University of Pennsylvania Health System

Focus on Cancer

Friday, January 20, 2012

I Survived Cancer, Now I Want a Family!

Melanie Gaffney is a proud childhood cancer survivor, and a contributor to the Focus On Cancer blog. Today she is cancer-free, but lives with the after effects of her cancer treatments.

Before I ever pictured myself in the “what-do-you-want-to-be-when-you-grow-up” role, being a mom always foreshadowed any career or profession. I had a vivid concept/vision in my head about motherhood: the mother I would try to be, the hugs and kisses I would smother a child with, life lessons I would teach, even the sex --  I always envisioned boy and girl twins.

This was even after I was told that a baby, especially “babies,” might not be possible. I had come to terms with knowing that I might not be able to conceive, carry or deliver because of my cancer treatments and health limitations. I knew if I couldn’t conceive, I would adopt. I realized this about the age of 13. I know it sounds young, but I think when forced to battle for your life at a young age, your outlook and decisions about life tend to mature quickly.

During my treatments I received radiation directly to my pelvic area and my left ovary was in the direct line of radiation. It could not be protected, but someone, even back in 1982 during the early stages of this research, had the foresight to shield my right ovary.

Now I have my dream: a 5-year-old boy and 1-year-old little girl. Pregnancy was hard on my body and I was under constant supervision from my multidisciplinary, high-risk pregnancy team at Penn. But I have bounced back. I wouldn’t change a thing. I thank the incredible medical team I have and I thank myself, the sheer will to achieve and fight for what you want can be surprisingly strong.

I am a Cancer Survivor and I got more than I ever thought I would, my family!

Advances in childhood cancer treatment have significantly improved a patient’s chance of survival, which results in a large number of adult childhood cancer survivors who are hoping for the same life they would have if they had never had cancer. 

One big concern is about the effects of treatment on reproductive possibilities. For myself and many other women, there are indications that both radiation and chemotherapy may affect how well the ovaries function (if you are left with just one) and the health of the uterus. All of these can lead to infertility, negative pregnancy outcomes and entering menopause at an earlier age.

We are very thankful for surviving and the chance to live our lives, but we also want to experience life, not just survive it. Having children plays an incredibly important role in the lives of many people.  Along with advances in cancer treatments over the years, the advancement of preserving fertility has grown as well.

The Cancer Survivorship Program at CHOP’s Cancer Center is working with Fertile Hope, an organization dedicated to addressing fertility concerns for cancer survivors, and they have developed ways to help preserve a woman’s fertility.

Penn Fertility Care at Penn Medicine is a leader in helping adult survivors of childhood cancer realize their dreams of parenthood. The physicians are working with patients who were not able to take advantage of the fertility services during that small window, before their cancer treatment begins. These physicians are doing what they can to help these women realize their dreams of a family.

Learn more about Penn Fertility Care at Penn Medicine.

Learn more about the Living Well After Childhood Cancer Survivorship Program at the Abramson Cancer Center.

In addition to being a mom and a wife, Melanie operates a small marketing and graphic design boutique called Melanie Gaffney. Read more about Melanie here.

1 comment:

  1. Melanie-
    I was rendered sterile by my cancer therapy. Fortunately I stored some sperm. Fertility issues and cancer are better understood now-

    http://adolescent-young-adult.peoplebeatingcancer.org/blog-entry/fertility-and-cancer-survivorship-intracytoplasmic-sperm-injection-icsi-pronounced-eeksee

    David Emerson
    http://peoplebeatingcancer.org/

    ReplyDelete

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