Cathy B., Ontario, Canada: I was still sitting on the fence about having children when I was diagnosed, but I resented deeply the fact that the choice was taken away from me due to the side effects of radiation treatment. Many women who already have children still experience trauma when the ability to give birth is taken away. This is a huge loss and one that needs to be grieved. Much has been written to support women who are infertile and those same feelings can be applied to us. It seems so unfair to have to deal with this AND cancer! Of course, depending upon your diagnosis, other options may be available to you, but those are little comfort in the beginning. I found seeking out women experiencing similar feelings (on a support group like the EyesOnThePrize.org mailing list) was very helpful. It's very important to discuss all of the options of childbearing with your doctor BEFORE any treatment. In some cases, your ovaries can be surgically 'moved' away from the field of radiation. Also, many women are having their eggs harvested for possible surrogacy.
Karen, Alberta, Canada: After my hysterectomy, I occasionally found myself fantasizing about adopting a child... even though my husband and I had decided to limit our family to two children, and he'd had a vasectomy just before I was diagnosed. I realized that even though my rational mind knew that losing my uterus made no difference, my emotions were telling me that it was still a loss. I also remember feeling sorry that my children's pre-natal home was no longer a part of me; as if it somehow made me less their mother.
Sue D., Pennsylvania, USA. Even though I was in my early 40s when diagnosed with endometrial cancer and was beginning to get the message that children probably weren't part of the plan for me, having the option permanently and irrevocably taken away was devastating. I grieved long and hard that my childbearing organs were being removed, completely unused.
The summer of my diagnosis and surgery, I swear every women in my neighborhood of child-bearing years was either pregnant or pushing a stroller! I wondered why seeing them parade by was hitting me so hard, when my age had already led me to a gradual, if begrudging, acceptance of childlessness. Then I realized why it was so earth-shaking to lose my fertility. Think of it -- biologically speaking, reproduction is the reason we are here. For millions of years, our mission -- along with all the rest of life on earth -- has been to pass on our DNA to the next generation. Losing that ability strikes deep at the heart of what it means to be human, especially a human woman.
I was blessed to walk through that "summer of strollers" with a dear friend, who was also going through gynecologic cancer surgery. She had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer at age 26 and for seven years her medical team tried fertility-sparing treatments for her recurrences. Finally that summer, when she was 33 years old, it was determined that she needed a total hysterectomy and oophorectomy due to yet another recurrence. She had desperately wanted children. We became a support group of two, grieving our loss together. She confessed that guilt compounded her loss: "I felt like I put my own life before my yet-unborn children's." Gina's hopeful story of coming to terms with cancer-caused infertility and subsequent adoption, is at http://www.eyesontheprize.org/stories/gina.html.
Gina, Pennsylvania, USA: This was a VERY difficult point for me. I was 26 years old when I was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and so, wishing to preserve my fertility, instead of having a radical hysterectomy, I opted for conservative surgery that took just the tumors.
For the next seven years, I had cancer recurrences about every eighteen months, and each time, I opted for the most conservative surgery. I was frantically focused on preserving my ability to give birth to children one day, and just about all of my medical decisions were based on that.
By my last recurrence, the cancer was quite large and had spread to other organs (and this was just in a six month span of time between my regular doctor appointments!) and I had no choice but to have the radical hysterectomy.
I was in a severe depression for about a year after that, but I was resolved to adopt children, and I guess somewhere inside me I was trying to convince myself that it would be okay, that this would be an "acceptable second place."
Today, I have the two most beautiful and loving children in the world, and I truly can not conceive of loving any birth child more than I love these two children who God has gifted me with through adoption. In all of the world, these are the two children who were supposed to be mine. That doesn't negate the pain I felt at the time that I lost my fertility, but for me, it was a lesson in perspective, and faith, and love, and moving on to deal with what life handed me.
I would say, however, that I definitely did need that "grieving period" for the year after my surgery. It was a huge loss to me at the time and I needed to grieve for the imaginary birth child I'd felt I'd lost, and to make the transition to the place where I was ready to accept it and move on and be a parent without feeling I was settling for an "acceptable second best."
Mae, New York, USA: I was 39 years old, not married, and did not have children when I was diagnosed with endometrial cancer. Treatment was surgery, radiation and chemotherapy; I was 40 years old when all of my treatment was completed.
When I think about how I feel, not ever being able to have children, I am really fine with this issue. I had always wanted to be married to have children and that hadn't happened before the cancer.
I wouldn't want to raise children at this age nor do I want to adopt. Fortunately, I do have children in my life - I have a seven year old niece, and six godchildren who range in age from two to seventeen.