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Fertility options for family dealing with cancer

Posted at 10:23 PM, Dec 22, 2019

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — FOX 17 has brought you the story of the Myers family in Grand Rapids, looking for help having another child through a gestational carrier after a cancer diagnosis.

But what does that process look like for both families going through cancer, and women who want to help?

Family planning can be the last thing on a patient’s mind when going through cancer, but Dr. Valerie Shavell with The Fertility Center in Grand Rapids said it’s something families need to think about before they start treatment.

“It’s a lot for them to face the cancer diagnosis, but it's also important not to forget about future fertility," Dr. Shavell said.

The Fertility Center works closely with local oncologists to make sure patients know, cancer isn’t the ‘be all, end all’ in growing a family.

Dr. Shavell said, “There is the option for women to go through egg freezing for example, so eggs are frozen for the future if that woman would need to use them. There's the option of freezing embryos if the woman is in a relationship and would like to fertilize the eggs, and keep those embryos for the future, if needed."

Those procedures can be expensive, but there are a number of grants and organizations that can help greatly reduce the cost.

Dr. Shavell said, “For example, Livestrong, they can assist with covering medication for women, because she will need to be fertility injections that would otherwise be very expensive."

In the Myers' case, Tammy’s cancer diagnosis 5 years ago, was highly hormone positive, meaning she needed a partial hysterectomy to prevent the cancer from returning. That’s why they’re looking for a gestational carrier to help them have another child of their own.

“A gestational carrier is a woman who is carrying a child, who is not genetically related to her, for another couple or individual. That's different from a surrogate, in which the woman who is carrying the pregnancy, is also donating her egg or eggs," said Dr. Shavell.

It’s not something doctors see too often in the Fertility Center, but they do everything they can to connect people willing to help.

Dr. Shavell said, “It’s often a close family member or a friend, although we've had instances where women have connected through fertility support groups or community organizations or even social media."

Being a gestational carrier is a big commitment and there are some legalities women need to be aware of.

“In the state of Michigan, only non-compensated, altruistic gestational surrogacy is permitted, " Dr. Shavell said. "The woman who gives birth to the child, is considered the legal mother, so often times there can be a pre-birth order put into place, so all parties involved need to have legal representation."

There’s also health requirements to keep in mind.

Dr. Shavell said, “Its recommended that the woman be in good health and be able to carry a pregnancy safely to term, so usually it's a young woman, someone who has had a child of her own. We also want her to have psychological counseling with our fertility counselor, because this is a huge commitment for a woman to take on."

If this is a process a family is considering, Dr. Shavell said the center does goes above and beyond to get the process started quickly.

“We know it's a very time sensitive window that we have to work with, before treatment needs to get started,” she said.

If you’re interested in learning more about options for patients going through cancer, or becoming a gestational carrier, you can visit The Fertility Center website or give them a call at (877) 904-4483.