First thing’s first: My oncologist called me yesterday to tell me that my sample was NEGATIVE for HER2!!
This is good news because it rules out the year-long chemo treatment I would’ve needed had it been present.
It is bad news because I now have to wait two more weeks for the Oncotype result to come back. You may recall (from this post) that it must be below 18% in order for me to be free of chemo altogether.
My oncologist is still telling me to prepare for chemo, though, because my ER and PR biomarkers were 21% and 22% respectively, and usually oncotypes in these cases come back higher. However, this form of chemo will be one round every three weeks for four rounds, and then I will be done! I’ll still lose my hair, but it will start growing back sooner (vs. the HER2+ treatment plan).
And now for the second bit of good news (and the big announcement!!): I have officially decided to harvest and freeze my eggs!! And I’m SO excited!!
I’m going to be writing about my experience with this as well, so to start, here is where I am in the process so far.
I went to the REACH (Reproductive Endocrinology Associates of Charlotte) Center on Wednesday morning for a two hour appointment. They were very thorough. First I sat down with Dr. Laura Johnson who drew out a timeline for me on a piece of paper that I will explain a little later along with all the drugs and injections I’ll be taking and when. Then they did an ultrasound where they measured my uterus and counted ten eggs in each ovary, which is a number they were happy with. After that I had some bloodwork done in their lab upstairs, then we sat down to talk to one of their financial people to discuss costs, and finally we talked with a nurse named Stephanie who went into more detail about all the drugs I’ll be taking, where to find how-to videos for the injections, and how to get/apply for them (there are a few options for cancer patients which I will discuss later).
To be honest, the whole appointment was kind of a blur, but my very basic understanding is that once we start, we will spend the next 12-14 days growing the fluid sacks around my eggs to make them large enough to suction out in a very minimally invasive procedure on day 14. This is a very general overview because I don’t totally understand the entire process yet, but I will add to this description as I come to understand it more in future blog posts. (Also, any friends who may have had this done, feel free to correct me if I share any misinformation. I’m still learning.)
I will say that I had NO idea how involved this process is. I’d seen it in movies and TV shows before, but it just doesn’t come close to covering what all goes into it. And the whole time I was there, all I could think about was that show “Friends From College” on Netflix where Ethan and Lisa spend an entire episode trying not to miss their “Trigger Shot” of HCG which is a HUGE deal in making sure the process goes smoothly in the IVF world. I asked, strictly out of curiosity, what would happen if I missed my Trigger Shot, and my nurse smiled sweetly and said, “You won’t.” Lol.
And if you haven’t put two and two together yet, what I am doing is basically the first half of IVF (minus the eggs being fertilized). Once the eggs are frozen, they can never be “naturally” fertilized again. So if one day, after my future husband finishes with his starter wife (kidding…), we find out that the chemo has destroyed my reproduction system or the estrogen suppressors I have to take for the next five years throw me into menopause permanently (vs. the temporary situation we are aiming for) and I am not able to conceive on my own, I will come back to these eggs and complete the IVF process.
(And, please, keep the “that’s unnatural and against God’s will” comments to yourselves. I hate that I have to disclose this, but I won’t be changing my mind and, to be honest, I can’t deal with the emotional stress of all of that right now. Until you have walked in my shoes and dealt with this very specific problem, please exercise some empathy or stop reading if it offends you in any way.)
So, the plan is to start next week. According to my blood test, they’re predicting I’ll start my cycle on Wednesday (yes, you read that right—THEY predicted. Technology. #AmIRight?!). I’m to call them the first day it starts and will go in the next day to have bloodwork and an ultrasound done. I will then start my injections that night. I will be giving myself two injections every single night at the same time. I will be injecting these half-inch needles into the fat in the space below my bellybutton. The first injection will be a drug called Gonal-F. The second is called Menopur. Both of these help to grow the eggs.
On or about day 6, I will go back in for bloodwork and an ultrasound to make sure everything is growing like it should. That night, I will add a third injection (in addition to the other two) called Cetrotide. This one prevents ovulation. The goal is to keep as many of those eggs inside and healthy as possible, so I’m not allowed to ovulate during this time.
On day 9, I will go in for bloodwork and ultrasound again. Just to make sure everything looks good and healthy and continue with my injections, and I will do the same on day 11. All in all, I think I will have a total of 29 injections. This number could increase if my eggs or body aren’t responding in the way that it should, but 29 is the best case scenario.
On day 12 or 13, I will take the “Trigger Shot.” This is misleading because it is actually three shots. One is Lupron, one is Novarel (HCG), and one is Gonal-F. The next day I will go in for the harvest! (I hate that word.) They will give me something to make me a little out of it, stick a big needle into me and suction out the eggs. They will then prepare the eggs and put them on ice. Everything is done in the REACH center’s lab itself. The whole thing takes about an hour and a half or so and I will go home to sleep it off. It is minimal downtime.
I’m going to be honest, this process is not cheap. And, in addition to the fertility clinic’s fees, the drugs can run a person an additional $3,000. My insurance doesn’t cover a thing, and a cancer diagnosis doesn’t change that. But there is hope. The REACH Center is partnered with the LIVESTRONG Foundation that provides the Gonal-F and Cetrotide drugs for free to cancer patients who qualify. For a single person, they will provide them at no cost as long as you can prove (with a tax return) that you make less than $115k annually. (LOL)
As for the other drugs, Lupron, one of the Trigger Shots, is being provided by Encompass Pharmacy for $135. Menopur and the HCG are being provided by Heart Beat/Walgreens—I think at no cost as well but am not totally sure yet. Another drug I’ll be taking every day throughout this process is Letrozole, which will stimulate my ovaries and suppress my estrogen levels (great for that hormone-driven cancer thing I’ve got going on), which is just a regular prescription to be filled at my pharmacy.
Anyway, as I prepare to send my eggs off to boarding school for a few years, I will be posting pictures depending on my comfort level. I’ll also be continuing with updates in this blog because my goal here is to bring awareness to the possibilities and options available to cancer patients. And I don’t always post every picture I take on Facebook, so if you’re interested in more details or just following along with this process, feel free to find me on Instagram @ohhey_emjay. #ShamelessPlug