March 07, 2011

Having Children After Cancer

The thought of carrying a child for nine months and having them pass through my crotch is about as appealing to me as having a recurrence of my cancer.  I’ve flat out never wanted to become pregnant or be a mom.

When I met my husband, I told him on date number two that I had cancer.  On date number three I told him I didn’t want to have kids.  I added the caveat that if I ever changed my mind, I’d want to adopt.  Agreed.   That was six years ago and we are still happily “childless by choice.”

But what choices would I have available to me if I do someday change my mind and as a cancer patient want to adopt or even foster a child?  Cancer conferences, organizations, or projects dealing with family planning dominate the issue with an often exclusive focus on fertility. Adoption is the bastard child of the cancer world. It drives me up the wall, and this is why Gina M. Shaw’s new book is a welcome addition to my cancer book library.

Gina is the author of the new book Having Children After Cancer (Ten-Speed Press). ‘Be My Baby’ is a forty-seven page chapter on cancer and adoption – one of the most in-depth sources I’ve read on the subject.  Like the rest of her book, it is laden with straight-up, indispensable information for both men and women facing cancer and planning a family.  A medical writer, breast cancer survivor, and mother of three kids (both adopted and biological), Gina’s book is not a cutesy bun-in-the-oven romp through baby land.  A writer after my own heart, Gina gives readers a serious education on the legal, financial, medical, and administrative side of family planning.    Having Children After Cancer enables survivors to read about adoption as a valid family planning choice along side fertility preservation, IVF, and surrogacy.    Whether you are recently diagnosed, a childhood cancer survivor, or just out of treatment, Having Children After Cancer is the family planning go-to book.

Have you thought about cancer and family planning?  What is the most challenging part about it?  If you’ve had a kid since your cancer diagnosis, share your story in the comment section so others can learn from your experience.

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  1. Emily Beck Says:
    February 7th, 2011 at 9:19 AM

    So glad to see this post, Kairol. Three-plus years post diagnosis (and hysterectomy), hubby and I are well on our way to adopting. We were lucky enough to connect with an agency that didn’t even blink when I told them about my cancer history. Losing my fertility was so hard and painful, but now that we are on the verge of finally having a child, and I thrilled, and honestly wouldn’t want it any other way.

    Can’t wait to pick up this book. I am sure it will be a great resource. And I fully agree that adoption is the bastard child in the cancer community discussion about family planning. I look forward to helping change that!

  2. Kairol Rosenthal Says:
    February 7th, 2011 at 1:17 PM

    Emily – I look forward to you changing that too. There needs to be a general memo to the young adult cancer community that we’ve gotta start calling and addressing these issues as ‘cancer and family planning’ and not ‘cancer and fertility’. I am thrilled to learn that you are on the verge of having a child through adoption. I hope you write and talk about your experience widely, but most of all I hope you love your new kiddo to pieces!

  3. Tweets that mention Everything Changes » Having Children After Cancer -- Says:
    February 7th, 2011 at 1:24 PM

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Kairol Rosenthal, Julie Lévesque. Julie Lévesque said: RT @Kairol: Having Children After Cancer. Cravings, hardship, happiness w/ survivorship & family planning? @stupidcan … [...]

  4. Sam Says:
    February 7th, 2011 at 1:42 PM


    Thank you SO MUCH for this – for calling it what it is and for opening up a conversation as to what it could be.

    After my years of treatment, I felt like I was supposed to *want to* go through fertility treatments because it would be as close to actually having a baby the natural way as a cancer survivor could likely get. Every conference I went to had a workshop called Cancer and Fertility, and every single one – without fail – focused on IVF, donor eggs/sperm, gestational carriers (in that order) and ended with a side note about how if those didn’t work, there was always adoption. You said it perfectly – it’s the bastard child of the cancer world. For whatever reason(s), adoption is considered second-best — our back-up plan only if all else fails.

    For several years, I made a concerted effort to research all of my different options. I met with fertility specialists, attorneys and adoption agencies. I did a lot of soul-searching and a lot of research. In the end, I surprised even myself when I decided – for my own, personal reasons – that adoption was the route I wanted to take. It was the single best decision I have ever made, and I have never looked back.

    On a practical note, cancer was never really an issue with our adoption agency, in part because I didn’t make it one. I was straightforward and honest about my medical history but I didn’t dwell on the details of chemo or how many days I spent in the hospital or how much the whole thing just sucked. That part didn’t matter — they just wanted to be sure that I was in good enough physical condition to be a parent, much as they would, I imagine, if I’d disclosed any other history of major illness.

    They asked for a note from my oncologist, I had the same physical as all other pre-adoptive parents, and that was that. I asked if a birthmother would know about my medical history, and they said only if she asked about it directly (and I don’t know why she would). Basically, she would know that my husband and I had been medically cleared to adopt.

    My husband and I adopted our son almost exactly one year ago, and I truly can’t imagine feeling more like his mom than if I had given birth to him myself. He is pure magic — the farthest thing from “second-best” than I could possibly fathom. This is what I wrote in a blog post last August, on the anniversary of my bone marrow transplant: “…I now have a beautiful little 6-month old son who, with his beaming smiles and his infectious giggles, reminds me that there is more to my life than cancer. Without a single word, he is teaching me how to stay in the moment.”

