Much like anyone in their 20’s and 30’s, I never expected to be sidelined by disease. My Wall Street career was fast-paced and I excelled: due to hard work and sheer stubbornness. I was healthy and never had even broken a bone.
Then while on a beach vacation, I noticed some blood in my bikini top. I knew I had to find out what was causing these anomalies and after what felt like one million doctor's appointments and several procedures, the doctors were sure. I had cancer.
Preparing myself for a double mastectomy and potential chemotherapy, I did what I do best. I asked questions. MANY MANY QUESTIONS. So many questions that the doctors would try and leave the exam room before I had even rolled through page one of my list. I discovered there was a high likelihood that the treatment that would save my life, would kill my dreams of becoming a mother. There was a way to preserve my fertility options, but it could cost up to $15,000....and I had to make a choice within a matter of days.
I still had not wrapped my brain around the fact that I had cancer, however, I was grateful to be in a position to cover the out-of-pocket costs to freeze my eggs. But a woman should not have to scour the earth for thousands and thousands of dollars in one week’s time to keep her dreams of motherhood alive, it’s not just in any situation, but especially egregious when infertility is a direct side effect of cancer treatment.
When I was diagnosed a second time with breast cancer, I contacted my insurance company to find out more about my fertility coverage. I was denied and told I’d have to try to get pregnant on my own for six months before I would be considered “infertile enough” for coverage. Until then, despite staring down months of chemotherapy and radiation, fertility preservation would be an elective procedure.
Who chooses to have cancer? I posed this question to a representative of my insurance provider....ok, I asked it of several dozen representatives. I will surely be infertile after chemo, radiation, long term drug therapy...will I not? So I am supposed to come back when it’s virtually impossible to carry a child and say, “well I’m your definition of infertile now? Let’s do this thing?”
It was outrageous. So again, I paid all costs out of my own rainy day fund, which I was privileged to have available. I considered what happened to other women in my position: students, women who chose a life in the arts or teaching our kids instead of a career in finance.
I was good at math – that made me a good fit for my job. It didn’t mean that one’s socioeconomic status should dictate their ability to be a parent. Because of the tremendous costs, some cancer patients even opt for less intense regimens of treatment, hoping they could still be mothers someday.
So I decided to do something about it. Enter The Chick Mission.
The Chick Mission’s Mission
We are an organization of fierce supporters and cancer survivors who believe women diagnosed with cancer during their reproductive years should get to make their own choices about a family. Not the insurance companies.
In the last four years, we have proudly supported 200 women across the country in preserving their fertility before Day One of reproductive threatening treatment. Two of our early recipients from our Hope Grant program have had children and there’s another baby girl on the way.
To date, The Chick Mission has pledged $1.5 Million dollars to those who need help in real-time.
In addition to our need-based grant program that offsets the expensive cost of egg freezing for cancer patients, we have rallied our flock to advocate for legislative change...state by state.
The Chick Mission is a community. All are welcome, there are very few people on the planet who have not experienced a loved one with cancer or struggling with infertility. We are here to help if you want to join us.
I didn’t expect a health crisis x 3 but I am able to help other people who need immediate assistance to keep their dreams of motherhood alive. Taking this experience and giving back to women like myself has healed me as much as modern medicine did.
The resilience of our community keeps me motivated to fight the fight until all 50 states require insurance coverage for those who need to preserve their fertility ahead of treatment.
Tips for Women Recently Diagnosed
Cancer takes away many of your choices, but being a mother shouldn’t be one of them. Here are some tips for women recently diagnosed and her support systems.
Hurry Up and Wait
A cancer diagnosis is not like an episode of Grey’s Anatomy, there are no residents running through sterile hospital halls with immediate test results. It takes time to identify, biopsy, and study a tumor to come up with a treatment plan.
Recognizing the fact there is a LOT of ‘hurry up and wait” during the process will help you feel more in control of the pace. Finding positive distractions will help limit some frustration.
Binge-watch an old TV series and work your way through it episode by episode. (I watched Orange is The New Black, while our Executive Director was obsessed with Veronica Mars and Buffy the Vampire the Slayer).
Regardless of the weather, take a daily walk if you are physically able to do so. Fresh air, quiet meditation all the while still feeling a sort of forward motion – that will translate to how you feel about your ongoing treatment.
One of our survivor friends went deep down the adult coloring book rabbit hole. The more intricate the pattern, the more focus it took to stay inside the lines. A mindless, but satisfying project.
Talk About Your Fertility
If you are in your reproductive years when diagnosed with cancer, there are things you can do to preserve your future family options. Make sure you speak up about your desire to become a parent in the future (or if you are unsure that this is something you want, you should at least have options).
Egg and sperm freezing options are not cheap, but there are resources out there – The Chick Mission Is one!
Choose a Health Advocate
Designate a family member or a trusted friend to act as your health advocate. They can call insurance companies on your behalf and help keep you organized. It’s also helpful to decide that this one person is responsible for communicating with the rest of your community so you are not on the hook to do so if you aren’t up for it.
Ask for Help
Your people want to help! Do not be afraid to ask them to help in specific ways – it’s easier for them to jump in and have your back with actual tasks. “Yes, we’d love dinner to be dropped off on Tuesday, I sincerely appreciate it!” “Thank you for offering to help, I’d love it if you could bring my daughter to soccer along with yours on Saturday AM.” We are trained to do everything ourselves. Let people love you.
Give Yourself Self-Care
Cancer isn’t a runway fashion show – however if you hold onto a few self care rituals that make you feel like....you? You won’t get lost in the many moving pieces of this journey.