New treatment program in Louisville aims to preserve fertility in breast cancer patients
Two years ago, Jessica Randall was on top of the world -- 22-years-old, newly married, studying to become a cardiovascular ultrasound technician, spending her spare time riding horses and perfecting her talent as an artist.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Two years ago, Jessica Randall was on top of the world -- 22-years-old, newly married, studying to become a cardiovascular ultrasound technician, spending her spare time riding horses and perfecting her talent as an artist.
Then, the last thing she could have pictured shattered her perfect world.
"Like I got slapped in the face," Randall said. "I mean, I'm in college. "I didn't know what was going on. "I just dropped the phone and just lost it."
The voice on the other end of the line told Randall she had incredibly aggressive triple-positive breast cancer. In the months that followed, chemotherapy would take her hair and something she wasn't prepared for -- her fertility.
"This was all me and my new husband talked about, like starting a family and stuff like that," Randall said. "So I was just devastated."
The cancer drugs caused her body to go into menopause and destroyed her sex drive.
"I'm newly married, I want to have kids, I want to be a normal person and be able to be intimate with my husband, and I can't," Randal said. "And it's hard to talk to people about that, because nobody really knows it's an issue."
Despite those powerful drugs, Randall was still forced to have a double mastectomy.
It's the same story for 42-year-old Kristina Peters, who said she wishes she could've had someone to help her deal with everything her treatment was dealing her.
"A lot of things are happening that were not happening to my peers," Peters said. "So I already was feeling very isolated and different isolated from other women.
"It's tough to figure out what the resources are and to even assemble the wherewithal and the energy to care or to address it or seek help."
Brown Cancer Center oncologist Beth Riley then came up with a plan to provide breast cancer patients the help they "weren't" getting.
"It became increasingly obvious to me that this was a need that Louisville, and really the region, didn't have," Riley said.
Riley put together University of Louisville physicians who specialize not just in treating cancer but in dealing with the different types of concerns breast cancer patients have, like fertility and sexual health. The result was the region's first program of its kind, called the HER program, which stands for Hope, Empower and Restore.
"There are measures you can take as a physician and as a patient to preserve fertility or lessen the negative impact of treatment on your fertility, but they need to be done up front," Riley said. "And so one of the focuses of the HER program is to get fertility experts in play very early.
"The idea of bringing under one heading is you take doctors who specialize, for example, in fertility and reproductive health, and then you take oncologists ... and the more the oncologist learns about reproductive health and the more the reproductive health learns about the oncology, the better care for the cancer patient."
Randall has given up plans to be an ultrasound tech and is now focused on her art, specifically on what she calls her "cancer horses, "giving inspiration to women who are going through what she has.
For information on how to become a part of the HER program, click here.
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