Iris Mini: Coping with Unwanted Changes in Fertility After Cancer

When cancer treatment is complete, your body may have some lasting unwanted changes. Fertility is an area that can be affected by some types of treatment you may have received, however, for many people cancer treatment does not impact fertility. Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery, and some medications can influence your reproductive health.

Each patient’s experience with fertility issues will look different; it can depend on many things including age, urgency of treatment, type of treatment, cancer type, the length of your treatment, location of cancer, and any other pre-existing health issues.

Fertility disruption is an issue that some patients and survivors face. The physical and emotional impact of infertility can be challenging. You may feel isolated as you deal with this issue, particularly if you are a young adult surrounded by peers who may not be dealing with the same concerns.

Coping with Fertility Loss and Change

The psychological toll of fertility changes varies from person to person depending on personal values and goals about having biological children. For some, there may not have been a desire to have children in the past, but when fertility is impacted, it may bring feelings of sadness or shame.

For many who have a strong desire to have children, an impact to your fertility can be associated with significant psychological distress. Quality of life, emotional well-being and relationships may be impacted. You may have pictured your future much differently than you do today. There may be times when you feel as though no one understands what you are going through, or you may have concerns regarding whether you are making the right decision. Each patient’s choice around fertility options is personal.

Here are some key areas of concern and suggestions for patients facing fertility issues:

Grief and Loss: You may feel as though you have lost the control to plan for a family in the way you had envisioned. You may wish for your old life back, when you did not have to think about a serious and life-changing issue. You may experience feeling loss of masculinity or femininity when you are faced with infertility. It may help during this time to acknowledge a significant loss. A mental health therapist may be helpful in processing loss and can provide emotional support around decision making on fertility options.

Communication: Talking about fertility changes may make you feel vulnerable. It may be helpful to identify those in your natural support system who are good listeners and whom you trust. There are many options for family building, and each may need careful consideration.

Connection: You may feel alone during this time, and it is understandable to need support. It may be helpful when there are feelings of isolation or loneliness to find support in peer groups or programs. A connection with another person who has been in your shoes may make you feel understood and validated.

Sharing: Choosing how much you share or with whom you share is a personal choice. You may feel that you are responsible to address the other person’s emotional reaction. Sharing vulnerable information over and over can take a great deal of energy. Having a trusted friend share with those who are important to you could conserve some of your energy.

Resources: It may benefit you to gain additional knowledge around fertility issues. You may consider asking your Iris team member or medical team for educational information about fertility. Your clinic may have access to treatment decision tools or aides.

Cancer related fertility changes can bring up many emotions, ranging from sadness to grief and anger. The emotional impact can oftentimes be the most challenging to handle; however, in addressing some of the key concerns around fertility you may find coping with these unexpected changes more manageable.