The Path to Frozen Parenthood by Jamie Lasko

August 1, 2013

Since coming out of the cancer closet, I have had lots of questions about the egg retrieval process, among other things. Since babies are deliciously dear to my heart, I decided to begin my second installment on the topic.

As soon as I got my diagnosis, the breast surgeon gave me a plethora of cards for all sorts of doctors and specialists I might possibly need throughout this journey. No decisions of any treatments had been made, these were all just to be used as needed. The first appointment I chose to make was with the fertility specialist. We went and heard all the options and what-ifs for the whole egg retrieval process. The doctor could not have been nicer. When she was done explaining and answering questions, she ended the appointment by saying she hoped for my sake she wouldn’t have to see us again. I hoped she was right. At that point, chemo wasn’t in the picture. I was hormone-receptor positive and bunch of other codes that the biopsy results read that all pointed in the direction of no chemotherapy.

Fast forward to post-surgery and now knowing that I would indeed need to have chemo as part of my treatment plan… It was a Tuesday morning. So many of my days at this point were filled with multiple doctor appointments, or perhaps a doctor visit and a wedding related appointment. Either way, I was used to being booked and busy. First stop was our first time meeting the oncologist. He couldn’t have been warmer or more supportive while also being completely straight-forward and honest. Like I said in my last blog, I interrupted him after a few minutes to get the answers I needed most. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to listen to a word he said until we addressed the baby issue. I mean, if I didn’t get the answer I wanted, I probably STILL wouldn’t have heard a word he said, but you get the picture. I stopped him and said that at this point I don’t even care about waiting to start chemo until after the wedding but that I was adamant about being able to freeze some eggs before beginning treatment. When he said he was completely comfortable with letting me go through the retrieval process (and have a “normal” wedding), I have never been more relieved in my life. There were soooooo many tears, but these ones were happy.

The next appointment of the day happened to be with the fertility specialist. She took one look at me and said, oh I can tell by how you’re moving that you’ve had surgery. She truly earned the certificate on the wall that says “most compassionate doctor of the year” because she genuinely looked so disappointed (for my sake) to have to be seeing me again. We caught her up on everything that had been going on and what would be ahead and asked her where we go from here. It couldn’t have worked out more perfectly because she said it could begin as soon as I got my next period. Well lucky me, I had gotten it that morning. She took out a calendar and started counting. When her first go at it meant the retrieval would be the weekend of my bachelorette party she backed up and started again. I instantly had my first of what would be many ultrasounds and blood work. It was no surprise to this baby-lover to hear the technician and the doctor say how fertile I was. You always hope to hear that, but in this case it was bittersweet because once chemo takes over your body, you don’t know if your fertility will ever return. Anyway, my hormone levels were checked and I was told I was good to go. The next step would be to return for a session with the nurse where she would teach me all about the injections I would have to give myself.

The morning of the nurse-teach, I got a phone call that was not pleasant, to say the least. It was a courtesy call REMINDING me to bring my pre-payment in the amount of $10,650 with me to my appointment. Reminding me? How can you remind of something that you never told me in the first place? The only time that money came up was when we were told that they were contacting Walgreens because they have a special program where they can get discounted or even free drugs for cancer patients. Fertility drugs are not cheap, so to hear that I was approved for this program was great news. This ten grand was another story. I told her I didn’t have ten grand and she said I could reschedule the appointment until I figured things out. I told her that this could not be postponed and explained my whole situation and she could not seem to care less. She told me that they work with a company that gives people loans for this kind of thing. I exclaimed that we just took out a mortgage loan to buy a house that we closed on two days prior; I doubted if we were in the market to take out another. I guess that no matter how compassionate a doctor is, when it comes to insurance and finances, it is never pretty. You’d think that these people would be as compassionate as the doctor who employs them when they are dealing with a matter as sensitive as people who are struggling to have a baby.

Anyway, moving away from money… The nurse-teach was a lot of information and I felt like I could handle it all. However, I learn by doing, so just listening and watching the nurse weren’t going to cut it. I watched online demonstrations multiple times and decided I was ready to go. For ten days, I had a morning injection and an evening injection. I have a (now) husband who is known to faint from needles so he was going to be no help at all during this. On the first morning, I mixed everything up, I squeezed the skin (in the stomach below the belly button), and held the syringe but I couldn’t do it. I’d get close but I just couldn’t “pull the trigger” so to speak. Well that husband of mine stepped up to the plate and did it for me. I secretly think that he got pleasure out of being able to stab me with a needle, but either way, I was so grateful to have him. He helped me for the first three injections and finally by the fourth I grew the courage to just close my eyes (probably not wise) and get it over with. I turned into a pro– holding up the needle and flicking it to get out the air bubbles. The night time shot was like an epi-pen, so that one was easier. I continued to inject myself and by day five, there was a third shot thrown into the mix. I went every other day for an ultrasound and blood work. On day eight, I woke up with the worst cramps imaginable as well as aches and a fever. I couldn’t have felt more miserable and was also devastated because that night was one of my best friend’s rehearsal dinner– the second wedding I was standing up in post-surgery. I was sure that I would feel better as the day went on, but it only got worse. The fertility nurse told me to call my breast surgeon and my breast surgeon told me to call my fertility doctor. Neither of them knew why I was sick and neither of them were too worried because my fever wasn’t high enough for concern. Needless to say, I did not get better and I missed the dinner. I woke up in the morning and went for another ultrasound. The technician instantly told me the cause for my fever. Whereas normally looking at the screen, your ovaries are the size of almonds; mine were in fact the size of oranges and had attached to one another. Well hello there, fertile Myrtle. I then headed downtown to be a part of the wedding. Everything was beautiful and perfect and I felt good enough to dance my ovaries off– even though by the end of the night they were literally protruding through my stomach. Lovely, I know. After a fun-filled evening, I had to head back to the doctor at 7 am for another ultrasound. Couldn’t have been happier when they told me I could stop my injections, give myself my trigger shot (ended up being the easiest of all the injections) and come Tuesday for my egg retrieval. Joe would have to give his “sample” at the same time. Tuesday was a relief not only because I was so uncomfortable but also because it would give me the rest of the week to heal and rest in time for my bachelorette party.

Signing paperwork making decisions about your unborn children weeks before we even became husband and wife was very strange and very adult, for lack of a better word. The anesthesiologist pissed me off. See, post-surgery I am not allowed to have blood drawn or blood pressure checked on my left arm because of the lymphnodes. When I told him, he had the attitude that, oh, they just tell you that, but its not really a big deal. I am sorry, but when hospitals put a wrist band on you that says do not use this arm and you are constantly told not to use it, I am pretty sure it is something to listen to. Douchebag. Sorry, I digress. Anyhow, I made sure the nurses and everyone else in the operating room knew not to let him touch my left arm. 🙂 Because of my orange-sized ovaries, I think I had more eggs than they anticipated because I woke up at the very end of the procedure and started to somewhat feel the last few eggs they took. (Long needle through the vagina into the ovary is only a mild discomfort.) Those last few brought it to a grand total of 26 eggs. 17 of them ended up fertilizing. Joe’s response was, “you know we’re not having all 17, right?” After closely watching them for five days, they selected the strongest and most developed to freeze. Whether these are implanted in me or in a surrogate, and no matter when, they remain the eggs of a 29 year old. We are the proud parents of six frozen nuggets!!! Let’s see if Joe lets us have them all… 🙂

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