19 October 2020

Breast Cancer Awareness Month: 37 reasons not to lose hope

Breast Cancer Awareness Month
Medical Director
Cesar Diaz-Garcia
MD PhD Assoc Prof
IVI London


October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It’s dedicated to highlighting and supporting women all over the world who are living with breast cancer.

This year, the message from IVI is clear: becoming a mother after cancer is possible. Since starting our fertility preservation programme, “Becoming a Mother After Cancer”, we have helped 37 babies to be born. With each new life, we’ve ignited a reason not to lose hope.

Cancer can come at you from out of the blue. Life gets put on hold. You pause plans to build a family, and dreams of the future can seem far away. But sometimes, you have to look to the future to keep moving in the present. For many women, this means holding onto the dream of becoming a mother and having children after cancer. So far, more than 1,300 patients from all over the world have benefited from IVI’s fertility preservation programme. The programme has allowed them to vitrify their eggs before beginning treatment for cancer.

How do you preserve fertility?

Since launching, 37 babies have been born with thanks to IVI’s fertility preservation methods. To do this, there are two that are the most common:

  • Vitrification of the oocytes (or, freezing eggs): This consists of the cryopreservation – being directly immersed in liquid nitrogen at a temperature of -196°C – of eggs obtained after ovarian stimulation. We collect and freeze the eggs. They’re then stored for the patient to use when they’re ready – retaining the exact same quality as the day they were frozen.
  • Freezing of the ovarian cortex (or, freezing ovarian follicles): This method is intended for cases where cancer treatment (such as chemotherapy) is required to start immediately. This leaves no time for ovarian stimulation and egg collection. We freeze the ovarian cortex for transplantation later. Once the patient recovers her ovarian function, this method can even lead to natural pregnancies.

In some cases, double preservation has been necessary. Both partners have received a cancer diagnosis, and both have needed to preserve their fertility. By doing so, couples have frozen both semen and oocytes. In one extraordinary case at IVI Alicante, Spain, a couple who had both finished their respective cancer treatments gave birth to a baby who had truly defied all odds. “It was undoubtedly the greatest reward we could have received,” they stated, “after the battle we had to face”.

We wanted to share some of the stories from these women – stories worth reading and listening to again and again because of the example of courage, struggle and love behind them.

“It helps to make plans for the future, like becoming parents”

“It is worth looking ahead and making plans for the future, like becoming a parent, because it helps you find strength to overcome the diseases and makes the fight even more important.”

These are words from Itziar, a patient at IVI Bilbao, Spain, who preserved her fertility in the face of breast cancer.

It is often helpful to visualise a happy ending and consider the wait as simply a matter of time. Both in the face of cancer, but also in having a child. Silvia, an IVI Barcelona patient, spent six years beating breast cancer. She always remembered that one of her reasons for carrying on was to become a mother. The happy ending to her story came after two IVF treatments, and her name is Valentina.

For Maria Paz, breast cancer came at a time when she and her husband were considering having a baby. This made the diagnosis even more difficult. Maria froze her eggs before undergoing chemotherapy. After treatment, she achieved the pregnancy she had been waiting for at IVI Madrid.

“When we heard the heartbeat, we started to cry. Raul is the child we have wanted for years,” Maria explains, “Now, I can’t remember being without him – for me, he is just another member of the family.”

Sharing stories

Last year, we arranged for three women diagnosed with breast cancer to meet with the Medical Director of IVI Madrid, Dr. Juan Antonio Garcia Velasco. Here, we learnt about how they felt and the fears they encountered along the way. These included Susana, who already has a son at home, and Estrella and Irene who are both in the early stages of recovering from cancer. A summary of their conversation can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LE3xmXgfI7k&t

There are many stories of dreams coming true in the face of adversity. This is ours. The 37 new babies born have come into the world to fill the lives of their families with hope. We are sending a message of optimism to all the women who want to become mothers for which life has taken an unexpected turn.

Don’t lose hope. The future is closer than it seems.

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