Fertility awareness key for cancer patients

Not enough young cancer patients are being told about their fertility options: Fertile Future.

Cancer survivor Ashley Oscienny with her husband

A Port Alberni cancer survivor was in Vancouver last week to tell her story of fertility preservation and to inspire other young people affected by cancer.

Ashley Oscienny was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2012 when she was 28 years old. She attended and spoke at the Vancouver fundraiser, An Evening of Hope, on April 14 at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver.

The gala was hosted by Fertile Future, a national charity that provides fertility preservation information and support services to cancer patients and oncology professionals, to raise funds in support of the B.C. men and women at risk of losing their fertility to cancer.

Fertility and the toxic effects of oncology treatments are key considerations for young people diagnosed with cancer, yet fewer than half receive this information from their family doctor or oncologist, according to a Fertile Future spokesperson.

“I definitely don’t think there’s enough awareness necessarily for kids… if you’re 14 it could be the last thing on your mind but that’s pretty important because maybe one day you want that option,” Oscienny said.

Approximately 10,000 Canadians between 20 and 44 years old are diagnosed with cancer every year. Fertile Future, through their Power of Hope Cost Reduction Plan, helps fund fertility preservation treatments for men and women who are affected with cancer.

Oscienny, prior to undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatment, received fertility funding through Fertile Future.

“It’s not cheap to get cancer,” Oscienny said. “I found out there was the cost relief program which was a sigh of relief and then especially as we went through the cancer treatment it was even more helpful because I was off work for six months. Fertility treatment plus cancer treatment—the costs add up pretty quick.”

Oscienny’s doctors were able to perform one egg retrieval cycle prior to her cancer treatment and Oscienny’s cousin volunteered to act as surrogate. On Nov. 13, 2013 a healthy baby boy named Ryder was born.

Depending on income, women can apply for up to $2,500 to go towards egg freezing and men are eligible to receive up to $350 for sperm cryo-preservation.

“Only two provinces —Ontario and Quebec —provide fertility preservation funding for cancer patients that can often cost up to $10,000. Fertile Future helps cancer patients in B.C. and other provinces by subsidizing this cost so they have the opportunity to start a family,” said Jessica Séguin, executive director of Fertile Future.

By 2018, Fertile Future will expand the amount available for eligible women to $3,750.

“Women are born with a fixed number of eggs at birth and slowly lose eggs over time until menopause, and chemotherapy seems to accelerate that,” said Dr. Jeffrey Roberts, Fertile Future board member and co-director of the Pacific Centre for Reproductive Medicine.

Roberts said some studies show that infertility rates are as high as 60 to 70 per cent after a person receives chemotherapy and that sometimes patients aren’t informed by their doctors of potential risks to their fertility.

“There’s surveys done in the past that show that fewer then 50 per cent of the patients are told about the options when they’re potential candidates. I think in Canada we’re improving that through a variety of committees and initiatives that are being launched,” Roberts said.

 

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