Whether you’ve yet to even start planning for children, or are in the midst of having your family when cancer shows up, you can bet your sweet life that possible chemo or hormone therapy induced menopause (or chemopause as it’s called!) wasn’t going to be a part of the equation.
With chemotherapy working to disrupt the growth of fast renewing cells (hair, nails, mucosal membranes and more importantly cancer) it also has an effect on the tissue of your ovaries. Your periods usually stop during treatment and depending upon your age (and how close you are you natural menopause) you can enter premature menopause. If and when your periods return, the ovarian terrain after the battle has ended may have suffered lasting damage to egg production and quality. In all honesty you won’t know until you try and that’s why IVF treatment is often undertaken before chemo treatment to combat this risk.
You may also be on the receiving end of some hormonal tweaking if the cancer showed a fondness for using your own hormones estrogen and/or progesterone as fuel for growth. Again, this can have implications for your family planning but periods usually resume approximately 3 months after stopping therapy.
Even if chemo or hormone therapy are not part of your treatment plan, the period while you are monitored for the possibility of recurrence will mean that your child-bearing days are going to be postponed for a while yet (at least until you have been cancer-free for a certain period of time after treatment ends).
Like any fertility issue, the whole deal can be frustrating, emotionally draining and damaging to relationships as you try to navigate this new terrain. You will experience some degree of grief as you let go of how you had it planned and wait to see how things will now play out. This can be excruciating when surrounded by breastfeeding and pregnant women and pregnancy announcements from those close to you coming fast and frequent at this time of your life. Your face can start to hurt from the unwavering smile you have adopted to show that you are genuinely happy for those you love as sympathetic eyes dart in your direction. It might not be that you even wanted to start a family right now or indeed ever – it’s more that uninvited cancer dictates the possibility and/or timing and we all know how much we hate being told what to do, especially when you didn’t ask for the input!
Its important to remember you are not your feelings (and there can be some pretty ugly ones) and to make use of whatever tools you have at your disposal to deal with how you feel.