. I had to skip baby showers, cry, and acknowledge that not having biological kids, but wanting them, is really, really hard. Even now, some days are easier than others.

All this work ultimately changed things for me. Today I live with optimism and hope. I can count my blessings again, but only because I also count the losses.

For more news on cancer updates, research and education, don’t forget to subscribe to CURE® newsletters here.

Comments are closed.