Category Archives: Fertility

Merry chemo eve!

Want to see a picture of my future family?

Future Mes

The fertility doc handed me this little keepsake at my follow-up visit today, and I’m tempted to ask if he has any wallet-sized prints. I mean, these are my kids, after all.

There they are, all 15 of my little frozen eggs. It’s so strange to see how perfectly round and plump they are (except for that adorably dented one in the corner), so weird to think that each and every one of us started out with one of those single cells. Looking at them, I’m reminded yet again of what a strange miracle the body is – and I can’t help but be so grateful for mine, even though it went a little haywire for a second there.

I had the best weekend. A couple of my amazingly wonderful high school friends were back in town for the weekend, so we ate tacos (not burritos – are you surprised?), gossiped, walked around Old Town and enjoyed some espresso while petting my friend Harry’s tiny golden dachshund, Mr. Bates. I wish that I could shave Mr. Bates and make a wig out of his perfect fur to replace my soon-to-be-erstwhile hair, but alas. Synthetic wigs it is. Shaving dachshunds is probably some kind of animal cruelty, and Mr. Bates has been through enough, as I think I put him down for about 25 seconds all day on Saturday.

Yesterday my bestest best friend in the whole entire world, Katie Bo, came down to LA to visit me. We had a stunningly normal Sunday strolling along Third Street Promenade and relaxing in the sand by the Santa Monica Pier, drinking a couple of beers and eating popcorn shrimp and loaded fries and, obviously, Mexican food. (I have to get it all in now because tomorrow, my taste buds will be obliterated by chemotherapy.) We looked like lesbian lovers taking a romantic walk on the beach thanks to our matching pixie cuts, but it’s honestly difficult to overstate how little vanity I have left after all that I’ve been through, so I don’t care.

I’ve got about 14 hours left before the doctors start pumping my body full of toxic chemicals, but I’m oddly relaxed. Maybe it’s because I have 40+ Ativan pills in a nice little orange cylinder ready for consumption whenever the anxiety gets to be too much, or maybe it’s because I’m going to have a burrito for dinner (again), or maybe it’s because I just believe that everything is going to be alright and that my doctors are going to take care of me and make me healthy and whole again when all of this is over. I don’t know. And really, isn’t that the genesis of fear? I just don’t know.

Will I coast by with just minor aches and pains? Or will I fall victim to the bone marrow flares many patients have described as worse than childbirth – a metric I can’t even understand since the only thing I’ve given birth to is 15 eggs plucked from my overstimulated ovaries, but a metric that terrifies me nonetheless? Will I be fine, with barely any nausea to speak of, as many people on my regimen seem to be? Or will I be sick to my stomach for days, clutching a metal bowl to vomit into in between episodes of Law & Order: SVU? Also, how is even possible that there are SVU episodes I haven’t seen yet? They’re like starfish limbs; every time I watch one, a new one regenerates in its place. And most importantly, of course, is the real question on everyone’s mind: Will this cure me?

Here’s another question that’s bugging me – why is no one at USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center bald? I swear, I go to that hospital at least 4 times a week, and I never see anyone who has lost their hair. It’s a cancer center. Everyone there has cancer, but they all look ready to shoot a Pantene commercial! I’ve decided that this is an encouraging sign that my wigs will look extremely realistic and other new cancer patients will be jealous of my photoshoot-ready locks.

Anyway, I’ve found one way of looking at the situation that never fails to cheer me up, and that’s this. By this time tomorrow, I’ll have one chemo session under my belt, and only five more to go ’til healthy, happy freedom.

Wigs ‘n’ things

Cancer has taught me a lot about myself, including this: Veganism isn’t for me.

I wasn’t allowed to eat dairy while I was on a special antibiotic following my egg retrieval procedure, and it was surprisingly difficult. Did you know that basically everything awesome has dairy in it? I even like to put dairy where it doesn’t belong in order to make mediocre things into fantastic things (Philadelphia rolls, anyone?). Fortunately, I took my last dose of doxycycline yesterday, and so far today I’ve had a smoothie, some Greek yogurt, some kale dip and some gorgonzola cheese crumbles that I literally ate out of the tub with a spoon. Sorry I’m not sorry.

