I was 27 years old when I was diagnosed with cancer. My husband and I had bought our first house six weeks prior to that awful day, and up until that point, my life was on track — college, marriage, career, house, baby. We didn’t plan for cancer. Then again, who does?
In the United States, 150,000 men and women are diagnosed with cancer during their reproductive window, and their cancer treatments can cause infertility. Even though guidelines and recommendations from prestigious organizations exist, more than 50 percent of physicians never tell their patients that they will be left with no options for biological children after treatment.
When we ask providers what challenges make it difficult to have this conversation it nearly always comes down to cost. Fertility preservation is not covered by insurance and they assume patients cannot afford to pay out-of-pocket for treatments which can easily run into the tens of thousands. To make matters worse, it is money cancer patients and their families must come up with immediately before cancer treatment begins.
Payers don’t treat damage caused by surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation to your reproductive system the same as damage to your heart, liver, or other vital organs. Antibiotics, blood transfusions, reconstruction after mastectomies are all covered by insurance to mitigate the side effects of cancer treatment. Why not fertility saving measures? This is not like growing your hair back or making a prosthesis. You cannot replace fertility.
For the past two years Critical Mass: The Young Adult Cancer Alliance has been working state-by-state with advocates and organizations like the Alliance for Fertility Preservation and the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults to expand coverage for all fertility protecting treatments. Last year, Rhode Island and Connecticut passed legislation to extend fertility preservation coverage. This year, New York and Maryland are on track to do the same thing.
I was overjoyed to learn that Louisiana was adding its name to the list of states standing up for young adult patients to protect parenthood after cancer. HB689, introduced by breast cancer survivor Rep. Julie Stokes, is important legislation for all states who want to be leaders in the fight to end one of the most permanent and devastating effects cancer has on the life of a young person diagnosed with cancer.
I urge every member of the legislature to support Stokes’ legislation and call on Gov. John Bel Edwards to sign this bill into law this year. Do not let cancer steal a chance at parenthood away from another Louisiana man or woman. Cancer already takes so much. You have it in your power to make sure it takes less including our hope to one day become a parent.
Kate Yglesias Houghton
president and CEO, Critical Mass