Pregnancy and Cancer
- Tennessee mother Sarah Sharp was unable to carry a child after having a hysterectomy to treat her choriocarcinoma. Thankfully, her twin sister stepped in to help by offering to be her surrogate.
- Choriocarcinoma is a malignant, fast-growing tumor that develops from the cells that help an embryo attach to the uterus and form the placenta. Oftentimes, this cancer forms in the uterus after fertilization of an egg by a sperm.
- When women are diagnosed with cancer in their childbearing years, fertility preservation should be a part of the conversation with their doctors.
In 2018, about a year after giving birth to her daughter Charlotte, Sarah Sharp, 33, developed problems with her menstrual cycle. Her blood work showed she was pregnant, but there was no evidence of a fetus on the ultrasound. Her gynecologist thought she might have had a miscarriage or an ectopic pregnancy which occurs in the fallopian tubes, but a dilation and curettage surgery revealed something else.Read More
This time her doctor decided a hysterectomy was the best course of action. Unfortunately, the removal of the uterus, or womb, during this surgery made her unable to carry a child, but Cathey Stoner, Sharp’s twin sister, was determined to help.
Stoner immediately said, “Don’t worry. I’ll have your babies,” according to the Tennessean. “It was never a question.”
Sharp’s partial hysterectomy left her ovaries in tact, so doctors were able to remove and preserve eggs. The twins found out Stoner was pregnant in December 2020, and they were both ecstatic. Baby John Ryder is due in August, and Sharp cannot wait for her family to grow. In an Instagram post from April, she gushed over the thought of John Ryder joining her family of three.
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“Hard to believe this 3 pack will be a family of FOUR in just 3.5 months,” she wrote. “As Mother's Day approaches I can't help but feel so grateful. I often feel like I lost well over a year of motherhood when I was sick. But these days are so sweet I don't think I've stopped crying happy tears! Being a mom is such a gift and I feel so special that I get to impact two precious tiny souls. I'm so thankful for my twin @babyandme.nutrition and that I get to be a momma!”
In a recent Instagram post, Stoner gave an update on her pregnancy.
“3rd trimester babysitting my nephew!!!” she wrote under a picture showing off her baby bump. “There are not many words to describe the experience of carrying my twin sister's baby. It's been spiritual, overwhelming and amazing. Someone recently asked me how I'm feeling about "handing him over"… and I honestly can't wait!!! The count down of "birth day" gives me the happiest butterflies. She plans to catch him right away. There is no handing over because it's not my baby 🙂 it's theirs!”
Fertility and Cancer Treatments
An unfortunate reality about cancer is that treatment options can affect your fertility. A hysterectomy is a surgery which removes the uterus (womb) and sometimes the tissues next to the uterus, the cervix and the upper part of the vagina as well. This surgery makes a woman unable to carry a child, and, unfortunately, it is not the only type of cancer treatment that can affect a woman’s ability to have a baby. Some types of chemotherapy, for example, can destroy the eggs in your ovaries, making it impossible or difficult to get pregnant. Whether or not chemotherapy makes you infertile depends on the type of drug and your age since your egg supply decreases as you get older.
"The risk is greater the older you are," reproductive endocrinologist Dr. Jaime Knopman tells SurvivorNet in a previous interview. "If you're 39 and you get chemo that's toxic to the ovaries, it's most likely to make you menopausal. But, if you're 29, your ovaries may recover because they have a higher baseline supply."
Dr. Knopman tells SurvivorNet that when women are diagnosed with cancer in their childbearing years, fertility preservation needs to be a part of the conversation with their doctors.
"Everyone in their reproductive years should be advised of their options," Knopman says.
The Emotional Impact of A Hysterectomy
Treatment paths for various cancers can vary greatly depending on the stage of the cancer and whether or not a woman wants to maintain her fertility. Like Sarah Sharp, a hysterectomy could be the best option, but there is much to consider.
Adjusting to Life after Hysterectomy What to Expect, and How to Cope.
Dr. Jeanne Carter is a sexual psychologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. In a previous interview with SurvivorNet, she explains that hysterectomies may have a positive or negative emotional impact depending on a patient's relationship with the body part that is removed.
"Having those parts removed can be very devastating for them especially in some of our young patients who might have wanted those organs for reproductive options and may have to build families in different ways," Dr. Carter said. "Any time a woman loses part of her body, it's what that part of the body symbolized to them that really affects how they feel and adjust to it."