Colorado native survives cancer to have twins
Adam, a young Coloradoan, was serving in the Coast Guard on Nantucket Island when he received some life-changing news. At the young age of 22, he had testicular cancer.
While working with his doctors to develop a treatment plan, he also considered his future. The very treatment that would heal him of cancer could damage his ability to have children of his own someday.
“I knew I wanted to have my own kids, though I wasn’t quite ready then,” Adam says. “I knew with chemo there was a chance for my genetic material to get messed up, and that it could make me infertile.”
Thankfully, Adam had a viable option to preserve his fertility. Before undergoing three surgeries and three rounds of chemotherapy at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, he decided to bank his sperm in the hope that he could someday be a dad.
By August 2002, Adam completed his treatment and was proclaimed cancer free.
Two years later, he met his future wife, Sarah, at a martial arts class in Nantucket. Romance followed. With Adam’s enlistment in the Coast Guard ending, when Sarah moved to Colorado to take a job offer in 2007, he followed her.
They started dating more seriously after the move, and by the end of 2008, having kids became part of the discussion.
“From very early on, Sarah knew about my story and everything we would have to do to have kids,” Adam remembers.
They needed in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment because the supply of Adam’s cryopreserved sperm was limited, and IVF would be the surest option for success.
Sarah wasn’t daunted though. “I was really grateful they had preserved his sperm. I didn’t mind going through IVF at all,” she says.
After the two married in June 2010, talk of starting a family became more serious. “We had a house, two dogs and a mortgage, and I had my teacher’s license, so it was the next step in the process,” Adam says.
At the end of 2010, the couple visited Dr. Alex Polotsky at University of Colorado Advanced Reproductive Medicine in Denver, the fertility center recommended to Sarah by her Ob/Gyn.
Adam was already familiar with University of Colorado Hospital, UCARM’s Denver location. Cancer had returned in 2008, but the Denver VA Hospital in conjunction with UCH quickly treated it and UCH is now where Adam does his cancer treatment follow-ups.
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Please use our toll-free hotline to schedule an appointment or speak to an oncofertility expert: 1-855-724-FERT (3378) or locally, dial 303-724-FERT (3378).
The Advanced Reproductive Medicine team was very encouraging and helped the couple get started.
“Dr. Polotsky was knowledgeable and he didn’t over promise. He was straightforward about the chances and risks,” Adam recalls. “He instilled a lot of confidence in us.”
“Adam was wise – and lucky – in preserving his reproductive potential,” Dr. Polotsky notes. “It affected not only him but also his future wife, who he didn’t know yet at the time.”
As they were establishing a treatment plan for Sarah, her own fertility had to be evaluated. For many women, fertility often declines after age 35. At 37 years old, Sarah’s age was a potential factor.
“They were a little concerned about my maternal age, and had to check hormone levels,” Sarah recalls. “I was lucky. It didn’t end up being a factor.”
The pair started with a conservative round of IVF because Sarah had never been treated with hormones before.
The hormone-induced emotions, shots, weight gain, and getting her blood drawn so many times was difficult, but Adam was by Sarah’s side to give her shots and emotional support.
When the first round of IVF was unsuccessful, it was heartbreaking. “Sarah had a bumpy road because we had to figure out the right regiment for her, and the first one didn’t work,” Dr. Polotsky says. “Having a failed IVF attempt can be difficult physiologically, but they stuck with it. They had a great attitude.”
Soon they tried again. This time Dr. Polotsky and his team were armed with the knowledge of how Sarah responded to the IVF medications, and were able to refine the right mixture that suited her body’s needs.
“The team was so supportive and they could see a difference in me the second protocol,” Sarah says. “I felt a lot better about things, and had a lot less stress. I was probably a lot easier to live with!”
A combination of Adam’s well-preserved sperm and a better balance of IVF drug protocol resulted in a transfer of top-quality embryos into Sarah’s womb.
“We were cautiously optimistic,” Sarah relates. “You see the embryos at six or eight cells old, but you’re afraid to become too attached. As much as they try to control things medically, there’s always that chance that it might not take.”
Like many couples undergoing IVF treatment, Adam and Sarah experienced the long, difficult two-week wait between the embryo transfer and the pregnancy test which would show if the transfer worked.
“I was trying really hard to not take a pregnancy test, but before I knew it, I had bought one,” Sarah admits. She promised herself not to test too early, but finally gave in to the nagging curiosity. Worried she would soon be crushed by a negative result, Sarah set the timer and waited. She checked the stick, and there was a very faint positive line – so faint she almost feared it was her imagination.
Finally at her pregnancy test appointment, she found out the reason that line had appeared so early – they were pregnant with twins!
Sarah had a healthy, active pregnancy. On December 7, 2011, almost one year after starting IVF, Adam and Sarah welcomed the newest additions to their family – Finn and Sawyer.
They named the twins after Mark Twain’s famous characters Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. For several reasons, such as a love for English literature and Adam’s distant relation to the author, the names seemed perfect.
“Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer are best friends and we hope our boys will be friends their whole lives,” Adam says.
At only a week old, the boys seem to be on the right track. “They hang out, and they don’t need me to hold them as much because they have each other,” Sarah says. “When you have one baby, they need you more, but with two they can help to reassure each other.”
Even with their connection, twins can be a handful – literally – Adam jokes. A friend’s advice put it into perspective, however, saying, “One baby takes up all of your time. The thing with twins is they can only take up all of your time.”
“I’ll probably have difficult days, but right now they seem easy to me, compared to what we were expecting,” Sarah says. “Once you’ve done IVF, it doesn’t seem like work. I appreciate them more.”
Reflecting on the necessity of fertility preservation and IVF, Adam says, “I think just about everybody who goes through this type of treatment wishes they could have it happen without the intervention of medicine or science. But without it I wouldn’t have two beautiful baby boys.”
Sarah agrees, saying, “We are very grateful to Dr. Polotsky, our nurse Colleen and everybody at Advanced Reproductive Medicine, as well as to Dr. Breeden, our Ob/Gyn.”
Now Adam and Sarah can focus on being parents, with first-time parent experiences like watching the twins sleep and caring for their well being.
“This is something that never would have happened if the technology wasn’t there,” Adam says. “The boys are from genetic material that I had frozen almost a decade ago. That’s pretty amazing if you ask me. These are things I’ve never experienced before and now I have a chance to.”