In spite of my dairy binge, I was finally able to button my pants today! I’ve been loafing around in sweats and yoga pants since Monday to accomodate my post-egg retrieval bloat, which had me feeling like I would need to make a trip to A Pea in the Pod any day now even though I didn’t go through with the whole impregnation part of the IVF cycle. It’s been four days now and I’d say I’m about 85% of the way back to feeling normal, which puts me right on track with all the fertility preservation/egg donor blogs I obsessively perused when I was preparing for this.

In fact, I was feeling good enough on Wednesday to go wig shopping – a red letter day in Cancerland!

I’ve been both awaiting and dreading this day since my diagnosis. I was feeling apprehensive, but my friend Jasmine quickly quelled my fears. “Wearing other people’s hair is awesome,” she told me. “I’m wearing someone else’s hair on top of my hair right now!”

I’ve always felt that wig shopping could go one of two ways. Option A: fun day of dress-up, or Option B: traumatizing dress rehearsal for impending hideousness. In the end, it fell somewhere on the continuum – not quite a carefree day of trying on cool costumes, but also not a miserable, pitiful excuse for trying to hide an obvious deformity like being a bald girl in her mid-20s.

The woman running the shop was fantastic. She confided that she wears a wig every single day, just for convenience, which gave me some confidence that maybe it won’t be super duper obvious that I’m actually bald underneath my hairpiece. She also didn’t react at all when I told her about my diagnosis, which was refreshing, except to offer to shave my head for me. This being Hollywood, this woman’s business is probably 50% cancer patients and 50% drag queens, so I guess she’s used to everything.

I had a good time trying on a variety of wigs in all kinds of lengths and colors, but I ended up selecting a medium-length, brunette number that looks almost identical to my real hair. I opted for it in two styles, too – a straight one that looks like my hair after I torture it with a flatiron, and a wavy one that looks just like my natural style. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that I was most comfortable looking in the mirror and seeing my face surrounded by the same long brown hair I’ve always had instead of a giant blonde bouffant or some red hair poking out from underneath a baseball cap or something.

At the wig shop I was also introduced to, and subsequently decided to purchase after about .5 seconds, a magnificent invention called “bangs on a headband.” Basically, it’s exactly what it sounds like: a soft, comfy headband with faux bangs attached. You can wear it underneath a beanie or a hat in order to make yourself look slightly less like a hairless alien, without the heat and discomfort wigs can sometimes cause when worn frequently. Perfect for wanting something to throw on that will keep people from staring at you at the grocery store (or in my case, Mexican restaurant), but won’t require any styling or upkeep. Bonus, it’ll also help camouflage how weird I’ll look if my eyebrows fall out.

I’m surprised by how pretty and normal I feel in my wigs. I can pull them back into buns and ponytails, dress them up with clips and headbands and basically treat them like my own hair. Plus, I can do a better job styling them because I can do braids and updos on a styrofoam head instead of having to crane my neck awkwardly to look in the mirror like I do when I inevitably mess up a French braid attempt on my own locks. You’ll see them on this blog eventually, when I’m ready to let them make their debut. For now, I’m still enjoying my pixie cut.

Too bad said pixie cut has an expiration date, because my oncologist and I finally set a schedule for my chemotherapy. It will begin on Tuesday, February 26, so mark your calendars! I may be nauseated on the day of or day after the infusion, but the meds should help prevent that. Then, in terms of aches and fatigue, I should feel worst on days 3-6, then steadily improve until day 21, when we’ll repeat the whole awesome cycle. Gordie’s returning to LA on day 4, so he may be here for a few days while I’m feeling crappy, but hopefully he won’t just be my caretaker – I have plenty of fun things planned for us.

Today I met some of the nurses at the infusion center and picked up my pre-med prescriptions, so I guess this is actually happening. The whole thing kind of reminds me of the time my friend Hayley forced me to ride the Tower of Terror at Disneyland. Time to just close my eyes, put on my safety gear/harnesses (which, in this case, are more mental than physical – although I guess the 5,000 drugs they’re prepping for me right now at CVS are kind of physical), try not to let a bunch of brave little kids show me up, and see if I can’t enjoy myself a little bit, one way or another.

