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Las Vegas-based program now offers cancer patients options for having children

Although she always wanted to have children, at 27 years old Trina Mills was single and not thinking of a future family when she learned she had a bone marrow disease that could require chemotherapy.

Doctors didn’t mention that the treatment was likely to leave her infertile until the San Diego resident’s mother asked. Because she was placed on the wait list for a marrow transplant, Mills said she had time to figure out her options, unlike many other patients in her situation.

Her brother, who lives in Las Vegas, learned of a national fertility aid program called Fertile Hope, which paid for much of the costs associated with freezing eggs and sperm.

“I always wanted to have kids, and I didn’t want that option to be taken away from me,” said Mills, who is now 30 and has four or five viable frozen eggs from her treatment in 2009 at the Las Vegas-based Sher Fertility Institute .

Leading off that program’s success, the institute launched its own program, Fertility Rescue, this year. Nearly 20 people have taken steps to preserve their fertility at its branches across the country, including four people in Las Vegas. The Sher Fertility Institute at Spring Valley Hospital, 5400 S. Rainbow Blvd., covers a $10,000 egg-freezing cycle for cancer patients.

Dr. Jeffrey Fisch, medical director at the institute, said the program is still in its infancy, and none of the patients nationally or locally has yet thawed their eggs for the attempt to have a baby. Many patients are still undergoing chemotherapy and have the eggs frozen for future consideration, he added.

The likelihood of a patient becoming a parent, however, is low, he said, citing a 30 percent delivery rate.

“One of the things about the process is that it’s more about the hope than actually making a baby,” Fisch said. “As long as you let people know that, ‘ Yes, there is a future beyond cancer,’ that helps them. It gives somebody something to live for. I think people struggling with cancer need something to hold on to.”

Mills said knowing she has the option to have children later eased the struggle of her diagnosis. She is still on the waiting list for a bone marrow donor, but doctors now think she may be able to avoid the surgery and control the disease with medications.

“I have plans,” she said of potentially having a child. “I just haven’t met Mr. Right yet.”

Although Fertility Rescue gives hope to some young women, it is still difficult for many others with cancer who are often ineligible for the program’s benefits, doctors said.

Cancer patients must have a diagnosis that allows for two to four weeks before starting chemotherapy if they want to go through the egg-freezing process. Many patients don’t have that kind of time, doctors said.

“The double whammy that young women face is that they can find out they have a malignancy, and then, on top of that, they require chemotherapy that will very likely leave them infertile. That is obviously very devastating news on both counts,” said Dr. Heather Allen, a medical oncologist specializing in breast cancer at Sunrise and Desert Springs hospitals. “But first and foremost we have to deal with the patient’s cancer. There’s no way around that.”

Although seldom possible, she said she recommends Fertility Rescue to patients who might be able to consider it as an option. Now that Sher Fertility Institute picks up the costs, it is much more feasible for young women to take advantage of it because the expensive process often is not covered through insurance, she said.

“It was just a huge weight lifted off,” Mills said. “There was so much stress in general — medical, financial. It helps women get some kind of relief.”

Contact reporter Jessica Fryman at jfryman@viewnews.com or 380-4535.

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