“Oh Hey, I Just Met You But Guess What?" Navigating Post-Cancer Fertility on the Dating Scene by Claire DiCenzo

I could one day soon stop Tamoxifen and either create an embryo with a sperm donor or create an embryo with a yet-to-be-met significant other... but who would want to endure all this bullshit when just starting to date someone?

          One evening in May 2014 changed my life perspective completely. I was in the shower and felt an extreme pain across my chest. Naturally I grabbed the right side of my chest and immediately felt something then that I knew wasn’t supposed to be there. It felt like a large marble. I called my obgyn that evening. The next week or so was filled with biopsies, ultrasounds and people telling me I was "too young to have breast cancer,” but deep down I knew something was incredibly wrong.

On June 2, 2014 I got the call around 10:30pm that I had stage I invasive breast cancer (estrogen and progesterone positive) at age 29. With no family history. After my lumpectomy in July, my diagnosis changed to stage II due to the size of my tumor.

A few weeks following my breast cancer surgery, I went through egg-preservation in order to save my fertility... I now have 20 eggs waiting for me at UConn Health Center! I then went through four rounds of chemo, lost my hair, and had 37 radiation treatments.

Even though much of this is in the past now, breast cancer will forever be a part of my life. It won’t always be in the forefront of my mind, but it will indeed be a part of the decisions that I’ll continue to make throughout my life.

I guess that’s what scares me a little now that I am recently single.

It was easy when my ex was with me. He was there for every part of my cancer treatment and helped provide the shoulder I needed to lean on. He knew what to say when I was having a bad day or when it was time for another check-up. He knew what types of thoughts about having children swirled in my mind. He knew about the constant internal struggle I was feeling about when the right time for children would be...

Now that I am two years post-treatment so many thoughts run through my mind in this new dating scene.

First of all, how and when would I tell a new person about my health history? How does one bring that up without making the person run away? Obviously I know that someone who is willing to listen to my story will hopefully care about what I have to say. They won't cringe when they see an old picture of me when I was bald. They will still think I was beautiful.

Then, there is the worry that creeps into my head about my lopsided chest. As it was, my right breast was already smaller than the left one, but then once cancer decided to take over my right "perkybit," as I call it, now I am totally unbalanced. Talk about a surprise if my shirt comes off!

Then, there’s the conversation(s) about fertility, babies, conception, medicines, etc. “Oh hey, I just met you but guess what? I’m not even sure that I can have children and I’m basically in a pre-menopause state right now at age 32. What’s new with you?

Ahh! The thought of that just makes me cringe right now! But that’s my new reality now that I am a young breast cancer survivor. These are things that are important in my life and need to be thought about, need to be discussed.

I have been on Tamoxifen for two years now, and probably need to continue for another three years to complete the five years prescribed. My doctors keep giving me both sides of the fertility coin.

On one hand, I could at some point soon stop my Tamoxifen. I would need to let my body rid itself of the medicine for a few months as Tamoxifen is known to cause birth defects and can harm a fetus. Then, I would decide to either create an embryo with a sperm donor or if I was in a committed relationship, perhaps create an embryo with my significant other.

Then, flip the coin to the other side, which is to stay on Tamoxifen longer. Many of my doctors say that the newest research shows the longer I am on the Tamoxifen, the longer the positive effects of the medicine last in my body to help keep the cancer from coming back.

The harshest reality of all this...there is the possibility that IF and WHEN I were to become pregnant, that the hormones (estrogen and progesterone) that would be surging in my body could make my cancer come back. ALL of my doctors have told me this. There is never a full, 100% satisfaction guarantee that it will stay clear of cancer forever.

Now, back to the IF and WHEN of getting pregnant. I might have the possibility of still being very fertile (especially since I still get my period every month) and still being able to conceive naturally. But, that could have complications due to my past with chemotherapy, and therefore I would need to use my preserved eggs and try with in-vitro fertilization (IVF).

Talk about what type of hand someone is dealt. I mean really, who would want to endure all this bullshit when starting to date someone? I certainly did not envision my life going this way or having to deal with this crap, along with trying to get to know someone on a deeper, more personal level. I realize it could be worse, but really who wants one of the sexiest parts of a woman to be partially gone? I wanted all my pieces and then some to remain fully intact. That’s part of being a woman: having the ability to dress and show off those assets.

All of this is not to mention the depletion of my sex drive due to being in a pre-menopause from my daily Tamoxifen pill.

I feel like I am a constant hot mess (with all the hot flashes) and bone aches. I have gained about 25 pounds since I began this medicine. I’ve struggled with the weight and the food cravings associated with the other medicine I’m on to help counteract the hot flashes. It is a domino effect: one medicine makes me need another and they both have their own separate side effects.

But in all reality even though much of these thoughts come and go on a daily basis, I am truly grateful that I am able to continue living.

I knew pretty quickly after being diagnosed that being a breast cancer survivor would help me become a better person and see life in an entirely different way than most. With that, I am most grateful for what cancer has taught me.

OH HEY I JUST MET YOU... first appeared in Issue 6: Fertility, December 2016.

Cindy DiCenzo

Kindergarten Teacher. Diagnosed at age 29. IDC, Stage II. ER+, PR+.

Claire is a breast cancer survivor of 24 months. She finished treatment right after her 30th birthday. In those short 6 months, she learned more about herself and life than she could have ever imagined. Claire is a kindergarten teacher in Connecticut and has been teaching for 9 years. She loves each day with her students, as they shed new and exciting light with their perspective on the world. It was important to her to continue working throughout her chemotherapy. During her treatment, Claire blogged about her experiences and tried to find the humor and silver lining in each doctor’s appointment. Claire has been featured in local Connecticut newspapers and TV stations, as well being featured on the 2017 Susan G. Komen Foundation’s calendar. She is active in her local young breast cancer community and hopes to spread the word to other young women by sharing her story and experiences. Claire knew before being diagnosed that “Everything happens for a reason,” but now even more than ever she knows that that statement is her mindset to live by everyday.