Look for my new reality show, “15 Eggs and Counting,” on TLC

Just in case you’ve been on pins and needles wondering, let me say this first: I’m happy to report that yesterday’s egg retrieval procedure was a breeze, and I’m home resting comfortably now! I have a little bit of cramping and discomfort and my abdomen is swollen like I’m 3 months pregnant, but all of that should go away within the week.

You’d think that having undergone an 8-hour marathon surgery that removed some of my body parts, required that I be catheterized and ventilated with a breathing tube, and kept me in the hospital for three days, I’d be pretty relaxed about a 20-minute aspiration procedure performed under light sedation, but the mind has an amazing capacity to make absolutely no sense at all out of circumstances.

I was fairly relaxed in the waiting room, and even held it together as I was changing into the gown and hospital socks, but I was shaking and trembling by the time I was asked to lie on the surgical table. Part of my anxiety was due to the fact that there was a woman in the recovery room when I walked into the procedure area, who seemed upset and rated her pain an “8” on the universal hospital pain scale from “don’t know why I’m here” to “imminent death.” She also seemed like she was having a difficult time talking, which scared me pretty badly.

One amazing thing about the medical profession is that it considers even totally reasonable anxiety about a needle going into your ladybits to be more anxiety than you need to experience, so I was given sedation almost immediately. The anesthesiologist was a talkative, funny young guy who walked me through everything he was doing, and even gave me a little bit of numbing medication before he inserted my IV. I was blown away by this little courtesy because this was about my 5,000th IV in the last two months, and most of the time they just ram it in there, sometimes taking several minutes to get it done right.

Once the IV was in, the anesthesiologist picked up a little vial of clear medication and asked, “How often do you drink?”

“Like, alcohol?” I clarified. “I dunno, maybe a glass of wine a week these days. I mean, this isn’t college anymore.”

He laughed, hooked the vial to my IV and said, “You’re about to get hammered like it’s freshman year.”

Within 30 seconds, I was absolutely drunk. The anesthesiologist told me that it’s a drug called Versed, a potent type of hypnotic agent that’s often used to help patients relax before more powerful surgical anesthetics are used. At that point, I felt like I didn’t even need the second anesthetic. I was basically in a dream, feeling like I was falling asleep while getting the best backrub ever in a hot tub full of rosewater and love.

“They should sell this on the street,” I said, because I had absolutely no sense of decorum or appropriateness or any kind of mental filter once this drug was in my system.

Versed also causes amnesia, so I don’t remember much after that little quip. The fertility doctor came in and asked me to put my legs into the stirrups. I remember greeting him with the stupidest smile on my face. The anesthesiologist hooked me up to another syringe, this one full of a milky liquid called propofol.

“Bye-bye,” I said, like a giant idiot, because I was high as hell.

The next thing I knew, I was waking up in the recovery room. It was like waking up from a particularly deep nap – I felt groggy and a little sick, but I emerged from the mental fog quickly. It was nothing like my mastectomy, where I spent the five or six hours following the procedure drifting in and out of consciousness, waking up only to eat a little bit jello and then retch it back up 15 minutes later. With half an hour, I felt completely fine except for a little bit of crampiness, like a bad period.

The doctor came in while I was in recovery to let me know that they had gotten 15 healthy eggs, which means that even if I wind up totally infertile at the end of this whole ordeal, I can still get all Duggar family up in this bitch (“this bitch” being my womb) if I so choose.

The nurse came by, gave me some water and disconnected my IV, then told me I was cleared to go home. As I was changing back into my clothes (I’m really fashionable, so to this appointment I wore fuzzy Ugg boots, a fraternity t-shirt of dubious origin and a pair of pajama pants with lambs on them that say “It’s sheepy time”), I noticed that the woman who had been in the recovery room when I arrived was still there. I also realized that the “difficulty talking” that had frightened me earlier was actually because she was Russian and had an accent, and I felt like a moron.

“Good luck,” she said. “I hope you have a successful pregnancy!”

