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Lisa Rosenthal

By: Lisa Rosenthal on December 30th, 2013

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"Saving Fertility Not Priority at Most Cancer Centers" - Catchy Headline?

cancer | Fertility Preservation

Saving Fertility Not Priority at Most Cancer Centers

medical research on cancer and fertility preservationThat is a shocking headline. The article with this title, "Saving Fertility Not Priority at Most Cancer Centers," by Marla Paul and published by Northwestern University, reports that even the "leading National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer centers" aren't making fertility preservation a priority. At the same time, the first paragraph lists infertility as a leading concern and side effect of having cancer and undergoing cancer treatment.


The study by Northwestern Medicine, in essence, condemns these centers for not having policies or personnel in place to be able to give good, reliable information to patients who are already in a state of shock and distress from having received the news of a cancer diagnosis. These patients may not be able to consider anything else but the life-saving medical treatment necessary for the diagnosis of cancer. They are not necessarily capable of advocating for their own fertility. They are likely not even considering that piece of how their diagnosis will affect them. 


“It can be shocking for patients to find out their fertility was affected when there were potentially options that exist that were not offered to them,” said lead study author Marla Clayman, an assistant professor of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a member of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University.

Life threatening illnesses, such as cancer, must be overwhelming to everyone who has to rearrange their lives to accommodate treatment, jobs, families, and lifestyles. The side effects are often overwhelming as well, in terms of how one physically feels.

Impacts of Cancer and Infertility

Overwhelming seems like an understatement. Cancer seems to pick people up and turn them upside down, while turning them inside out at the same time. While infertility is often likened to a roller coaster, cancer may feel more like a tornado, whirling devilishly around with little possibility of catching your breath.


Imagine, coming through the cancer, the treatment, the side effects, and finding yourself healthy again. It happens. Often.


Then imagine finding out that one of the side effects is that biological children are no longer a possibility. 


But they could have been.


If you had only known that there were procedures that could have been done before cancer treatment began; that were available and appropriate and even affordable.


Imagine learning that a lifelong dream was now destroyed, even as the tornado lost its power. 


I don't know if men and women ever recover fully from cancer. Whether they consider themselves in remission for the rest of their lives or whether they consider that they've recovered. Do you expect to live the same life, have the same hopes and dreams? Do you consider yourself compromised forever?


Maybe you consider having a baby a frivolous issue, given the life and death possibility present with cancer. Who cares about that if you are busy participating in saving your own life? Read what Maria Clayman, lead study author had to say about that:


“When you think about having children after cancer, that’s a very strong way to think about surviving and thriving after cancer,” Clayman said. “It’s not just that you want to live, it’s that you want to live a life as close as possible that you could have without cancer.”

It could be a reason to live, something to hold onto as you fight off a disease. Having a baby, a healthy life and family could be the reason some men and women would hold onto with both hands.


If they knew.


Fertility Preservation: A Need for Education


One last bit from this very enlightening, if depressing article:


Fertility navigators or a designated fertility educator are key to bridge the gap between oncology and fertility. But less than one-third of the centers had someone in this role, the study reports.

Fertility navigators or educators reduce the need for oncologists to have in-depth discussions about potential fertility loss and fertility preservation, a rapidly changing field in which they are not experts.

Please. If you or someone you know has had the diagnosis of cancer or another life threatening illness, share this with them. There are options. Losing your dream of a biological family does not have to be a side effect of cancer.


We can help. Please let us know if you have any questions.



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About Lisa Rosenthal

Lisa has over thirty years of experience in the fertility field. After her personal infertility journey, she felt dissatisfied with the lack of comprehensive services available to support her. She was determined to help others undergoing fertility treatment. Lisa has been with RMACT for eleven years and serves as Patient Advocate and the Strategic Content Lead.

Lisa is the teacher and founder of Fertile Yoga, a program designed to support men and women on their quest for their families through gentle movement and meditation.

Lisa’s true passion is supporting patients getting into treatment, being able to stay in treatment and staying whole and complete throughout the process. Lisa is also a Certified Grief Recovery Specialist, which is helpful in her work with fertility patients.

Her experience also includes working with RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association and The American Fertility Association (now Path2Parenthood), where she was Educational Coordinator, Conference Director and Assistant Executive Director.