“You have cancer.” The phrase still stops me in my tracks. And the unexplainable heaviness I will always feel in my gut from those 3 words has been felt by millions of other people.
Hitting My Stride
I was 37 years old the first time I was diagnosed with breast cancer, living in Manhattan, and hitting my stride in my career, when I first heard this phrase. Just weeks, if not days before, I was healthy. I had a thriving social life and built an incredible life. It seemed there was nothing that could stand in my way.
With my doctor delivering the unthinkable phrase came a flurry of thoughts and decisions to make, and fast. What breast cancer treatment made the most sense? Could I continue to work? Could I still see friends and family when I’m sick? Who will be there to support me? What did I do to cause this? It all came so quickly, and never before had I dealt with a health crisis.
But one decision I didn’t think I would have to make was regarding my future fertility.
I was deciding between several treatment plans, one of which included chemotherapy. Asking questions about the nitty gritty details is one of my specialties, so I soon learned that chemotherapy has a high likelihood of damaging my—or any woman’s—eggs, given that we are born with all of the eggs we’ll ever have.
I was going to lose my breasts, my hair, and now my ability to become a mother.
A Future Family
If I wanted to have any chance of having a future family, I needed to freeze my eggs, for a future pregnancy. And I had only days to decide, not weeks. I was a proud aunt and godmother, and the thought of starting my own family had always been important to me. This was a lot to process.
I figured that egg freezing was yet another procedure to add to the list, and that my insurance would cover this. No one elects to have cancer. So how on earth could this not be covered, but instead be considered an elective procedure?
To my surprise, my insurance provider told me that they would only cover the cost if I showed that I had attempted to get pregnant for 6 months—6 months? I had no time to waste. I needed to start chemotherapy right away, if I wanted a chance to save my life, let alone think about creating a new life.
Freezing My Eggs
I made the decision to freeze my eggs, a choice that was hard to think about emotionally, and which came with a hefty price tag.
Egg freezing starts at $15,000 and goes up to $20,000, plus annual storage fees. As someone who was starting to build a well-established career on Wall Street, I was lucky enough to have a “rainy day” fund. I felt so fortunate, despite being so overwhelmed.
At the same time, I wondered what happens to girls and young women who don’t have such funds. Furthermore, how would they go about navigating making these choices? Through my confusion and pain, I started to research these issues.
I learned that a lot of women will opt for less potent forms of cancer treatment, in hopes of preserving their fertility. I also learned that many doctors don’t give their patients all the information regarding the side effects of cancer treatments, considering how hefty the fertility preservation price tag is.
To make it all worse, at the time of my diagnosis, there wasn’t any legislation yet to give patients with cancer fertility benefits to cover these costs. All this broke my heart.
All Before Age 40
After a year of treatment, I was not done with my cancer journey. There would be 2 more times that I would hear that numbing phrase. I was diagnosed with melanoma, which was then followed by breast cancer recurrence—all before age 40.
The third time around, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer again, I was as prepared as I could be. I knew the players—the team of doctors, the treatment lingo, and side effects. My friends and family members continued to be relentlessly by my side, strapped up and ready to face whatever would come next.
Furthermore, I had an even more comprehensive insurance plan than before, with fertility treatment benefits. It seemed a no-brainer that my egg freezing would be covered. When I was denied coverage with this insurance plan, I was sent over the edge. I was furious, wondering how on earth this could be. I had done everything in my power right.
Helping Other Young Women
When I finally wrapped up my last rounds of breast cancer treatment in 2017, I knew I had to do something. Not just for my own healing, but for other people as well. The issue of cancer and fertility preservation was so much bigger than me.
On Wall Street, I raise money for a living. So I ordered the book Nonprofits Kit for Dummies and got to work. I enlisted the help of my friends and family members, who all supported me through my cancer journey. We came together with the goal of helping other young women with cancer navigating fertility preservation.
The Chick Mission
Together, we founded The Chick Mission (www.thechickmission.org), a nonprofit organization that gives patients with cancer the opportunity to start a future family. We educate women on the risk that cancer treatment has on their ability to become mothers.
We also provide need-based grants to cover the cost of egg freezing, and advocate for legislative change.
I was born and raised in New York state. In 2019, New York state passed a law that went into effect in 2020 to ensure that patients with cancer have coverage for fertility preservation. It was incredibly inspiring to be a part of that effort.
My new home state of Texas has not passed such a law, although The Chick Mission has fought for change, and will continue to do so.
Today, 10 states have legislation in place to provide coverage of fertility preservation for patients with cancer, including California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island.
Each state has different mandates in place, and depending on a patient’s employer, the patient’s health insurance benefits can be administered in states different from where the patient lives, or by Medicaid. There are countless loopholes. And although this is good progress, more must be done across the country to make this treatment accessible to all women (and men) in every state.
No one can fully prepare for a cancer diagnosis. But I want to be there, at least for a step of the way, supporting women. Most of all, I want to empower women, encouraging them to be their own advocate.
Since founding The Chick Mission in 2017, we have awarded more than 150 grants, giving patients with cancer the option to start a future family. So far, we’ve saved patients more than $2 million through these grants.
If modern medicine can cure cancer for young (age 18-40) women who are diagnosed with cancer, our goal at The Chick Mission is to give them hope, and a chance to create the family of their dreams. We hope you will join us in our fight.