I had actually forgotten that most of the other people in the clinic were they because they were actively trying to conceive, not because they needed to freeze some eggs in order to keep them from getting poisoned to death by drugs with nicknames like “The Red Devil.” I didn’t want to correct her, so I just smiled and said, “You too.” After all, I hope I have a successful pregnancy, too – one day, a long time from now.

Update on Operation Oocytes

The fertility clinic has a sign in the entrance that politely asks patients to make childcare arrangements before their appointments. “The sight of children can be upsetting to those who are having difficulty conceiving,” it says diplomatically.

“Hey mom,” I stage-whispered one day in the waiting room. “Don’t you think it’s kinda rude that you brought your child to the fertility clinic?”

It’s always a bit awkward when I’m chillin’ in there with my mom and dad. Just about everyone else is there with a partner, and I’m just sitting there next to my parents, looking like a high schooler with ADHD on my iPhone, ignoring my mom’s endless requests to play Scramble with Friends. It doesn’t help that although I’m 25, I look like I’m 15. Everybody else probably thinks my sick parents are there to farm me out and collect $4,000 for each of my healthy little eggs. Joke’s on them, though, because I’m actually the sickest one there!

The egg freezing process is just half of an IVF cycle, which is comforting because it’s a well-established medical protocol that millions of women undergo each year. With the whole cancer thing on my mind, I had kind of assumed that this egg freezing side project would be a walk in the park. And it is. If that walk is at 3am, and that park is full of armed, deranged hobos.

First, you are given $3,000 worth of purified hormones, giant needles and mixing instructions and somehow trusted not to accidentally murder yourself with these tools, despite your total lack of medical experience. The stimulation lasts for 8 to 10 days, and involves 3 or 4 visits to the fertility clinic. Each visit involves a transvaginal ultrasound, and these become increasingly uncomfortable as your ovaries continue to swell. You also get a series of blood draws to monitor your estrogen levels. So, for the folks keeping score at home, that means that every single day of the stimulation cycle you’re getting between 1 and 3 needle sticks. Awesome, right? Where do I sign up?

Second, once your ovaries have been tricked into maturing literally ten to twenty times as many eggs as they would normally produce, you return to the clinic to be sedated. A massive needle is inserted through the vaginal wall and into the ovaries, and the oocytes are then aspirated and cryopreserved. You wake up, crampy and bloated, and hope that somehow your body recovers from the giant hormone bomb that you just set off inside of it.

I thought that the worst part about egg freezing would be stabbing myself with the needle, but actually, that’s been a piece of cake. The first night I did it, I was sitting in the lotus position on my bedroom floor. I’d put on a Bon Iver playlist to try to center myself and remain calm. “Holocene” was playing. Once I’d mixed the solution, I swapped the mixing needle for the injection needle, swabbed an area of my belly and picked out a freckle to be my bull’s-eye.

I stood there staring at it, sweating and trembling, for a good thirty seconds while Bon Iver crooned on, oblivious. I must have looked like an idiot. I was pinching up as much abdominal fat as I could muster, holding a needle poised over it like I was about to stab the life out of it. Finally, I squeezed my eyes shut and plunged the needle toward my flesh.

I missed. I didn’t feel anything. I must have missed!

How did I miss?

I opened my eyes, looked down and saw that actually, the needle was projecting out of my abdomen like a grotesque birthday candle. The whole thing was so painless, I literally thought I’d managed not to touch myself at all. Emboldened by this, thinking I was out of the woods, I confidently pressed down on the plunger and emptied the solution into my flesh.

Sweet Jesus, it was like injecting the contents of a cauldron of boiling lava and acid into my stomach.

I did that every day for eight days.

Around day three, I started to feel a bit bloated and uncomfortable. By day five, I was waddling around trying to keep any of internal organs from touching my obscenely swollen ovaries, which I by then estimated were taking up approximately 80% of the real estate in my lower abdomen. Today is day nine, and I feel like I am nine months pregnant and about to give birth at any minute to a sick egg-baby with eggs for hands, eggs for feet and eggs for a face. GET THESE THINGS OUTTA ME, DOC!

Tonight, I’ll trigger the final maturation process with one more shot. I’ll probably be massively uncomfortable on Sunday, but on Monday morning, all my little future-babies will be frozen, slumbering indefinitely in their little storage tanks, waiting for the day when I’m cancer-free and ready to start my family.

