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Planning a family after cancer

A cancer diagnosis is utterly devastating at any age, but for couples beginning their lives together it can deliver additional heartbreak; what of your plans to start a family together? In the time it took for a doctor to deliver the news that you or your partner would need treatment for cancer, you’re likely to have experienced a sense of loss far greater than many. Would it really be possible for you to become parents following an event as life altering as a cancer diagnosis?

The good news is that many couples in your position have gone on to start and complete their families, conceiving and carrying healthy babies to full term and beyond; their infants, toddlers, children, and teenagers are a testament to the strength of human health and character – and proof that life beyond cancer positively thrives.

It’s time to address your concerns…

It’s only natural to feel daunted, nay utterly terrified at the prospect of bringing a baby into the world following a cancer diagnosis. You’ve no doubt been consumed with doubts; your minds swimming with questions that neither you, nor your partner dares to ask out loud. Will we be able to conceive a baby? What is the likelihood of the cancer coming back? How will the treatment affect the health of our future children? Overcoming cancer is only half of the battle, as you’ve likely become aware of how fragile life truly is. Take a moment to stop and think about your desire to start a family. Forget your doubts for a moment; your relationship is all that matters in this instance.

Advice for couples planning a family after cancer

Please remember that every individual, and couple is different; the advice that follows is meant purely as a guide for those considering trying for a baby in the wake of cancer. Allow yourselves to be reassured that your dreams of a family are by no means over, but try not to force circumstances beyond your own control.

Did you make contingency plans?

Until relatively recently a cancer diagnosis would have had weighty implications for anyone hoping to start a family; those undergoing cancer treatment would likely have been left with few options but to foster or adopt – or give up their dreams of children altogether. The chances are you were warned that cancer treatment could affect your, or your partner’s fertility. However, the practice of harvesting and freezing eggs and sperm, and embryos has revolutionized the process of starting a family for many in your position. Were you advised to do the same? Your approach to starting a family will no doubt start with the decisions you made prior to your diagnosis and treatment.

Where’s the rush?

Whether you had considered trying for a baby prior to your diagnosis, or have been inspired to start a family since receiving the all clear, it’s important to give yourselves time to recover from the ordeal you’ve been living with for the past weeks, months, and even years. Those many appointments, surgeries, and rounds of treatments will have affected you both physically and emotionally; take a moment to breathe before planning the rest of your lives. Depending upon the type, and voracity of the cancer your oncologist might recommend waiting anything between six months and two years before you start trying for a baby. Explore the implications of your illness carefully, and give yourself time to consider your options.

Conduct your own research

If you’re to understand your decision to start a family, and the implications of bringing a child into the world following a battle with cancer you’d do well to conduct your own research, seeking out medical journals, survivor blogs, and social media communities. Build an image of those that have gone before you, and attempt to understand how your health, or that of your partner is likely to affect your dreams of parenthood. Scientist and cancer researcher Mikhail Blagosklonny, who currently stands as the editor-in-chief for journal Oncotarget has a great deal of wisdom, and medical knowledge to share. It is understanding such as his that will better inform your journey to begin, or continue your family. Don’t be afraid of what you might learn; consume information and journals such as Blagosklonny’s to arm yourself for the future.

Seek advice from your oncologist

Your oncologist will understand your desire to embrace your future; don’t ever be afraid, or embarrassed to ask those burning questions you might have, regardless of how obvious the answers might seem. The road to starting a family will no doubt involve fertility tests and health checkups, as well as discussions surrounding your diagnosis. Was your cancer down to genetics, and what are the risks of your future family inheriting those traits? Your doctors will aim to be open and honest with you as far as possible, guiding your decisions and actions. Recent studies have returned no evidence to suggest that babies conceived following cancer treatment are at greater risk of health issues, or to link pregnancy and returning instances of cancer. Discuss your concerns with your doctor before deciding what to do next, particularly if your desire to start a family will involve weaning yourself off your recommended treatment.

Planning a family after cancer will take time and discussion. Will your financial standing enable you to support a growing family? Are you both emotionally, and physically ready to rear a child? Before you go any further ensure that you and your partner agree with, and understand one another; no doubt you’ve both changed during the harrowing months, or even years you’ve undergone. Above all, remember that the decision to start a family, or add to your family following a cancer diagnosis is a highly personal one. Aside from seeking advice from your oncologist no one can, or should tell you how to approach the matter. Take your decision in your stride, and listen to all of the advice given to you. Only then will you know if having a baby is the right choice for you.

Photo by Liane Metzler on Unsplash

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