    I have absolutely no problem with the decisions that other people make, and I have total respect for anyone that chooses to become a parent in the way that works best for them. I just hope that when important decisions like starting a family are made, they are made based on information and personal convictions rather than on the assumptions of those around us. There is no one right or best way to start a family. It’s so important that we, as cancer survivors, are given the guidance to explore our options and then the space to make the decisions ourselves.


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  6. Joanna Morales Says:
    February 8th, 2011 at 1:47 PM

    If anyone has questions about the legal implications and protections involved with either oncofertility issues or cancer and adoption, they can contact the Cancer Legal Resource Center’s national Telephone Assistance Line at 866-842-2572 or visit our website at

  7. Kairol Rosenthal Says:
    February 8th, 2011 at 2:27 PM

    The Cancer Legal Resource Center is one of my all time favorite resources that I list in Everything Changes. I’m thrilled to know that you can provide young adult survivors with questions about the legal implications and protections of fertility and adoption issues. I encourage anyone needing legal assistance in any area of cancer care to call them. They are fantastic.

    SAM – Thanks for your comment. Your story goes a long way to helping others see adoption as a valid first-choice and not just a ‘fail’ option. Perhaps some organizations can collaborate to create more power-point and presentation materials about cancer and adoption that can be shared at the kinds of conferences you mentioned. I think a lot of these conferences would benefit from Gina Shaw as a presenter too since she has experience with adoption and has written about it.

  8. Lisa Says:
    February 8th, 2011 at 4:19 PM

    Hi, Kairol:
    i am torn as well, Just the idea of expending the physical energy required to go through a pregnancy is a grueling thought after cancer…and yet, prior to diagnosis I’d always thought I’d get to have one more baby. I just wish adoption was not so expensive. Thx for posting this.

  9. Kairol Rosenthal Says:
    February 8th, 2011 at 5:12 PM

    “Paying for Adoption’

    Lisa, I hear you about adoption expenses. It seems crazy to me that certain states cover IVF fully yet don’t cover the costs of adoption. I think finances should never have to be a barrier to giving a child a good loving home. If you have not already, I encourage you to research financial assistance for adoption. Here are a list of the places off the top of my head where I would start looking to find out about how to reduce the costs:

    1. Gina’s book that I reviewed in this post does discuss costs of adoption.

    2. Help Us Adopt

    3. Fertile Hope – A project of Livestrong that unfortunately focuses way more on fertility than adoption. But, they do have this short list of places that offer financial assistance:

    4. Grants for cancer patients – Cancer Care and The SAM Fund both offer grants to cancer patients for various expenses and this surely seems like something they would cover.

    5. Cancer Legal Resource Center – Joanna commented above with the contact information. Give them a call. I think they too would be able to give you guidance about the financial side of things.

    6. There as a week long stint last year when I thought – hum – would I want to adopt or become a foster parents. I did a lot of research specific to my state and county and found many resources that were available to help with costs.

    7. Adoption After Cancer Yahoo Group – I wrote about this group in Everything Changes and am so impressed with their resources and knowledge. It is just a bunch of cancer patients who are all sharing resources and info about adopting after cancer. I’d check out their archives as they are bound to have some conversations about costs. They are smart cookies and a wealth of practical info.

    Hope some of this helps. If you find anything useful be sure to report back and share your experiences with us.


  10. Gina Shaw Says:
    February 11th, 2011 at 3:19 PM

    Hi Kairol,

    I just stumbled across this blog entry and am probably going to gush embarrassingly, because I’m a huge fan of yours and to be called “a writer after my own heart” by you totally makes my day, my week, and would make my month if the simple fact that the book is due out Feb. 22 hadn’t already claimed that position.

    I’m so excited that you liked the chapter on adoption after cancer. It’s a huge element of building a family for cancer survivors, and while the fertility/pregnancy component is also key, it frustrates me that sometimes the focus on fertility leaves adoption by the wayside. When we started the whole adoption process with our older daughter, I just assumed that agencies would slam the door in our faces once they heard “cancer.” It surprised me how many agencies *were* willing to work with us. We adopted domestically and I would say that for both domestic private/agency and foster adoption, a cancer history–depending on how recent it is and what you can get your oncologist to put in a letter–might have almost no bearing at all on your ability to adopt. Internationally, it’s dicier, since many countries have put in place a lot more restrictions on adoptive parents lately. But I do know plenty of people who’ve adopted successfully internationally after cancer, too, and some quite recently.

    Okay, I am now off to Tweet this and goo in a junior-high-schoolish fashion that “Kairol Rosenthal likes me! She really likes me!”

    Thanks for the kudos!

  11. Ann-Marie Says:
    February 12th, 2013 at 1:17 AM

    I just came across this today and found this page and its content so refreshing! I love finding someplace that actually talks about family planning not just more medical procedures that may or may not work. I am 14 months post BMT transplant. KEast married in the hospital 3 days after my diagnosis and married an amazing man who not only stood by me and battled cancer with me, but has now helped us complete all of our preadoption paperwork, profile, website and now are waiting for our birthmother match and we couldn’t be happier.


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