Girly bits under attack

Guys, if you haven’t heard, my boobs are super old news now. The new super cool thing to do is focus on my vagina!

What a treat that I get have not one but two of my bikini areas violated by medical professionals within weeks of one another. I almost feel like if I order a colonoscopy to go with it, I’ll get a 3-for-1 discount. Are we certain I don’t have a prostate? I’d have to miss an opportunity to get prodded in yet another private orifice.

I really shouldn’t complain, and I know it, so I’ll stop now. I’m undergoing fertility treatments voluntarily, and truth be told, I’m happy that I have the opportunity to. Chemotherapy is gonadotoxic, meaning it can cause irreversible damage to reproductive organs and render those who use it permanently sterile. I’d be lying if I said vaginal ultrasounds were a good time or that I’m looking forward to a needle in the ovaries, but there are many young cancer patients who don’t get a chance to preserve their eggs for future use, and there’s no doubt I’m fortunate to be able to give my future self the chance to conceive her own biological children. Chemotherapy beats the crap out of ovaries, but happily leaves the uterus untouched, meaning these eggs can later be fertilized and implanted just like in traditional IVF, and I can safely carry a pregnancy. Yay! You’re welcome, future-me! I’m doing this for you.

Isn’t it odd to think that I’m selecting my future children now? Only a lucky 10-20 eggs will be harvested, and only 5-15 of those are likely to survive the freezing process. It’s strange to think that children I may or may not conceive in my 30s or 40s were actually selected when I was 25 and cryopreserved for later use. These are the children I would have had if I had had a different life, one where I was married straight out of college and pregnant now instead of cancerous and cranky and in graduate school and dating a wonderful person who now lives, sadly, 3,000 miles from me. Will these little time-traveler kids be brunette? Will they have freckles? How short will they be? The tallest woman in my entire family tree is 5’3″, so yeah, no luck there.

We’re really, officially on the medical train now, and it’s barreling down the rails and won’t stop until it rolls into Remission Station. From here until mid-June, it’ll just be one long, crappy chain of injections, surgeries, anesthesia, IVs, blood draws and test results. My eggs will be harvested around February 19, and my chemo will begin almost immediately afterwards. Somewhere in there I may or may not squeeze in a surgery to place the PortaCath.

I was counting up my needle sticks so far in the fertility clinic waiting room – it’s well over two dozen now, and climbing. And it’s starting to take a toll on my veins, because the nurse couldn’t find one this morning for my hormone level checks and stabbed me over and over again searching for it. I’d heard people talk about this unpleasant little hunting expedition but I hadn’t experienced it until today. I don’t blame her, though. Unfortunately, because I had an axillary lymph node removed in my left armpit, I am only allowed to use my right arm for medical tests/needle probing/IV placement/blood pressure measurements for the rest of my life. And since I’ve had a half-dozen blood draws in the last two weeks, the poor veins are getting a bit worn out.

But if you think that’s the end of my needle-stick story, you’re mistaken, dear reader! No, lucky me, I now get to inject myself in the stomach every day for two weeks with a half-inch subcutaneous needle filled with hormones that will cause my ovaries to swell to four or five times their normal size. The process involves mixing four vials of powdered drugs with a cubic centimeter of saline and aspirating the resulting solution into a syringe. I feel like a drug kingpin, which is kind of awesome. Perhaps I can take up the mantle for Walter White after Breaking Bad ends. Cancer? Check. Experience in creating controlled substances in my living room? Check!

Thundercats are go

Scene: A virtually empty Southwest Airways 737 begins its descent into San Jose Airport just outside of San Francisco, California. Three sleepy, cranky passengers – myself, my mother and my father – snooze uncomfortably in our seats. A flight attendent comes over the intercom to announce: “We are now beginning our descent into the Bay Area. The time is 8:34 am.”

Fantastic, I half-think, half-dream to myself. My appointment at Stanford Women’s Cancer Center isn’t until 1:30 pm, but here we are in Palo Alto at prime Starbucks hour because my dad insisted on a 7am flight.

