Founder of The Chick Mission and three-time cancer survivor Amanda Rice advocates for every woman diagnosed with cancer to protect their fertility.
By Amanda Rice, Photo courtesy of Amanda Rice
With the newfound flexibility the pandemic prompted, I eagerly made the move to Austin in 2020. Along with my packed bags, I brought my excitement. I looked forward to planting roots in a place I’d fondly frequented.
People here have been kind, easy to strike up conversations with. Better yet, everyone I’ve met has been passionate, interesting through being so devotedly interested in something. Living here has been inspiring; the city has both embraced me and challenged me to move in new directions.
Austin pushes innovative ideas, celebrating those who won’t take no for an answer. I certainly fall in the latter group when it comes to spreading the word about the injustices surrounding the intersection of cancer and fertility. Two topics that are much too common to not be discussed more in-depth.
As a three-time cancer survivor, I spend the hours outside of my Wall Street career advocating for the fertility benefits of female cancer patients. I want everyone diagnosed with cancer to have the option of starting their own biological family. Unfortunately, there’s not the support from legislation, medical professionals or insurance companies for that reality. At least, not yet.
I first heard the words “You have cancer” in 2014.
I was in my early 30s, living a life I’d worked hard to build in Manhattan. As someone who’s always on the move and eager to connect with others, the stagnation the diagnosis prompted was temporary. I needed to rally around this new reality as much as possible. As I navigated these unchartered waters, I was forced to build the foundation of my new network. This team looked a bit different than my Sunday brunch crew; this one dressed in scrubs, raising not a mimosa, but a stethoscope to listen to my heartbeat and try to reassure me that everything was going to be okay.
Diagnosed with breast cancer, I was encouraged to undergo chemotherapy, radiation and long-term drug therapy. Among the number of potential side effects outlined to me, one was the high likelihood of my eggs being damaged. How could I have known killing cancer would also mean diminishing my shot at becoming a mother, until I was faced with having only a matter of days to make the choice?
Who elects to have cancer!
While mentally and physically overwhelmed, I was grateful to be in a position where I had access to top-notch health insurance and fertility benefits. I contacted my insurance company and discussed the cost of egg freezing. (As a woman, fertility preservation starts at $15,000 and goes up to $20,000, plus annual storage fees). They denied coverage deeming it an elective surgery. I was told I needed to try to get pregnant on my own for six months before I could receive any support from insurance.
Who elects to have cancer! Preposterous. If I waited weeks (let alone months) to begin chemo to preserve my fertility, who knows where the cancer would spread. So I took matters into my own hands. I paid out-of-pocket for egg freezing, feeling unbelievably fortunate to have had a “rainy day” fund to tap into.
Great Privilege and Great Responsibility
But through the overwhelming fog, I wondered about other, potentially even younger women who face these issues. Particularly when they don’t have access to the funds. Through my confusion and pain, I started doing research. I learned that because they are unable to cover the cost, many cancer patients opt for less potent forms of treatment, in hopes of preserving their fertility. I also discovered that many doctors don’t give their patients all the information regarding the side effects of cancer treatments.
To make matters worse, at the time of my diagnosis, there wasn’t any legislation to give cancer patients fertility benefits to cover these costs. This broke my heart.
The pain and frustration I experienced during my first diagnosis—and twice more later on—led to the founding of The Chick Mission. Our organization educates, advocates on behalf of cancer patients and supports those newly diagnosed seeking to preserve their fertility ahead of life-saving treatment that will render them infertile. Since 2019, we have proudly helped nearly 200 women across the country preserve their fertility. Even more exciting, we have helped two cancer survivors become mothers. With over 2,000 eggs frozen as a result of our grants program, there are many more mothers to come.
Almost everyone is impacted by cancer. Even if the diagnosis is not theirs—a friend, loved one or role model. There are almost no degrees of separation when it comes to this disease. There is still not enough discussion around it and as a result, not enough change. We’re here to help. Beyond providing scholarships to cover the cost of egg freezing for cancer patients and advocating for laws that provide this coverage, above all else,
The Chick Mission is a community.
Creating a space that provides support for cancer patients and giving them the chance to become mothers has truly been my greatest accomplishment. Meeting the women the organization has helped—via FaceTime, a shared coffee or a surprise run-in at a gala—never gets old. I’m constantly inspired by their stories and their resiliency. When I learn I’ve been able to play a small role in their happiness, I’m grateful. But I’m even more grateful for the shared, unspoken bond we have. These women keep me going.
It takes a village. I’m hoping my new village in Austin will rally behind what we’re trying to achieve in Texas and beyond.