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Oct. 31, 2020

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Clinic offers hope to patients wanting kids

Oregon Reproductive Medicine can retrieve a woman’s eggs before she begins cancer treatment

By , Columbian Health Reporter
Published:

A cancer diagnosis can be life-altering on its own, but knowing that the treatment could jeopardize a woman’s fertility and potentially dash her hopes of having children can be downright devastating.

That’s what motivates the doctors at Oregon Reproductive Medicine in Portland to help women facing major health issues preserve their ability to have biological children. The clinic’s Fast Track program quickly moves women through the fertility procedures — completing the egg-retrieval process in a matter of weeks, rather than months — before they undergo chemotherapy treatment that could damage their eggs.

“If they’re able to conceive on their own, that’s great,” said Dr. Brandon Bankowski, a reproductive endocrinologist at Oregon Reproductive Medicine. “But if not, it’s a nice type of insurance policy for them. It gets them some hope when their world is kind of collapsing.”

Women facing major medical issues may seek egg retrieval for a couple of reasons, Bankowski said. One reason is the powerful drugs used to kill cancer cells also can damage eggs, reducing a woman’s ability to conceive.

Another reason is age. A woman diagnosed with cancer at age 34 may not be cleared for pregnancy for five or more years, depending on her treatment, Bankowski said. Her older age may make it more difficult to conceive naturally.

“The fertility of a 34-year-old and a 40-year-old are very different,” he said.

Women whose fertility is at risk due to medical treatment can call Oregon Reproductive Medicine and get scheduled for an initial consultation appointment within a couple of days — sometimes as quickly as the next day, Bankowski said. Typically, the clinic is scheduled out about three weeks, he said.

If the woman wants to move forward, she may be able to begin medications to stimulate eggs within a few days of her initial appointment, and egg retrieval could be completed within a few weeks. A typical patient may not have her eggs retrieved until a couple of months after the first visit, Bankowski said.

The goal is to get the eggs retrieved as quickly as possible so the patient can move forward with cancer treatment with little delay, Bankowski said. In addition to the quicker timeline, the Fast Track program also provides women with the fertility procedures at a heavily discounted rate, he said.

To date, the clinic has completed 68 Fast Track cycles for cancer patients, Bankowski said. The majority of those patients have not yet come back to use the eggs, he said.

Teri Bowles-Atherton of Vancouver is among those patients. Bowles-Atherton, 40, was diagnosed with appendiceal cancer in February. The cancer was detected when Bowles-Atherton had emergency surgery to remove her appendix.

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The cancer diagnosis meant Bowles-Atherton needed to undergo a second surgery to remove part of her colon and receive a large dose of chemotherapy in her abdomen. The 10-hour surgery was scheduled for five weeks after her emergency appendectomy.

At the time of her cancer diagnosis, Bowles-Atherton and her husband had been trying to conceive. They had been trying to expand their family for three years without success. Bowles-Atherton later learned one side effect of appendiceal cancer is infertility.

“On one hand, it was earth shattering,” Bowles-Atherton said of the diagnosis. “It also explained a lot.”

The diagnosis explained why Bowles-Atherton couldn’t conceive, but it also led her to feel “a bit of an emotional loss before I found out ORM was an option and egg harvesting was an option.”

Bowles-Atherton had her first appointment at the clinic within days of her diagnosis. Things moved quickly after that. Bowles-Atherton immediately began medication, and her eggs were retrieved in mid-March. She underwent her cancer surgery and received chemotherapy on March 29.

“It really made my head spin because not only was I dealing with hearing the word ‘cancer’ … but then hearing there’s a sense of hope and that this can be done, it just sent my whole world into fast-forward,” she said.

Now that Bowles-Atherton has hit the six-month post-surgery mark, she and her husband are beginning to discuss their options moving forward, such as in vitro fertilization or surrogacy.

“We’re blessed to be able to have this opportunity, to have my eggs harvested,” Bowles-Atherton said. “There was an underlying sense of hope that ORM gave me, that if I came through cancer treatment, which I have, then the chapter of expanding my family wasn’t closed.”

“All hope isn’t lost,” she added.

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