Last week Cobie Smulders revealed she battled ovarian cancer at age 25. Today, she is 33 and has two children which she was told she would not be able to conceive naturally. Spoiler alert: She did.
Dr. Mitchell Gaynor, a New York City oncologist and author of The Gene Therapy Plan: Taking Control of Your Genetic Destiny with Diet and Lifestyle, explains, “Cobie was left with one third of her ovary and did not receive chemotherapy. That made it possible even though unlikely — so she is right to consider herself blessed.”
Most women diagnosed with ovarian cancer are between 54 and 65, half of them older than the median age of 63 and half younger than 63. If you’re on the younger end of the scale like Cobie was, you’re probably more likely to have that fertility conversation. Even if you’re not in the stage of your life when you’re ready to have kids anytime soon, there are things you can and should do to increase your chances when and if you ever are ready.
Dr. Eve Feinberg, a reproductive endocrinologist at Fertility Centers of Illinois, points out options from intrauterine insemination and in vitro fertilization to the use donor eggs or gestational carriers. She also points out, “Not all cancer treatments are sterilizing and oncologists are making large strides in reducing the toxicity of the treatments and increasing future fertility potential.”
When women need both ovaries removed during cancer treatment, chances of conceiving naturally plummet to zero, likely heartbreaking news for most. But Dr. Gaynor adds, “Women can freeze embryos if they are with a life partner. They can also freeze eggs and have in vitro fertilization.”
So babies can still be part of your future when cancer is part of your past. That’s not to say it’s a walk in the park, though. Nor is it any kind of guarantee.
“Most ovarian cancer treatments require removal of one if not both ovaries. If both ovaries are removed, a woman will have to conceive with the use of donor eggs in the future. Chemotherapy can also decrease the egg supply so even if an ovary is preserved the egg supply may be diminished due to subsequent treatment,” says Dr. Feinberg. “Anyone who has had cancer and who has not conceived within six months should seek expert help with a reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist.”
But don’t give up hope. Dr. Gaynor confirms, “It is very possible to conceive naturally after many cancer therapies.” It’s just not always easy.
Speak up if your body doesn’t feel right and visit brightpink.org for more on ovarian and breast health.