Hodgkin lymphoma treatment and fertility

Areana Carcieri

patient Areana Carcieri

Imagine being 22 and having your two biggest fears come true: You have cancer, and your treatment may leave you unable to have children in the future.

While you’re still coming to terms with the diagnosis, you now have to make some major life decisions. Do you want to freeze your eggs? Or should you choose a sperm donor and freeze fertilized eggs instead? Don’t forget to consider your husband’s feelings — even though he isn’t even in your life yet.

“It was so overwhelming,” says Arieana Carcieri, who found herself facing this scenario after being diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma. "I come from a big family and always wanted at least three kids. The cancer diagnosis alone was all-consuming — I didn’t anticipate the decisions I’d have to make about a future family."

Arieana turned to Dr. Sara Barton, a fertility specialist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital who collaborates with Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center. Dr. Barton sees many young women between the ages of 16 and 21 who are preparing for cancer treatment.

“These aren't issues women typically think about in their early 20s, especially without a partner,” she said. “We’re asking them to make very mature, complicated decisions that are going to have a big impact on their life trajectory. A lot of girls think yes, I want kids, I want to do it. But then we have to talk about the reality of the situation and the financial cost.”

Young women faced with these challenges do have options. They may choose to freeze their eggs, depending on the number of eggs harvested — an approach that new results suggest can be an effective way to preserve fertility. A second option, fertilizing eggs with donor sperm, has traditionally been more successful.

"It was easy for me to say that this was something that I wanted to do. I would be so worried about having children otherwise,” Arieana said. “But there was a lot of information I had to understand first. Dr. Barton spent hours with me going through the pros and cons of each choice."

Arieana opted for IVF treatment and had 23 eggs removed. She chose a sperm donor to fertilize half and — in case she has a husband one day — froze the other half as unfertilized eggs.

If and when she chooses, she will have at least a few attempts at a healthy pregnancy. And while the procedure was expensive, she was able to get help from Fertile Hope, a nonprofit that provides financial assistance to cancer patients at risk for infertility.

But Arieana has many things she would like to accomplish before she starts a family. She finished treatment and is looking forward to the New York City Triathlon. She also plans to begin classes when she’s feeling better, although she now has a new career path.

Inspired by her care team, Arieana hopes to become a nurse.

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