Two summers ago, I sat in the shade on a beautiful sunny afternoon, in the Outer Banks, NC, and listened to the banter of 6 young adults, all squeezed into a hot tub, after an exhausting but exhilarating day of surfing.
For a week, 15 young adults had gathered, all strangers, in a house on the beach to challenge themselves to learn how to surf. Their reader’s digests were all so different – they hailed from different states, with varying jobs, diverse family lives and social scenes. One thing they all had in common was cancer: the devastating disease that had vastly affected each and every one of their lives, in some shape or form.
For anybody, the news of a cancer diagnosis is shattering. For young adults, there is a unique set of challenges they are faced with: debt, college, relationships, first jobs, new family, young children and infertility, to name a few.
So I sat, and listened to a group of people who had been poked, prodded and cut, radiated, injected and hospitalized. There were many conversations flowing that afternoon – there were no barriers. What I remember the most clearly, was when the chat turned to infertility. To the moment when it was realized that not only does one have to deal with the trauma of a cancer diagnosis, but the additional blow of being told that the likelihood of you ever having children, had pretty much been thrown out of the window, and that you were 27 years old, and in the next few months you would start menopause. Or, that the chemotherapy and radiation cocktails you had undergone, had dramatically decreased your chances of having children, or that you would loose the very organs that would enable fertility in the first place. What was shocking to me was that almost everyone in the hot tub, was presented with a scenario that left them seriously doubting their future as a parent.
For males and females alike, these scenarios are very real. What is also very real is the shocking number of patients who don’t receive reproductive health counseling before they start their treatment routine. In many cases, time is of the essence, and young adults with a new diagnosis are not afforded the luxury of the sometimes-timely procedures that help with the odds of future family life.
However, there are an increasing amount of resources that have been made available to the Young Adult community when faced with the realization that fertility may be an issue. Additionally, there are ground breaking and truly magical things happening in the world on Oncofertility, where little miracles happen to people who had long lost hope in the prospect of being a parent. Some great resources include the obvious, AGC Scholarships, also MyOncofertility.org and Fertile Action.
As I gathered by thoughts back to reality, the banter switched once more, and the sound of giggles and laughter increased. They were talking about the largest wave caught that day, and who took the biggest beat down….
Peta Sheridan’s passion for the outdoors led her to First Descents, a nonprofit organization that provides life-changing outdoor adventures for young adults impacted by cancer, over five years ago. Her involvement started as a lead staff at programs and moved into a full time position with the organization shortly thereafter. Since that time, Peta has been an integral part of growing programs at First Descents, which now serves over 500 young adults annually. She lives in Denver, Colorado.