Just weeks after her breast cancer diagnosis, Alice Crisci made the decision to preserve her fertility before she started treatment, and to help other women protect theirs as well. After realizing that many women couldn’t charge the $30,000 fee to freeze their eggs to a credit card, as she did, she started Fertile Action to help make fertility preservation affordable for anyone who applies. Crisci explains how she got the program started and how she and Fertile Action help educate, advocate and provide support for the cause nationwide.
What inspired you to create Fertile Action?
I was sitting in the waiting room of the IVF clinic, about to get my own consultation, and I realized that there were so few resources available to women [diagnosed with cancer] to help them preserve their fertility. I said [to my friend] right then, “Well, I guess we are starting a foundation.” That was on a Wednesday, and by Saturday we had a website up and ready. I hate saying it like this, but I felt like I was “called” to start this foundation when I got cancer.
What would you say have been the keys to your success?
Our volunteers. Everyone from our founding board, which was [entirely composed] of cancer survivors, to our physicians, to our current board all share the same amazing passion.
Although, we are undercapitalized. We desperately need a full-time staff. There are so many cancer charities that are fighting for attention, so it’s hard. There is a lot of money going towards cancer research, which is wonderful, but there are still 70,000 people being diagnosed with cancer every day, and for them we need services.
What are the types of services Fertile Action provides?
Once someone gets in touch with me, the first thing I do is immediately put them in touch with a fertility specialist. The process of freezing your eggs can cost between $10,000 and $15,000. We have grants that reduce that cost to $3,500, and because of Ferring Pharmaceuticals, we can offer free medications.
For cancer survivors who need a surrogate, we have grants for that as well. We save them between $50,000 and $60,000, which is about half the cost. We just started working with adoption agencies to show that cancer survivors should be considered as candidates for adoptions because they will do an amazing job of loving and cherishing their child. Eighty percent of patients are surviving cancer, and they should have the opportunity to be parents if they want to be.
We are also working on educating oncology nurses about cancer treatment causing infertility, so that they can inform their patients. We found that half of cancer patients don’t find out about their fertility risks before they start their treatments, and that is because many oncology nurses don’t even know about the risks. Patients who are informed about their risk of infertility can prepare by freezing their eggs, or at least feel less devastated if it does happen. The California Cryobank is sponsoring the class for nurses and has also been a tremendous support for us to help provide long-term egg storage.
What is the most important thing you want women who have recently been diagnosed with cancer to know?
That there is hope to preserve your fertility! In the past, women who have had estrogen-sensitive cancers have immediately thought that they would need a surrogate in order to have a baby. What they didn’t realized is that, most often, there is time to freeze their eggs before they started their chemo treatments.
To find out more about Fertile Action go to FertileAction.org.