Fertility & Moving Forward After Cancer
- HGTV house flippers Tarek El Moussa and wife Heather Rae are shining a light on their growing family – and the fertility issues along way – after Tarek’s battle with thyroid and testicular cancers. They talk about the journey in “The Flipping El Moussas,” premiering March 2.
- The couple struggled with infertility after Tarek had one testicle removed and was receiving testosterone. After beginning in vitro fertilization treatments, they conceived naturally last year and had a baby boy.
- Testicular cancer survivors may come across issues with fertility after overcoming the disease, but having children is not always out of the question. If starting a family is on your mind, discuss possible side effects and fertility preservation options with your doctor.
Heather Rae posted new photos of baby Tristan on Instagram this week and shared her journey so far with breasfeeding. Now, the couple is showing how they got here — both the highs and the lows — in their new reality show, which premiers on March 2.Read More
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Tarek El Moussa’s Cancer Journey
Tarek was diagnosed with thyroid and testicular cancer in 2013, calling it “the scariest year of [his] life!” It was just the begininng of his time on HGTV’s “Flip or Flop” with ex-wife Christina Haack. The show aired its last episode in 2022.
It was an episode of “Flip or Flop” that helped lead to his cancer diagnoses. A viewer had noticed a lump on Tarek’s throat while watching the show and, being a nurse, she was determined to contact the network and share her concerns for his health. Tarek got her message and got the lump checked out. That’s when he received his stage three thyroid cancer diagnosis.
Spotting thyroid cancer can often be difficult. The American Cancer Society reports that symptoms may include a lump, swelling or pain in the neck, voice changes, trouble swallowing or breathing or even a constant cough.
“Most people have no discrete symptoms — the majority of cases now are found incidentally,” Dr. Allen Ho, a head and neck surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Hospital, tells SurvivorNet. “However, a sizable number of people may first discover their cancer when they feel a bump on their neck. Other possible late symptoms include problems swallowing, the sensation of something in their throat, neck compression when laying flat or voice changes.”
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Following his diagnosis, Tarek and his then-wife “looked through all [his] old medical records for any other irregularities” and found an irregular testicular exam from two years prior. So just two months after his thyroid cancer diagnosis, he decided to look into it.
“I was at one building doing my thyroid stuff and mentioned I was going across the street to get an ultrasound done,” Tarek told PEOPLE in 2017 of the day of the testing. “I’ll never forget the doctor joking, ‘I hope you don’t have cancer!’”
He found out he had testicular cancer as well later that day.
“I get over to the ultrasound and [the technician and I] are talking and having fun and all of a sudden he got really quiet,” Tarek said. “I said, ‘What’s up?’ I could tell he was nervous and he was like ‘Oh, I’m not a doctor.’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ And he said, ‘Are you in pain? I think you’re in pain and should go to the emergency room.’
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“Right then, I knew something was wrong. A half hour later they tell me I have cancer and try to sign me up for surgery. That was devastating.”
Tarek’s treatment included the removal of one testicle.
A testicular cancer diagnosis is rare. It is the most common form of cancer diagnosed in young men, but it can occur at any age. Symptoms of testicular cancer can be subtle, and some people may even confuse the early symptoms such as a small mass in their testicle as an injury. But when these signs are dismissed, the cancer can grow and become worse.
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“It’s not uncommon to see men come in with masses on their scrotum and have inflammation of the scrotal wall; they develop pain as a result. A lump is the most common symptom of testicular cancer,” Dr. Edwin Posadas, the medical director of the Urologic Oncology Program at Cedars-Sinai Cancer, previously told SurvivorNet.
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In a previous interview with SurvivorNet, Dr. Bradley McGregor, clinical director of the Lank Center for Genitourinary Oncology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, emphasized the importance of self-examinations.
“It is recommended that men aged 15 to 55 perform a monthly self-examination to find any changes to help find the cancer at an early stage,” Dr. McGregor said. And if someone spots any of the early symptoms, “he should visit his doctor immediately.” It’s important to be aware of your body and get in touch with a doctor if you notice anything unusual.
