Tonight I take a red-eye to Chicago to attend the Oncofertility Consortium. As I was doing the last of my rotations at Bastyr University in Seattle, a colleague of mine (Thanks Alyssa!) approached me about oncofertility. She knew about my interest in fertility, as most other people in my program did, and she had experienced my fascination with the naturopathic oncology world as I studied under perhaps the best Naturopathic oncology specialist we know of. The idea hit me like when I learned about Naturopathic medicine. "You mean something like this actually exists?"
So what is Oncofertility?
Oncofertility is the interface of two fields, oncology (study and treatment of cancer) and fertility (the study and treatment of the ability to reproduce successfully). It is a field that encompasses not only what you do after cancer treatment when an infertility diagnosis is received, but before these often life saving treatments are initiated. The field, in my eyes, is all encompassing for cancer patients or survivors who want to become pregnant, either "some day" or now. For me, a lover of all things preconception, its an exciting field! How can we help patients and survivors of cancer to not only have children but to have healthy, flourishing children that remain healthy through adulthood?
Cancer treatment can affect my fertility?!?
Unfortunately, in the midst of the delicate and pressing nature of the cancer treatment conversations, either fertility is never talked about, or it is never processed by the patient even if it is said. Consideration of a desire to have a biological child one day is best done before cancer treatment, and it is an important consideration! Patient advocates can be very helpful in these situations, to remember that even in the wake of what may seem like chaos or a set path into treatment, you have the right to stop and question any of your treatment options. Whether they see it this way or not, your oncologist is being paid for their expert opinion, and it should be combined with your opinion, as you are the expert of your life.
If you and your oncologist passed go without the consideration of fertility, there may be more hope for you to have a biological child than you think. Depending on your personal situation, a carefully crafted plan can bring you towards health and increase your chances of having a baby. What I love about Naturopathic Oncofertility is, there is little risk to trying. At the very least, you will end up healthier, and at the best, you will have a healthy baby with even healthier parents!
Naturopathic Doctors, what can we do?
Naturopathic doctors are actually very well equipped to lead a patient through the treatment and conversations associated with oncofertility. Patient education is important, as is collaboration with reproductive endocrinologists and oncologists, ideally who specialize in oncofertility. Understandably, this can be a very confusing and scary time for patients, and our guidance is greatly needed in this field. Perhaps my favorite part about naturopathic oncofertility is actually what we are best suited to provide guidance for; restoration of health! We have knowledge of optimum body function and how to restore health as it relates to hormones, structural changes, detoxification, nutrient depletion, and emotional and spiritual health, all of which are needed in the field of oncofertility for one patient or another.
Stay tuned for more information on oncofertility to come as I navigate through a very exciting weekend of education, collaboration, and inspiration.
Dr. Jen Riegle is a Naturopathic Doctor (ND) who practices in Santa Rosa, CA. Dr. Jen specializes in women's health, infertility, and oncofertility. If you live in the Bay Area and would like to make an appointment, you may schedule on our website or by calling (707)-243-8998.