As men, we like to discuss crude topics and the modern prerequisite to masculinity includes bravado and confidence. When it comes to our personal health, however, we seem to clam up and find these things difficult to talk about.
My treatment started in quite an abrupt way, so I didn’t really have a lot of time to process my thoughts about fertility and the affect that the treatment would have on my future, but I’ve had a good 18 months to reflect now and thought I’d share my thoughts.
On my first day in hospital, I had been given my diagnosis, told that I would be spending Christmas locked in an isolation room hooked up to a drip, and that I probably wouldn’t be going back to work for 3-6 months. As my consultant was just about to leave me to my thoughts, she said… “oh one other thing, you didn’t want kids did you?” Though I understand that statistically most patients (being over 50) have been through that process or have made a decision not to by this point – as a relatively young 34 year old without children, it was (and still is) quite important to me that I could continue my legacy at some point in the not too distant future. And being told that there was an 80-90% chance that post-chemo the chances of fertility were limited, I wanted to know what my options were. In fact, given more time, I probably would have opted for a delay to chemo at the time.
In context – it was the 22nd of December, all of the key departments would soon be breaking up for Christmas and they were desperate to get me on to chemotherapy before it was too late. With a bit of pleading and ringing around by the clinical staff, they managed to arrange an appointment for me at the Birmingham Women’s hospital that afternoon as an ’emergency’ patient.
By this point I had a lot on my mind. I’m not the most comfortable in these situations at the best of times, but in addition to the pain and discomfort I was already feeling – added to the fact that the only person available to take me was my Mum (there were no hospital transport options due to the holiday), I started to feel rather uncomfortable about the whole situation.
Banking on myself
So within a few hours, I was hobbling into the Women’s hospital asking to bank some of my potential self for future use.
I spent some time filling in forms and answering complex philosophical and ethical questions regarding, for example, the event of my having children posthumously and whether they would be allowed to know their genetic origin. Next I was ushered into a room which was furnished and decorated with a strange clinical, seedy kitchen aesthetic with sparkly counters and a red faux-leather sofa. There was a red folder with wipe clean pages marked “adult material” hidden under the counter which judging by the depicted topiary and costumes hadn’t been updated since 1988. Not having participated in any related activity for several months, the challenge facing me seemed like a mountain to climb, but luckily I had 3G reception. With a bit of imagination and a pending sense of urgency and self-pity, I managed to fulfil my requirement.
The good news is that although I only had a usable count of 50%, the count was quite high so they were able to bank a sufficient quantity of the little fellows. I’m quite apprehensive about getting rechecked (incidentally this Friday) as the prospect of having a reduced usefulness in case of an extreme populational crisis weighs rather heavily. Having a chance of procreation in the non-traditional sense is at least comforting.
The Male Fertility Elephant
The NHS choices website has a ‘fertility check -health tool’ which is aimed at women.
The local place to get tested for me is the ‘women’s hospital’
I’ve been to two talks about fertility for cancer patients and in both cases, the presenter was surprised to see any let alone a small number of men and said “I’m afraid my slides are really aimed at women, but if you do have any questions, please ask and I’ll try and help.” I also spoke to a lady who had been lobbying the government about better choices for young people having to deal with fertility issues as a result of chemo and when I said that I understand as I went through a similar situation, she said “oh, I’d never really thought that it could affect men too!”
With this experience, I have wondered whether men are just too shy or proud to ask and hence there is a lack of information- creating a kind of self-perpetuating situation. Perhaps it is such a small issue that support for men doesn’t warrant the resource. For me, however, it seems like a big issue so I wanted to talk about the subject and express my concerns herein. I’m not sure this will do any good, or whether anyone will find this useful – but I’d love to hear about the experience of others and it would be great to identify and break the barriers to discussion regarding this and also similar male health topics.