Theresa and Peter
Hello! Our names are Peter and Theresa. We are so grateful to be awarded the Family Building Grant.
We met at a bar that no longer exists in Evanston, Illinois. Introduced through a mutual friend, the way we began dating was slightly different and comical in some sense. Fast forward five years and we were married in September 2020, the year of COVID. We live with our adopted dog, Rambo—one of the sweetest, friendliest, and most curious dogs you'll ever meet. By profession, Peter is a licensed clinical social worker. Currently, he works as an administrator for a home health agency, overseeing the functioning of the agency. His passion has always been counseling, so he'll be starting his new job as a therapist in the beginning of September! Theresa just transitioned to a new job working for the Village of Northbrook.
Before they met, Theresa was outgoing and adventurous. She enjoyed exercising and outdoor activities. Peter has always been more of a homebody, hanging inside with his friends. Over the last few years, Theresa's adventurous side has rubbed-off onto Peter and he now enjoys the occasional hike and camping (as long as there is an air mattress inside the tent). While Theresa pushes Peter to be active outside the gym, she secretly enjoys relaxing at home or having hangout sessions with their friends. Theresa and Peter go to the gym several days a week and meal prep almost every Sunday. You would think they look like bodybuilders, but they don't. Over the last couple of months, Peter has taken a dive into the world of espresso and would be delighted to "pull you a shot" if you asked.
To understand why we applied for this grant, we need to rewind to 2009. Peter was a sophomore in college at the University of Illinois at Chicago. For several months, he was feeling ill. He had a non-stop cough and was losing lots of weight. Many doctor appointments and subsequent tests later, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, stage 2EB on April 1, 2009. There was no time for feelings or emotions. He met with an oncologist several days after his diagnosis. It was time for action: insert a port into the chest, sperm banking, and start chemotherapy. From Peter's recollection, he started the escalated-dose BEACOPP chemotherapy regimen no later than a week or two from his initial diagnosis. The oncologist believed that because of Peter's age and the stage of his cancer, he would be able to handle an escalated dose of the BEACOPP chemotherapy regimen. Some of the medications part of the BEACOPP regimen have been known to cause infertility. His hair may have fallen out, and as the oncology center clerks dubbed him "Powder," Peter's will never faltered. He continued through his sophomore, and part of his junior year, going through chemotherapy and radiation. Peter conquered his treatments unscathed...kind of.
Without Googling BEACOPP, we couldn't tell you the name of each chemotherapy drug within that regimen except for prednisone. While prednisone is a miracle drug and helps with inflammation, it can also weaken bones if used for prolonged periods of time. Unfortunately for Peter, both of his hips collapsed because of avascular necrosis (death of bone tissue). His left hip is totally replaced and his right hip isn't too far behind. His friends joke that soon he will be part robot.
Although he preemptively banked sperm prior to his treatments, knowing that Peter would one day want to start a family, he decided to have a semen analysis during his first year of graduate school. The result: azoospermic. The news was devastating, maybe enough to compartmentalize and silently suffer until the conversation would surface with a future partner.
Several months into their relationship, Theresa and Peter did discuss his issue with infertility. Theresa didn't seem to care; she loved Peter and figured they would battle the storm together when the time came. Fast forward to the present day. The battle has been emotional and psychological, silent and loud. Theresa started in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments in 2021. Her first cycle did not produce enough eggs. Several months later, Theresa's second cycle yielded eight eggs that were fertilized, none making it to the blastocyst stage. Fast forward again to February 28, 2022, Theresa's third cycle yielded 15 eggs that were fertilized, and once again, not making it to the blastocyst stage. Of the six vials of sperm banked prior to chemotherapy, the embryologist and our reproductive endocrinologist explained that the sperm samples were poor in quality. It was also explained that, even prior to Peter's chemotherapy, the cancer ravaging his body could have compromised sperm quality and count.
Theresa and Peter have not given up hope just yet. Peter plans to meet with a male urologist to discuss the potential of an exploratory procedure to examine his male anatomy to ascertain if there still may be sperm in the testicals.
To date, Theresa and Peter have spent a substantial amount of money on medications, egg retrievals, and procedures as a result of IVF complications. They knew the process would be difficult, but no one told them it would be this difficult. Theresa says - "with assistance from the Family Building Grant, we'll continue to fight, hope, and pray."
Theresa and Peter are recipients of the Path to Parenthood Grant, made possible by the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago.