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Dear Dante: a letter from breast cancer survivor Alice Crisci to her “miracle baby”

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Dear Dante: a letter from breast cancer survivor Alice Crisci to her “miracle baby”

October 1, 2016   |   In Her Words

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Here on the Extend Fertility blog, we’ll be exploring the intersections of cancer, fertility, and women’s health throughout the month. See more.

Eight years ago, Alice Crisci was a revenue growth consultant running her own company—until she was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 31. That moment changed everything. Knowing treatment that would eliminate her cancer could also put her fertility at risk, Alice quickly decided to take action, beginning the egg freezing process just a few weeks after her diagnosis. Full of adrenaline and feeling strongly about the importance of this option for women with cancer diagnoses, she started Fertile Action just days after her first fertility preservation consult —and threw her first fundraiser four days before her double mastectomy. Founding the nonprofit organization proved to be a creative, healing exercise for Alice, even when the effects of chemotherapy prevented her from working a “traditional” job.

Fertile Action started as an educational platform for women with cancer to learn more about fertility preservation, a role it still fulfills. But it’s also grown to offer financial support for those women by negotiating reduced flat-rate fees for egg freezing cycles for women with cancer, no financial qualification required. Today, Fertile Action is almost exclusively focused on advocacy work: to ensure fertility risk is part of the informed consent process prior to receiving cancer treatment, to ensure clinicians rapidly refer patients to reproductive specialists to freeze their gametes and lastly, to ensure insurance covers fertility preservation 100% for cancer patients nationwide.

Since her egg freezing and cancer experiences, advocacy has become a major part of Alice’s personal and professional life. She works as a patient advocate across the country, protecting access to reproductive technology, lobbying for better insurance coverage and management of fertility preservation treatment, and educating the public on the importance of oncofertility treatment (treatment to preserve the reproductive options of cancer survivors). In 2013, her own fertility story came full circle when she gave birth to a baby created from the eggs frozen before her cancer treatment. She’s now a single mama by choice to her son Dante—addressed in the letter below—along with their shih-tzu Nay-Nay and cat Josh.

———

Dear Dante,

I wanted you more than you ever will know.

I wanted you when I was only nine years old, a Catholic school girl with vacillating dreams between becoming a nun and professional baseball player.

I wanted you when I was a teenage girl, thinking my first love was forever love.

I wanted you when the condom broke that time, but it wasn’t meant to be… yet. Thankfully, because well, today, I can’t even remember his name.

I wanted you when I started my company in my 20s and thought I would become a huge success.

I especially wanted you that moment they told me I may not get to have you—when cancer treatment and my future fertility collided to create the worst time of my life.

You see, my love, I wanted you so much, especially at that moment the doctor told me to freeze my eggs.

A few days after that conversation, I started to inject myself with special medications to trick my body into producing more eggs than normal in one month. The doctor said the more eggs we retrieved, the better—but not too many or it could damage me in the process. It’s a delicate balance, you see, pushing the body to do something it doesn’t normally do while preventing risks to my already fragile health. Thankfully, they know what they are doing!

I would do whatever it took to make sure we had a chance to be together. So for two weeks, I gave myself those shots morning and night. I went to the fertility clinic almost every other day to check on my progress. They measured how my body was reacting to the medications by checking my hormone levels and doing ultrasounds of my ovaries.

It was a much happier time visiting the fertility clinic to talk about the progress I was making to preserve my future fertility than it was visiting my oncologist!

The day they were going to take out the eggs, they gave me a special “cocktail” just before the procedure and I actually drunk dialed your Gram! It was pretty funny, but such a hopeful time—we laughed about that call years later. I’ll never forget waking up from that short procedure and hearing the good news: my fertility doctor retrieved 31 eggs! I was so relieved and grateful that I cried and thanked her. You see, that meant I had far more than one chance for one of those 31 eggs to become you one day.

I know that sounds so much like science fiction or make believe. It’s pretty amazing that the doctors and scientists can help make babies like this, when there may be no other way, or when this way may be the best way. I put all my hope in them, Dante… for many years.

And that’s what I focused on for the three years I endured cancer treatment: you. Or rather, the idea of you. I pictured our laughter together, us dancing in the living room, our snuggles and all the firsts we were going to have together. I let this dream about us motivate my recovery, my return to work, my advocacy efforts to help other cancer survivors protect their fertility, and especially my decision to have you as my five year cancer-versary present, rather than take that trip to Italy.

As you grew from a seed to a baby in my tummy, I talked to you, sang to you, and read to you. One morning, I woke up with the name Dante on my mind. I looked up the meaning and found the word “enduring.”

It’s as though you told me what your name was, rather than the other way around.

We endured so much to be mother and son, my love. But more importantly, my love for you is the most enduring feeling I can imagine. You completed my life October 11, 2013 when we locked eyes for the first time, just moments after you took your first breath.

The journey to get to you may have seemed long at times (and maybe even a little cold for you, darling!), but it makes each moment together all the sweeter.

May you dream big dreams, ever changing, and always know that no matter what life throws our way, we got this.

I love you infinity times infinity,

Mama


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