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Preserve Fertility Before Chemo | REACH Fertility Clinic

October 12, 2010
By Dr. Jack Crain

At 25-years-old, Alicia Huff was on her way to becoming a surgeon. But during a monthly self-breast exam, she noticed a lump. She had it removed and biopsied and then the doctor called to tell her she had cancer. "About 20 seconds after the phone call, I said 'I have breast cancer.' I fell to my knees, panicked, I was by myself."

The medical student put school on hold and quickly worked with doctors to put together a plan of attack, including chemo therapy. "In a four hour appointment, no one mentioned preserving my fertility," says Huff.

Huff did her own research and learned that chemo, in addition to short-term side effects like hair loss, can also cause premature menopause. Huff says, "I hadn't even thought about children. I was 25. I'm not married, I'm about to start a career as a surgeon."

"The chemotherapy often saves your life, but causes the loss of opportunity to have children," says Dr. Jack Crain of Reproductive Endocrinology Associates of Charlotte (REACH).

Crain says new science, only available in Charlotte for the last year and a half, has allowed women in Huff's position to safely freeze their eggs, indefinitely, before undergoing chemo. Dr. Crain says, "It's really rewarding and sometimes it's sobering."

Insurance has not caught up to the new science and doesn't cover fertility preservation for cancer patients. Huff's family and friends raised money to cover the cost, which ranges between $6,000 and $8,000.

Huff, now 26, is healthy. Her hair is growing back. She is now applying for her residency to become a breast surgeon so she can help other women. There's a good chance she will be able to conceive a child without the use of her frozen eggs but knowing she has a back up plan is priceless. "If you're really wanting to have a family one day, it's a perfect solution."

The LiveStrong Foundation also helps qualified applicants, like Huff, pay to freeze their eggs. She and Dr. Crain hope more foundations decide to help, too.

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