Friday, July 1, 2011

Book Review: Having Children After Cancer


"Having Children After Cancer," by Gina M. Shaw gives hope and advice for young adults and children diagnosed with fertility-threatening forms of cancer. Ms. Shaw's inspiration for the comprehensive guide was her own experience. After surviving breast cancer, she is now the proud mother of one adopted child and two children via natural pregnancies.

Published in 2011, this guide is up-to-date on today's cancer treatments and assisted fertility techniques. It details: how various cancers and treatments can affect fertility; options for preserving fertility prior to treatments; pregnancy during/after cancer; alternatives to traditional conception if fertility preservation wasn't possible before treatment; and many of the emotional aspects relating to being a cancer survivor and parent.

The book is a tremendous resource for women with breast cancer or reproductive cancers, since that is Ms. Shaw's personal experience. She also addresses many other types of cancers and treatments, the issues facing men, and the even-more-sensitive topic of preserving fertility for childhood cancer victims. The organized format of the guide makes it easy for a reader to find the information relevant to him or her.

When a doctor first tells a patient she has cancer, the immediate thoughts are on survival, not babies. This is a great resource for those with non-aggressive forms of cancer, who have time to think about "life after cancer," and for advocates of those with acute cancers. Survivors will also benefit from this guide.

Although the typical patient may be focused on survival in the early days after a diagnosis, that was not the case for me. From the moment I was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia ("AML"), subtype M3, my treatment team was focused on saving my life. The only one who mentioned the word, "fertility" was me. Any time a doctor or nurse neared me with a drug, I asked about its impact on fertility. My AML killed my five-month-old unborn baby girl, and I had zero interest in taking drugs that would kill my chances at having future children.

If I had read "Having Children After Cancer" during my hospital stay, I would have been better equipped to have the right conversations with my health care team. As I have come to understand since those dark early days, I should be able to have children a few years from now, once the maintenance phase of my treatment has been completed and the drugs are fully out of my system. When that time comes, I will re-read the relevant chapters of this book.

Ms. Shaw's guide can provide comfort and hope to any cancer fighter or survivor who wants to create or add to a family. It also provides an opportunity to think about Life After Cancer. Personally, I love thinking about that.