Being diagnosed with breast cancer before you’ve had children is terrifying. There is even more to consider than the mountains of “too-much” anyone diagnosed with cancer is forced to process.
But, planning for a family is still an option. It’s just one more overwhelming step that needs to be added to what already feels like an endless pilgrimage back to health.
We talked with model and Stage ambassador, Alissa Jo, to get her take on how fertility preservation went for her after she was diagnosed with both breast cancer and the BRCA2 gene.
How old were you when you were diagnosed with breast cancer and how did you come to find out?
I was 31 years old when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I came to find out when I was at a well visit at my OB/GYN. My doctor did an exam and felt something in my right breast.
Due to my age, my breast surgeon wanted to see if I carried the BRCA gene. A month later I found out I was in fact BRCA2 positive. Two diagnostic tests were taken to determine this: the color test and ambry genetic testing. One was done with bloodwork, the other with saliva. When both confirmed I was BRCA2 positive, it confirmed that a double mastectomy was necessary.
How long did the fertility process take? What was it like?
The fertility preservation process took about a month. It was ten days of shots, then the egg retrieval, then awaiting results for how many eggs were retrieved. Once we got that information, my husband and I were able to decide if we were going to make embryos or if we were going to just freeze the eggs and wait to fertilize.
The positive with making embryos in my particular situation was I was able to do something called “ PGD” which stands for preimplantation genetic diagnosis. This gave me the ability to know which embryos carried the BRCA2 gene and which did not. So we decided to do that.
Memorable thoughts while going through treatment and planning to have children after the whole ordeal?
Any memorable thoughts that I had whilst going through this whole process are honestly a blur. I knew going through the above process is what I had to do to protect my chances of having a family, so I just did what I had to do.
Because you have the BRCA2 gene, what is the percentage chance one of your embryos would carry the gene?
The chances of my embryos having the brca gene was a 50/50 chance.
How much of the fertility preservation process did insurance cover?
Insurance covered five years of storage for embryos free of charge. After five years, it will be about $400 per quarter (every 3 months). Some of the fertility drugs were covered but most were not. All in all, it was about $16,000 out-of-pocket.
Do you have any tips you’d like to share with those supporting a friend or family member going through cancer treatment?
The best thing someone did for me while going through this whole process was making me laugh. Laughter truly is the best medicine… from the beginning of the breast cancer journey right through to survivorship.
Any other insights for those currently dealing with a similar situation?
It was a long process, but I am so happy I did it. I was able to go into chemotherapy feeling hopeful that I was able to preserve my chances of one day having my family. It certainly is a lot for a couple to take on together, but if you have a solid foundation with each other, then you can get through anything that life throws in your path.