CLEVELAND – Being a new mom is especially sweet for Brittany Rinella of Willowick, Ohio.
Four years ago, breast cancer almost derailed her plans to start a family.
“I was terrified; not only do I have to deal with this diagnosis at 26, but now I have to worry about possibly not having children, so that was super scary for me,” Rinella said.
Rinella had a double mastectomy and chemotherapy – which can be toxic to the ovaries.
“One of the permanent side effects that we can see from chemotherapy is the induction of premature menopause or ovarian failure,” said Halle Moore, M.D., of Cleveland Clinic Cancer Center.
Young women who receive chemotherapy have a few different options for preserving fertility – they can freeze eggs, embryos, or ovarian tissue to use once cancer treatment is complete.
They can also receive hormone-blocking injections during chemo.
“They actually work to shut down the ovaries and make them less susceptible to the damage from chemotherapy,” said Dr. Moore. “This treatment is safe and effective. It’s important to raise awareness of this relatively simple intervention.”
Rinella received four rounds of chemo, as well as an injection in her stomach to preserve ovarian function each time. Two years later, with breast cancer behind her, she decided to start a family.
“It was natural; I did have embryos that I could have used, but I told myself, let me just try, let’s see what my body wants to do and I was happy to know that it happened, and that everything that they did thus far worked,” Rinella said.
Preserving fertility, while fighting breast cancer, was overwhelming at times, Rinella said, but certainly worthwhile.
“He’s just the happiest baby, honestly, I couldn’t have asked for a better baby,” said Rinella. “I just look at him and think it was all worth it.
Now that she’s delivered her son, Colsen, Rinella is back on course with hormone therapy drugs to keep the cancer from recurring.
Dr. Moore encourages young women diagnosed with breast cancer to talk to their oncologist, or a fertility specialist, about a personalized plan to preserve fertility if they wish to start a family in the future.
Rinella is delighted to be both a survivor – and a mother. “I didn’t want cancer to completely stop the plans for my life,” she said. “When Colsen was born, it felt like everything was falling into place for me. He’s my little miracle baby.”