When you live with cancer, the range of issues you have to deal with far surpasses most other life circumstances, and you find yourself stuck in conversations that span from scary to absurdly uncomfortable. The night before my husband was to start his first round of induction chemotherapy to treat his recently diagnosed leukemia, we found ourselves in the midst of one of the latter. Of course they had to find the hottest doctor in all of MCV to discuss our future reproductive options with Chris and I!
It all started when a clinician came in to go through all the final paperwork with us before his chemo could begin. She asked us to sign a document acknowledging that we understood the risks of conceiving while undergoing cancer treatment. She explained that chemotherapy and radiation cause mutations within the sex cells, leading to disruptions in fetal development and a whole host of birth defects. This wasn’t necessarily a permanent issue, but while he was undergoing treatment and for a period of time after, we had to put any plans of conceiving on the back burner. What she didn’t know was that this was a non-issue for us.
Chris politely declined to sign the document, trying to tactfully explain that pregnancy was not in our future, immediate or otherwise, without coming right out and saying, “My wife’s infertile.” He acknowledged the fact that chemo and/or radiation plus unprotected sex equaled a C.H.U.D. baby, but there was absolutely no risk of that happening to us. No matter how many times he repeated this, it didn’t seem to sink in. She was sure we were no different from any of the other couples who had said the same thing in the past, but then got pregnant regardless.
I’ve known about my infertility condition since I was 15 and had this exact conversation several times before. As considerate as he was being of handling this without divulging my medical history, this was a first for him and he was getting increasingly frustrated. After several minutes of going back and forth between her insisting he sign the document and he insisting that there was no need, I finally interjected. I was oh-so-eloquent and briefly explained, “This isn’t a problem. I had a hysterectomy over a decade ago.”
The clinician finally broke the awkward silence, “Oh, I see.” She then began a barrage of questions about any future plans we had regading having kids. We had two options: surrogacy (after all, I still had my ovaries), or adoption. Since surrogacy was on the table the clinician insisted we consult with a physician ASAP to discuss cryo-preservation of Chris’s sperm, just in case. We weren’t all that concerned with the future of our reproductive options…we were more concerned with the future of his mortality.
I think out of mere desperation to get this woman to shut up already, we agreed to talk with the attending physician about this issue. An hour later, a doctor in his early to mid-thirties came into our room whose looks rivaled those of Dr. McDreamy off of Grey’s Anatomy. All I could think was, “Sweet Buddha, don’t let him be the sperm doctor!” Sure enough, he was.
What followed was the most awkward conversation I have ever had in my life. Hot Sperm Doc proceeded to tell us that there were no consistent statistics on the effects of chemotherapy on male fertility. Some men experience a complete loss of fertility; others experience difficulty and need medical intervention, while some experience absolutely no problems conceiving naturally. He couldn’t give us any indication as to which category Chris would fall into. Then he proceeded to tell us that the hospital has arrangements with fertility clinics in the Richmond area, and we could easily have Chris’s sperm collected and cryo-preserved at any one of these facilities…for a monthly storage fee averaging about $225. He stressed how important it was that we decide as soon as possible so that the sample could be collected and his chemotherapy schedule readjusted. It was at this point that he excused himself to give us some time alone to discuss our options.
It took us all of 15 minutes to decide that we wanted to take our chances and move ahead with the chemotherapy as soon as possible. The ultimate decision ended up in my lap because Chris just couldn’t bring himself to make the call given my fertility issues. As chivalrous as that was, the last thing I was worried about was my own infertility and how his cancer was going to impact our chances of having future children. At that point, my only concern was just having a future with him period…end of conversation!