I would love to bitch more about my 5:45 in the morning wakeup call for a daytrip to San Francisco to see a doctor we could never realistically choose as my oncologist because it would mean traveling all the way to Stanford twice every three weeks for a year, but the truth is, things converged in one of those kind of magical, coincidental ways that make you think God is looking out for you and cares about you even though He slipped up and dumped this cancer thing on you at 25, which was totally not cool, God.

I started my period in the San Jose airport. I’d spent about 10 days waffling in painful indecision about whether or not to freeze my eggs. Would the hormones pose a risk? Four separate oncologists had assured me they would not, but I couldn’t understand how that was possible. I imagined injecting myself with a hormone that would go straight to a cancer cell, which would then hulk out, latch onto one of my vertebrae and explode it, crippling me for life slash killing me, depending on my mood during said daydream (daymare?).

Was I even going to get my period? My monthly visitor was AWOL, thanks to the stress of surgery, anesthesia and a really unexpected cancer diagnosis. Contrary to what the movies will have you believe, fellas, I don’t have violent mood swings or chocolate cravings that herald the appearance of menses like shining trumpets of bitchiness playing Reveille to my vagina. So I was just as surprised as anyone when I discovered that of course, 350 miles away from the fertility clinic, my uterus finally decided that now was the time to make the most important decision I’d ever been asked to make in my short 25 years of life.

I wouldn’t, however, have to make said decision before speaking to the oncologist at Stanford. In my head, I was already composing the lengthy list of questions I would ask him about whether or not egg freezing was safe. I knew that I needed to pester him with a hundred queries about the biology of my cancer and why, exactly, feeding it with tons of hormones wasn’t going to cause it to grow out of control like a science fair project gone horribly, horribly wrong.

When we finally did get in to see him, after a morning of exploring Palo Alto’s cute downtown and eating omelettes filled with avocados and cheese (which probably explains how I’ve gained two pounds since my last doctor’s appointment on Friday), it was exactly how I expected it would be. And here’s where that silly sometimes-God-gives-me-a-deadly-illness-but-then-sometimes-he-is-kinda-nice-to-me thing comes in, because I swear, this doctor did and said and was everything that I needed someone to do and say and be at that exact moment in my life. He was like my own cancer oracle, come to assuage my final fears and set me on the right path before fading back into the closets full of folded blue scrubs and whirring centrifuges of a research hospital.

The four weeks of elevated hormones that happen during egg retrieval are nothing to a cancer cell, he said. It takes years for a tumor to reach a harmful size, and four weeks is less than the time it takes even one single cancerous cell to split into two cancerous cells. Even if a cell or two did divide during the treatment, chemotherapy would crush it once the cycle was over. I can’t explain why this explanation calmed my fears while others had failed to do so, but it did. Having this decorated, intelligent medical professional look me in the eye and tell me with 100% clarity and certainty that undergoing fertility preservation would pose exactly zero risk to me as a cancer patient, even though (or maybe because) he was the fifth doctor to do it, finally galvanized me to woman-up and get this thing done. Operation Oocytes is a go, and begins tomorrow at 7:15 am.

He also said something important to me, something other doctors have also said but that somehow carried extra weight coming out of his mouth. “We’re aiming to cure you,” he said. “I believe that the odds that we can cure you are greater than 90 percent. Our goal is not to manage this. It’s to cure it.”

Fingers crossed.

While I was in the mood for making big decisions, I also chose my oncologist. Dr. R will be taking care of me during my treatment. We’re working towards a chemo start date of February 26 – a Tuesday instead of a Monday for school reasons. With that date, I’ll complete treatment on June 11, and have my implant exchange surgery by July 30.

Can’t wait for August!

Operation Oocytes

Remember when I said that my oncologists felt there was a pretty good chance chemo wouldn’t completely obliterate my ovaries? Well, turns out that a “pretty good chance” is more or less 50/50. So I decided to go ahead and talk to a fertility doctor about my options for making sure I’m able to pass on my DNA, because aside from this cancer crap, which may or may not be related to it, I’m a pretty big fan of it.

