On her wedding day several years ago, Tiffany Olsen looked forward to shaping a life with her husband, Nate. They dreamed of having children soon after.
But within two weeks, the newlywed faced a future far different than she had planned. This future would contain surgery and cancer treatments, exhaustion and fear — but likely no pregnancy.
In place of a honeymoon phase, Olsen’s breast cancer diagnosis thrust the devastated couple into “fight mode,” she said. “We were just basically trying to do what we needed to do.”
That included consulting with Sanford Health medical oncologist Shelby Terstriep, who helped them collaborate immediately with Sanford Oncofertility, a combination of cancer and fertility medicine, to help preserve Olsen’s fertility.
So before Olsen started chemotherapy as part of her cancer treatment, she first went through an egg retrieval process to store eggs for use later.
Olsen then spent the next year undergoing rounds of chemotherapy and Herceptin, an immune targeted therapy. She also had a lumpectomy and more than two dozen rounds of radiation.
Family and friends helped in a multitude of ways, from meals to donations, when Olsen was too exhausted to go to her high school English teaching job.
“It was insane how much outpouring we got,” she said.
Alternate path to parenthood
Olsen also leaned on many different people at Sanford Health along her cancer journey. Beyond her oncologists, she saw Dr. Chery Hysjulien, a psychologist who works specifically with cancer patients, along with a physical therapist.
And when treatments ended, Olsen sought help from Andrea Paradis, an integrative care educator, to get her body ready for an embryo transfer through reflexology and Reiki treatments.
“Everything that I feel like was offered” at Sanford Health, Olsen said, “I was like, I’ll do it. I’ll try it.”
And now, Olsen and her husband have their “miracle baby,” Lola, born in April.
It wasn’t quite how they pictured their path to parenthood would go. “But I think having her, too, has been a big part of feeling like we got our lives back,” Olsen said. “Because it’s like the plans that we thought we wouldn’t have after being diagnosed now have happened with her.”
Patients like Olsen are the very reason Dr. Terstriep has a special focus on survivorship care. “Cancer treatment is just such a small component of somebody’s life. And really, it’s how do we move forward after having this cancer treatment?” she said.
When her patients come to her after a cancer diagnosis, Dr. Terstriep guides them through their treatment and afterward. “I really serve as a teacher and somebody who can lay out a plan and help them become comfortable with something that’s very scary,” she said.
Coping with loss — “loss of what their life used to be like” — is part of the picture. But so, too, is hope — hope about treatment and a cure.
And in Olsen’s case, hope of adding to her family after cancer.
Explore options before treatment
Olsen urges younger patients receiving a cancer diagnosis and facing chemo like she did to explore their fertility options before starting treatment.
“It doesn’t have to be the end of those dreams for you,” she said.
Olsen also encourages cancer survivors to accept help when it’s offered, whether it’s from family and friends or from medical professionals.
“So often, we don’t want to accept help, and you can’t fight this battle by yourself,” she said. “You have to have people support you.”
Learn more: Breast cancer care at Sanford Health
This is the latest in a series called “We’re In This Together,” videos and stories from everyday patients going through cancer treatment at Sanford Health. Get an idea of what to expect from cancer survivorship — follow along to their appointments, and see a glimpse of the support in their lives.