You only live once, says 24-year-old Nina Garkavi. She never dreamed of how that motto would be put to the test when, just months after she graduated from college, she learned she had brain cancer. Then she heard the side effects that can come with chemotherapy and radiation.
"What I remember is a blur. But what I took from it is, it will affect your fertility," said Garkavi.
Garkavi received her cancer treatment at Seattle Children's. Leah Kroon, Clinical Nurse Specialist in the Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer Program at Seattle Children's said staff members bring up the topic of post treatment fertility with all families of young cancer patients. They offer information and also hope.
"Anyone who has reached puberty is a potential candidate for fertility preservation. So in the case of young men it's sperm banking. In the case of young women it is freezing some of their eggs," said Kroon.
Egg freezing, scientifically known as oocyte cryopreservation, has been offered for a number of years. But it was considered experimental. No one knew how well it would work. Nina learned she could safely go through the process before starting chemotherapy. But she would have to start immediately.
"If I want kids of my own, I had the choice, and I said no? You know I didn't want that to be a thought afterwards when I really had time to process and think about everything," Garkavi said.
Her chance of having a child in the future could be greater than she thought. The American Society of Reproductive Medicine just announced that studies show frozen eggs result in similar fertilization and pregnancy rates to fresh eggs when used for in-vitro fertilization. The organization's new guidelines no longer refer to egg freezing as experimental.
Today as a cancer survivor, Garkavi searches out adventures such as rock climbing and skydiving because she's more aware than ever that she'll only live once. Now she can have more confidence when she wants to take the biggest leap of all, to one day become a mom.
"Here I was with cancer, maybe impossible to have kids. But they'll be possible," she said.
Leah Kroon said so far no patients from Seattle Children's cancer program have gone on to become parents. But adult cancer survivors have.
She also said that even after cancer treatment a young patient may find she has enough eggs left to freeze. Then if she hits menopause early due to cancer treatment, she'll have a fertility option.