Kristin Smith, the Program Manager for Fertility Preservation, consults with all young, newly diagnosed oncology patients at Northwestern’s Lurie Cancer Center to help each patient understand their individual fertility risk associated with tre
atment as well as options for fertility preservation.
She works extensively with young adult oncology survivors to help each patient explore their unique family building options and reproductive health post treatment. Kristin helps run the National Physician’s Cooperative of the Oncofertility Consortium by providing support across the country to providers who participate in national fertility preservation studies and also answers the national fertility hotline to triage patients for fertility preservation across the country.
Describe your role with young adult cancer patients.
My job both here at Northwestern and around the country is to support young adult cancer patients when they are newly diagnosed to help them learn how treatment is going to impact fertility and what options exist for fertility preservation. My goal is for a patient to have all the information at their fingertips to make the best decision for themselves at such a difficult time.
What issues do young adult cancer patients deal with that may be different from what an older cancer patient faces?
As a young adult, life is constantly changing major milestones are rapidly approaching - whether it’s graduating from school or dating or getting married or starting a family, cancer interrupts those things. Trying to navigate a very serious illness plus still living life can be close to impossible.
There are some great resources out there to help. Even if someone is not ready for it at that second, there are a lot of supportive services to help young adults with cancer. Asking for help is one of biggest things a patient can do when faced with an existential crisis like cancer.
The last thing I want is for a patient to be randomly googling shit and finding horrible things on the internet. There are good resources, programs and organizations in place specifically to help young adults during and after this time.
Since this blog is about humor, do you have any funny stories you’ve experienced while working in this role?
Fertility as a whole is kind of funny in a fifth-grade way. You have essentially just been told you have cancer and then must talk to a random stranger (me) about your sex life and sperm count and your eggs. For some people it’s a weirdly embarrassing conversation when you are dealing with something like cancer. For some people laughing about it helps lighten the seriousness going on in all these conversations.
I also hear some really funny fertility myths. As a whole our education system doesn’t do a good job giving good reproductive health education.
What advice do you have for young adult cancer patients so that they don’t feel alone?
There are really great organizations that connect young adults around the country. Friends are great and an important part of your life but friends don’t always understand what it means to be a young adult with cancer and sometimes those friends say stupid shit. You sometimes need someone who can sit with you and say this sucks and not tell you how you should feel. It’s important to get that kind of help because it can normalize what you’re going through.