Depending on the stage, the disease is considered extremely treatable. Treatment options can include chemotherapy and radiation, but often the first line of treatment is surgery to remove the testicle which contains the cancerous cells.
Tarek El Moussa Beats Both Diseases
Thankfully, Tarek beat both testicular and thyroid cancer after surgeries and other treatment that included radioactive iodine therapy, according to People. Radioiodine therapy is a “reliable treatment that targets thyroid cells so there is little exposure to the rest of your body’s cells,” according to the Cleveland Clinic.
In an Instagram post from 2019, Tarek shared his excitement for being cancer-free with “Flip or Flop” fans.
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“Today I got the best news ever…I’m cancer free and I’m healthier than ever!!!!” he wrote in his caption. “This makes me so happy not for me but for my babies ❤️. I have to be healthy and alive for them!! (I’m tearing up writing this😭😭😭)”
Since overcoming both battles, he’s been open about his cancer journey to increase awareness for the two cancers and encourage men to perform self-checks for testicular cancer.
“A lot of people said they got tested because I shared my [thyroid cancer] story,” he said.
If You’re Worried – Go to the Doctor
“[Movember’s website will] teach you how to do a self-check,” Tarek said in another interview. “It’s really important because there are people out there today that are gonna get testicular cancer, like it’s gonna happen. And if they find it sooner, the odds of survival are just so much greater.”
Additionally, Tarek and his wife have been open about how Tarek’s cancer affected their fertility.
“Having testicular cancer, he had to be on testosterone,” Heather said during an interview on the television show “The Doctors.” “So I had found out from Dr. A and I was actually shocked that I had not known this before — being a young couple that maybe would wanna have children — that the testosterone he was taking could have been blocking his sperm.”
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But despite being in the middle of in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments and even having a scheduled date to transfer an embryo, the couple found out last summer that Heather got pregnant naturally.
“It was a huge shock,” Heather told PEOPLE in July 2022. “We just weren’t expecting this. We had just gone through IVF. We had embryos on ice. We had a plan.
“I think when you least expect it and there’s no stress in your life, the world just brought us what was meant to be. I’m so excited that it happened like this.”
Fertility After Testicular Cancer
Testicular cancer survivors may come across issues with fertility after overcoming the disease, but this is not always the case. Treatment for this cancer can “affect hormone levels and can also affect your ability to father children after treatment,” according to the American Cancer Society, so you should discuss the possible effects with your doctor before beginning treatment to understand all the options you have at hand.
One route people with the disease can take is to store sperm in a sperm bank before treatment starts. But testicular cancer can result in low sperm counts, so getting a good sample may be tricky. Also, if only one testicle is left after treatment, fertility typically returns after about two years following chemotherapy.
Becoming a Father After Cancer — Todd Rosenbluth’s Story
It’s important to remember that testicular cancer does not mean fatherhood is out of the question – and some people who’ve overcome testicular cancer might not see any issues at all.
Todd Rosenbluth, for example, became a father after having testicular cancer. But when he and his wife wanted to start a family following his cancer battle, things were difficult despite his cancer not being an issue.
Rosenbluth was diagnosed with testicular cancer in his late 20s after his wife urged him to go to his annual appointment with his doctor. He then had surgery to remove one testicle and overcame the disease, but fertility issues came later despite his doctor telling him the couple’s struggles to have a child were unrelated to his cancer.
“Unrelated to the testicular cancer, my wife and I did have fertility issues,” Rosenbluth previously told SurvivorNet. “We had been trying for four years to have a child. They tell you it’s not related to the fertility issues at all. But in your head, when you’re having all these troubles, and you did lose a testicle, you feel the blame.”
Eventually, though, everything did work out. He and his wife had a beautiful son, Milo, in March 2018. That’s when Rosenbluth finally felt free from his past cancer battle.
“The safest I felt with my testicular cancer was when my son was born,” he said.
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