Lauren’s story: What the Future Fertility Trust means to me
Lauren, with her sister, during her cancer treatment in 2014.
I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in late 2014. I was 17 years old and was 2 weeks into my final year of school, so a cancer diagnosis was the very last thing I had expected to happen. Whilst initially I felt rather terrified and lost, with so many questions and concerns about my illness and treatment, I soon felt totally reassured and safe. For me I can put this down to the incredible team that carried out my treatment. My consultant was the most wonderful and inspirational women I had ever met and gave me so much hope for the duration of my treatment and my life after.
For young people facing a cancer diagnosis one future side effect that may not be the most obvious, is the damage treatment can inflict on your fertility.
Chemotherapy presents some clearly visible side effects with hair loss being the one most people probably think of. However there are some which may not be realised until many years later.
Whilst adults are sometimes able to store a sperm sample or freeze their eggs before treatment began, it is far more difficult and unusual for children and young people to be able to do the same.
Before the onset of puberty, boys do not actually produce any sperm which can be stored for them in later life. And for young girls, although they are born with all the eggs they will ever have, the process of collecting these is incredible invasive and time consuming, in a situation where postponing treatment is often not an option.
These factors have meant that survivors of childhood cancer may be left with damaged fertility and so are unable to conceive children of their own, regardless of how long ago their treatment was.
However, this is now changing for many young cancer patients. A procedure, first carried out in the UK in 2013, enables tissue samples from the ovaries or testicles to be harvested and stored should fertility be irrevocably damaged.
Known as ovarian or testicular cryopreservation, this non-invasive operation can be carried out in a number of days and often at the same time as having a Hickman line, through which to administer chemotherapy, inserted. Recovery times are also minimal, with patients often not needing to stay overnight in hospital.
The obvious benefit of this incredible procedure allows the tissue to be implanted back into the patient in adult life, thus protecting their fertility and chance to start a family of their own, no matter how young they were when they received their diagnosis.
Although this is a hugely important and life changing gain from the surgery, much like the potential damage to fertility itself, there is another that is less obvious.
Cryopreservation provides both the patient and family with hope. Hope that their consultant and team around them believe that they will be able to start a family. Hope that their cancer will not prevent them living a full life. And most importantly, that they will survive. All of these provide a huge boost to the morale of the patient and their loved ones at a time when they need it most. I speak from experience, as this operation allowed me to feel safe in the knowledge that my cancer diagnosis at 17 would not define my future. It gave me confidence that I would survive and go on to live a “normal” adult life.
My ovarian cryopreservation was made possible by the Future Fertility Trust, a charitable fund which I feel honoured to be working with now in order to ensure more young people have the opportunity I had.
Whist their aim is for this to eventually be funded by the NHS, they are working to ensure no eligible young person is refused this opportunity due to funding. If you would like to help support the work of the FFT, please do visit their website where you can find all the details of their work and how to donate.
Written by Lauren Shute
Lauren with her family this year (2017).