Facing chemo, newlywed breast cancer survivor preserves her chance to start a family

Newly married and about to graduate with her advanced degree in wildlife biology and embark on a gratifying career, 27-year-old Samantha had everything to look forward to.

Then, as she put it, "life hit."

But thanks to the warmth and dedication of the staff at McLaren Clarkston and aid of the McLaren Oakland Foundation, Samantha's vision of her future remains largely intact.

During a self-examination in early December 2016, she felt a lump in her breast. She made an appointment with her family doctor and, following an ultrasound and biopsy, was given a diagnosis.

It was cancer.

"Fear," Samantha said of her initial reaction to her diagnosis at a young age. "I think that for any fight, it's important to know what it is you're fighting. The wait was unnerving "“ not knowing was terrifying.

"Everything was happy-go-lucky," she said. "Everything was now in question. I needed time to process this, but it brought into question my future and the future of my family."

Not waiting, she met with Dr. Elon Knoll, an oncologist with the Karmanos Cancer Institute at McLaren Clarkston, to create a treatment plan that would include multiple rounds of chemotherapy, surgery and radiation to shrink and ultimately remove the tumor.

However, given her studious nature, Samantha knew the potential side effects that came with chemotherapy treatments, specifically how it could adversely affect her fertility.

Married just four months at the time of her diagnosis in January 2017, Samantha and her husband discussed having children eventually, choosing to wait until they were both out of school and setting into their careers.

She had the option to harvest and store her eggs for future conception, but quickly ran into a roadblock "“ her insurance dictated that she could only have her eggs harvested at a specific location, where there was a six-week wait which would significantly delay the start of her chemo.

"It's heartbreaking to think that a young woman was faced with a decision that would either delay her critical cancer treatments or risk her chance to have children," said Ms. Joey Sheroski, breast nurse navigator at the McLaren Clarkston Breast Center.

It was with Sheroski's help that Samantha would not have to choose between the two. Able to secure a $5,000 grant from the McLaren Oakland Foundation, Sheroski was able to expedite the procedure, arranging for Samantha to have her eggs harvested and stored at a nearby facility within two weeks, which would not delay the start of her chemotherapy.

Nine viable eggs were successfully harvested and are now being stored for Samantha and her husband for when they are ready to start their family.

"It can be a burden knowing you would have to go on without fertility preservation," she said. "Having a child is something very important to my husband and I. Even if I can't carry, we can still have biological children. It was so important to us and we're so thankful."

Samantha has been responding very well to her treatments with a favorable prognosis.

"Joey and everyone at the Karmanos at McLaren Clarkston have been very attentive to my case, and everyone has been willing to help. I'm so thankful."

To learn more about care offered at the Karmanos Cancer Institute at McLaren Clarkston and the McLaren Clarkston Breast Center, visit mclaren.org/clarkston.