When Alice Crisci was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 31, she was frightened and in shock.
“I wasn’t scared of dying of breast cancer,” she says, “I was afraid I wasn’t going to get to be a mom.”
Crisci has always felt called to be a mother, and through the years had considered all her options — including adoption.
“That was always on the table, but the idea that one of my choices would be stripped for me made me angry and really profoundly sad,” she explains. “I cried when I realized that. The sadness and anger really came from the idea that the biological choice would be stripped from me or taken away.”
Deciding to take ownership of her reproductive future, Crisci decided to freeze her eggs. She says she “didn’t have $20,000 lying around,” so she put it on a credit card.
The egg-freezing process is the same whether or not you have cancer. Because this was almost 10 years ago, fertility clinics weren’t yet using the more modern techniques used today that result in a much higher successful thaw rate. Crisci was told she only had a 2- to 3-percent chance her eggs would be viable. When she learned this, Crisci advocated to find a sperm donor and fertilize half her eggs before freezing them.
“That was as really empowering experience, to go through it, even though it’s not the most pleasant thing to be giving yourself injections twice a day and tricking your ovaries into growing all these follicles,” Crisci says. “It was the one thing I could do by myself.”
What was tricky given her cancer diagnosis was that Crisci had to make these major decisions in a much shorter period of time. In fact, she only had five days to make her mind up about how to move forward with her fertility preservation.
“The difference between someone with cancer versus someone without cancer is that for those without it, there’s no urgent medical need in timing,” she explains. “We had a small window to make all these massive decisions.”
After freezing the combination of fertilized and unfertilized eggs, Crisci went through three years of treatment involving chemotherapy and surgery. Around five years after doing fertility preservation, she had her first embryo transfer. The first attempt worked, and she became pregnant right away, and now is mother to Dante, her 4-year-old son.
After turning her dream of motherhood into a reality several years later, Crisci wanted to do something to help others in her position, so she developed MedAnswers, an interactive educational platform guided by medical experts.
“I set up MedAnswers so they could get their questions answered quickly,” Crisci explains. “When it comes to cancer [and fertility perseveration], you’ve got to get in really fast to move forward. I had built up relationships through the years, so now we’ve made that available in technology so that everyone across the globe can get the answers they need when they need them.”
The site works by connecting patients directly with the experts in such a way that the patient gets to be anonymous (the doctors can’t) and ask health questions. Then the experts up-vote each other’s answers. There are currently more than 70 doctors involved who each participate as a complimentary service.
Right now, MedAnswers is focused on the infertility and reproductive health space, but Crisci hopes to expand that soon to include pregnancy, infancy, allergy and immunology.
“I just wanted to put this trusted network together so everyone could access it regardless of socio-economic status or whether they have insurance,” she explains. “Even if people can’t afford to do the [fertility] services, they have a right to get the answers they need so they can make the choices that are right for them and their families.”