Fertility Medicine: One Couple’s Journey From Cancer to Expectant Family

Brought to you by WINFertility

Yesterday, while playing with my two-year old niece at the park, a woman and her toddler stopped to chat with us. She asked me if I was expecting my second child and I beamed, subconsciously putting my hand behind my back to accentuate my teeny tiny baby bump and proudly told her ‘This is actually my first.’

It was a simple moment but significant moment. I doubt that woman will ever know what her simple question meant to me. It was the first time I looked pregnant enough to be asked that question, and I was elated, knowing that the world was finally in on this incredible secret. I am positive I am not the first pregnant woman to feel this way, but it was the first time I felt this way. At the ripe age of thirty one I have had quite the medical journey, and in that moment, that proud declaration that ‘YES, I am pregnant, and it is my first special little bundle of joy’, I felt that I must be the luckiest and happiest woman on the planet.

Something about that moment brought me back to the sterile environment of my oncologist’s office months ago, such a stark contrast from the sunshine and fresh cut grass surrounding me. I heard my oncologist’s voice as she said, ‘It’s time to talk IVF.’ She said it to me gently, as she always did. It’s not dissimilar from the voice she used to say ‘‘Stage II, Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, it’s reached the lymph nodes,’ nearly four years ago.

An early morning sunrise photo taken by Jenna's husband at Sloan Kettering Memorial Hospital, hours after her mastectomy surgery.

In Vitro Fertilization is not a foreign concept to me, it’s something we knew might come someday, but it feels like a gut punch all the same. What else will cancer rob us of? It’s taken my right breast and guaranteed a lifetime of collateral pain. It took away my long curly hair, eyebrows, eyelashes, and tried to steal the last few years of my twenties, albeit strengthening my marriage in the process. Cancer is greedy, and never satisfied. I suppose I thought I’d begin the ‘normal’ process of starting a family with my husband, but what is normal anymore, especially when you’ve spent the better part of your late twenties bald and fighting to survive?

I accept, acquiesce, and realize I should be thankful she’s giving me a chance to try at all. I’m what’s referred to as estrogen positive, which means my cancer becomes more aggressive in an estrogen rich environment so getting pregnant is a calculated risk, one that involves coming off my preventative hormone therapy. But it’s one we decide we are willing to take, together. Proof that I’m here. I survived. I’m healthy, we’re thriving. My husband and I can do this.

I dive into the research, the forums, the books, the help groups, overwhelmed with data, potential options, and most of all, cost.

My incredibly thorough insurance somehow doesn’t cover any fertility treatments—and the black hole of the in vitro world that I’ve leapt into makes me realize that most others don’t either. A few meetings with some of the top doctors in Manhattan leads me to the hard truth—having a baby ‘naturally’ (i.e. without a surrogate) is a very possible option. But it will not be cheap. The drugs and embryo creation process alone can run into the tens of thousands, and that’s before you get into any potential complications. There are so many variables it’s mind numbing.

Eventually my research led me to a company called WINFertility. It’s unique in the medical field, a brand that essentially works as one-stop shopping for anyone with fertility issues looking to start a family. WIN offers managed fertility coverage for many employers who choose to offer this benefit. For patients like me without insurance coverage for fertility (or those who have exhausted their coverage), WIN also sells self-pay ‘bundled programs’; rolling the price for medical treatment, genetic testing, and fertility medications into a single, discounted price—as opposed to the typical a la carte pricing. They work directly with the drug manufacturers, genetics labs and fertility specialists on a large scale, so they’re able to get you a much better bang for your buck. When you’re looking at anywhere from $20,000 to $100,000 (that’s a conservative potential estimate) for fertility treatment, having that discount passed along to the patient takes starting a family from wishful thinking to optimistically possible.

Dr. Copperman, rock star of all Reproductive Endocrinologists.

WIN helps makes the whole process more affordable, personal and easier to navigate. But what makes them really special, from a patient perspective at least, is the fact that they become your mecca for everything fertility. From the moment I signed up with WIN I was assigned Amy, my personal concierge of sorts and Patient Fertility Specialist, along with Theresa, my FertilityCoach Nurse; both of whom worked together to find the right doctor, to coordinate drug shipments, and would help me prepare for procedure days. Amy and Theresa were my people, my personal advocates who knew the ins and outs of this crazy confusing world and sorted out all the medical jargon and overload into one smooth simple process for me.

The doctor they paired with me through their medical matchmaking program was none other than the rock star fertility specialist Dr. Alan Copperman of Reproductive Medicine Associates New York. He’s pretty humble, he certainly wouldn’t let you call him a rock star in his presence, but he is one of the most renowned and accomplished doctors within his field (and you may have seen his office in last season’s Friends from College).

A true pioneer in the fertility landscape, he is the Director of the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility as well as the Vice-Chairman of the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Science at Mount Sinai. He also serves as Medical Director of RMA of New York (which just happens to be on Madison Avenue, next to Baccarat and down the street from Barney’s). That’s just the tip of the iceberg of his ever-impressive baby making career.

He’s the guy you want if you ever find yourself at this unfortunate crossroads in your life. I walked in with a list full of worries and a stomach of dread, and left with a to-do list and a heart full of hope. We had a plan, we had a call to action, we were going to bring this dream baby of mine and Brian’s to fruition.

A hopeful and exciting embryo implantation day at RMA of NY.
Moments after getting the call that the implantation was a success!

RMA of NY became my home away from home. I stopped by every morning in the weeks leading up to my egg retrieval, coffee and croissant in hand with a fist pumping and veins ready for blood work. Every afternoon, Dr. Copperman’s nurse Jordyn would call me and let me know how my progesterone or HCG, or whatever it was they were checking, looked. Dr. Copperman spent countless hours going over every question my husband and I had in calm and confident detail. He even called us on a Sunday morning when that first implantation didn’t take and again after office hours on the Tuesday of my trigger shot just to check in on me.

WIN and RMA became our family. They worked as a true team, reassuring me when I needed a hand held, and problem solving anytime an issue needed to be figured out. They worked seamlessly together, coordinating all of my appointments, drugs, procedures, and just generally giving me the energy and space to focus on me and my potential growing womb instead of being bogged down by how much of a certain hormone to order or what to do the day of implantation.

WIN has a company motto of sorts that I heard on that very first phone call as they assessed my potential as a patient. They said ‘We are sprinkling you with baby dust!’. I laughed, but it stuck with me.

Every time I spoke with one of the many on my WIN team, or laughed with Samantha at RMA after an awkward specimen moment, or had a detailed discussion with Dr. Copperman focusing on the next step of our plan, I felt that sprinkle of baby dust in the air. I felt the joy and genuine eagerness they had to help me, and it filled me with hope.

I am currently twenty-three weeks pregnant and counting. Last night, with my feet up and enjoying the way my new maternity jeans helped accentuate that little bump, I felt the gentlest little kick. It wasn’t hard or painful, it was a wonderful whoosh of a wave. Like this little creature was just saying ‘Hello!.’

It took fourteen shots of Menopur, one trigger shot for an egg retrieval, countless days of routine bloodwork, three viable embryos created, two implantations, and one failure to reach this one giant success.

This one eight inch long, papaya sized success. Sixteen weeks left until we watch him or her greet this world.

All because of a lot of love, a little miracle and one huge heap of baby dust from Dr. Copperman at RMA and WINFertility.