Gordie and I went to the fertility clinic on Saturday, and I immediately realized we weren’t mature enough to be there when we started giggling over the sperm-heart logo and terms like “semen washing” and “post-coital testing.” It was a strange mixture of emotions – half wanting to laugh at the ridiculousness of the whole thing, half wanting to cry over the same thought. Eventually, however, I remembered that I have cancer and cancer is Serious with a capital S so it was time to really buckle down and pay attention.

Luckily, I loved the fertility doc. He was calm, kind and understanding, and said he’d seen plenty of women in my situation. In fact, he said that I was in a better position than many cancer patients he sees, because I’ll only be 30 when all of this is finally behind me – leaving me with a higher chance of retaining natural fertility than someone who would be in her mid-to-late 30s. Admittedly, he has a bias, but he felt that it would be safe for me to undergo fertility treatments even though I have a hormone-receptor positive cancer. Just to be extra-safe, since we’re literally talking about matters of life and death here, it’s still important that I talk to my oncologists about the risks and benefits of fertility preservation treatments, which in my case will be oocyte cryopreservation – or, more simply, egg freezing.

Egg freezing is just the first half of in vitro fertilization. It’s the egg harvesting without the whole resulting pregnancy part. Essentially, if I decide to go through with it, I’m going to be an egg donor for myself. The process begins on the first day of my next menstrual cycle (and when that will arrive is anyone’s guess, since anesthesia, stress and a cocktail of eight different painkillers, anti-anxiety meds, nausea drugs and antibiotics can totally screw with menses), and involves 10 days of self-administered hormone injections using a small needle similar to an EpiPen or an insulin shot. The shots will probably send me into Super-PMS, involving plenty of bloating, complaining and more crying than usual, but they’ll stimulate my ovaries to produce 10-20 mature eggs, which are then harvested in an outpatient surgery where I’m knocked out for 15 minutes, a needle is inserted into my vagina (awesome!) and the eggs are suctioned out one by one, dehydrated and frozen. Later, when I’m ready to become pregnant, the eggs are inseminated in a lab and implanted into my uterus. The success rate for each implantation is about 60 percent, and I’ll hopefully produce enough eggs for 2-3 implantations. I’ll take those odds.

The whole deal is insanely expensive and costs an arm and an egg (see what I did there?), but there are some really cool programs available that can provide lots of funding for young cancer patients like me who barely have the financial resources to support a daily Starbucks habit, let alone the insane burden of quarter-million-dollar surgeries and $10,000 egg harvesting procedures. Did you know that each chemo infusion involves a drug cocktail costing about $20,000 before insurance? Yeah, cancer ain’t cheap.

So, after going over what I can expect if I choose to freeze my eggs, the doctor finished up by saying that he’d like to perform an ultrasound to check out my equipment and make sure that everything is in working order. Having been through a million needle sticks, biopsies and scans, I was thrilled that he suggested something so easy and simple so I leapt at the opportunity. “Oh, by the way,” he clarified, after I’d enthusiastically agreed, “it’s a vaginal ultrasound.”

Fortunately, the vaginal ultrasound wasn’t too bad. It was actually less uncomfortable than a regular gynecological exam and only lasted a few minutes. It was cool to see my uterus and ovaries, since before this I didn’t have any actual, visual assurance that they were in there. Gordie was, understandably, a bit uncomfortable throughout the whole ordeal, but it was over in a flash and I learned that I’m currently quite fertile and I don’t, like I’d irrationally feared, have ovarian cancer in addition to the mammary variety. The doctor even said that if I didn’t have the whole uncontrollable cell division thing going on, I’d be an ideal egg donor!

I am so thankful to live in a time when there are so many ways to start a family, like adoption, but carrying and giving birth to a child has always been something I’ve been looking forward to, as weird as that sounds. The best news I heard in the doctor’s office yesterday was that even if chemotherapy blasts all of my eggs into oblivion and sends my ovaries into premature failure, my ability to carry a pregnancy to term using donated eggs won’t be compromised. Facing the loss of so much of what made me feel feminine and beautiful and womanly – my long hair, my breasts – it was an amazing relief to hear that I’ll still be able to experience the miracle of childbirth, with all of its nausea, weight gain, bleeding and screaming. I’m not sure what I’ll choose when I decide to start a family, but it’s good to know my options are open.