I know I just wrote about articles by Mary Elizabeth Williams a couple days ago, but I’m finding her take on dealing with cancer fascinating. I just read her post about breast cancer and fertility from December 6th. She writes about the choices women are faced with when making decisions about cancer treatments. Most treatments have a greater or lesser impact on a woman’s ability to conceive or carry a pregnancy in the future and women can find themselves faced with choices that will have far ranging consequences.
Women and men with many chronic conditions face these choices, too. Sometimes they are healthy enough to have children, but medications or treatments can affect fertility or cause serious birth defects in the case of conception. Sometimes women are just too sick to safely carry a pregnancy or men infertile as a consequence of their condition.
This realization may come without warning. In my case, I knew I had limited fertility because of my age. Like many women of my generation I postponed having children, though not to further my career. I just wasn’t ready, and wanted to be able to give a child the love and care they deserved. I didn’t start trying to get pregnant until after I was 40 years old. I had a miscarriage 6 months before the heart attack, but still had hope I might be able to have a child. After my heart attack I still had some vague hope, but knew the chances of being able to conceive after a year or so of recovery were slim. As the year progressed and I did not have the recovery I hoped for, I knew I would never be healthy enough to carry a pregnancy and to do so would endanger my own life as well as that of a child. So in addition to grieving the loss of my vitality and energy and a life without 8 heart medications, I grieved the loss of that child I had hoped for.
People don’t talk about this a whole lot. Ms. Williams sums it up well when she says, “there’s a whole different set of unexpected feelings to deal with when you’re facing cancer, a profound change in your body and a possible screeching halt to your fertile years.” We sure didn’t cover this in cardiac rehab.