Fertility After Cancer: How We Found Community on Our Path to Parenthood
One summer day at work I received a call from my husband who had recently been diagnosed with testicular cancer. He had just met with his oncologist, who advised him to bank his sperm before having surgery to remove a germ cell tumor. He had a bit of reluctance in his voice and asked, “Do you think I need to do this?” At age 26, we didn’t have plans for a family right away. I remember stepping outside my office building for some privacy and saying, “Come on, just do it and we can figure it out later.”
He half-heartedly went to the sperm bank to make his deposit, and then again for a second sample which was recommended before chemo. Both samples were in the freezer for several years while he fought cancer and I was his caregiver.
Navigating Fertility After Testicular Cancer
Once we emerged from the chemo and cancer haze, we had a fun-filled summer since the last two had been taken away by cancer, and after that, it was time to start growing our family. We tried for 6 months before I went to my OBGYN for a consult. He did an in-office procedure to check if my tubes were blocked and prescribed a few rounds of Clomid. Unfortunately, the medication didn’t work so he referred me to a Reproductive Endocrinologist, or fertility specialist.
That office, as many fertility clinics do, packed their mornings with blood draws, ultrasounds, and IUIs. This gave me a chance to have my appointments for each intrauterine insemination (IUI) before I headed to work. I hadn’t yet disclosed my fertility journey to colleagues, so I found myself blaming my tardiness on traffic.
In the midst of three unsuccessful IUI cycles with our first physician, my husband’s cancer history was completely minimized. That doctor, whom we jokingly nicknamed Dr. Jerk because of his less-than-desirable bedside manner, completely ignored my husband’s medical history. Every semen analysis came back low, but all this doctor wanted to talk about was my less-than-perfect ovarian reserve. He even made several comments about how he was going to fix "my" problem. While his commentary was off-putting and drove our decision to switch clinics, he also taught us a valuable lesson: Infertility isn’t about one person or the other, it’s about a couple working together to become parents.
Finding a Community of Support During Infertility
Around this time, my husband and I both turned 30 years old. Wedding invites turned into baby shower invitations. At work, endless colleagues were noting how long we'd been married and wanted to know when we would be starting a family. I would blame it on my career or make up other excuses, but those comments cut me to the core. While I had confided in my immediate family and closest friends, I knew I needed to start sharing our struggles more widely. The tipping point was when a friend asked me to help plan a mutual friend’s baby shower. I called her, spilled my guts, and gracefully bowed out of planning. It felt so good to get it off my chest.
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My sister also introduced me to a lovely woman who had struggled with infertility for years and had just given birth. This connection, in addition to others, helped save my sanity and grounded me. Cultivating a community of support is an essential part of making it to the other side of infertility. That is the second big takeaway from my infertility experience: The emails, texts, and calls I shared with my infertility girls allowed me to know that we weren’t alone. Without them, I would have likely given up hope or lost my sanity.
After moving on to another fertility clinic, we were greeted by a seasoned RE who assured us that we still had options. My husband was okay moving forward with IVF, but I was reluctant, so we went through several more unsuccessful IUIs. For two of the IUIs, the doctor mixed my husband's thawed sperm with fresh sperm to increase our odds of conceiving. As much as we loved this doctor, he also seemed to ignore my husband’s cancer history and said, "We just don’t know much about why some people can’t get pregnant." He labeled our case as unexplained infertility.
At this point, we started exploring adoption agencies. Then, on our 7th and final IUI, we got our first-ever positive pregnancy test. I knew if we could get pregnant after all these trials and tribulations, the pregnancy, labor, and baby would be a breeze. I was right about the pregnancy but doubted my delivery prediction after 25 hours of labor. We welcomed our miracle son via C-section and discovered parenting was worth the wait.
Turning Our Pain Into Purpose
Right after our son’s first birthday, we met with the fertility clinic again. We were encouraged to do more IUIs since “my body knew how to get pregnant.” After my husband met with a urologist, we were told by that doctor that we were not candidates for IUI and our only chance at more children was IVF. I overcame my doubts and we committed to one IVF cycle, in which we created one embryo that didn’t stick after transfer. Instead, we channeled our grief, love, and gratitude for our child into giving back.
In 2021, my husband and I started a nonprofit called Worth the Wait to help other young adult cancer survivors grow their families. No one should have the hope of parenthood taken away by cancer. We fundraise and offer grants to help ease the financial burden for young adult cancer survivors starting families through egg/semen/embryo preservation, IUI, IVF, adoption, and surrogacy. So far, we have helped over 25 individuals and want to continue paying it forward for many years to come. While there are still days when I think about what life could have been like with more than one child, I’m truly gratified knowing my purpose in life is sharing our story of hope with others.
Megan Scherer is the Co-Founder of Worth the Wait Charity, which eases the burden for young adult cancer survivors pursuing parenthood by providing financial support for fertility treatments, adoption, and surrogacy.