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First Born

Rutledge Cancer Foundation supports Fertility Preservation Program milestone

Too often, people talk about what cancer takes away. For Nelly Rojas, her diagnosis came with an incredible gift.

At age 26, Ms. Rojas received the difficult news that treating her endometrial cancer would eventually require a hysterectomy, leaving her unable to become pregnant. Working with her care team, Ms. Rojas banked frozen embryos through Moncrief Cancer Institute’s Fertility Preservation Program. After she received hormone-based therapy to treat her cancer, her doctor felt it was safe to postpone the surgery to remove her uterus so that she could become pregnant. On May 17, 2021, she gave birth to her daughter, Ariel.

Ariel Chavez baby in white crib wearing red bow on head and plaid shirt
Ariel Chavez

“The first time Ariel called me ‘Mom,’ I cried,” she said. “Sometimes I can’t believe she is our baby. She is beautiful, loving, and happy, and teaches me so much every single day. I’m grateful for the amazing people who helped make our wish come true.”

Cancer survivors can experience fertility issues caused by cancer treatment. This can be difficult for young adults who want to start a family.

Fort Worth-based Rutledge Cancer Foundation is helping Moncrief Cancer Institute continue its mission of easing the burden of cancer by supporting the Institute’s Fertility Preservation Program with gifts totaling more than $229,000. Stephanie Lawrence,a Physician Assistant at Moncrief Cancer Institute, established the program in 2016 with the support of Keith Argenbright, M.D., the Institute’s Director and a Distinguished Teaching Professor at UT Southwestern.

The program offers fertility counseling, care coordination, and improved access to egg, embryo, and sperm banking for cancer patients ages 18 to 39 at Moncrief Cancer Institute and the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center. While there are a few national organizations with programs that help offset the costs of fertility preservation, Moncrief Cancer Institute’s program has been uniquely positioned to fully fund fertility preservation for 72 patients who need financial assistance. With additional support, the Institute hopes to expand the program to serve cancer patients seen in Fort Worth, Dallas, and all UTSW and Simmons Cancer Center clinic locations.

“My goal is to offer every young patient and their family an opportunity to learn about how cancer treatment may impact their ability to have biological children,” Ms. Lawrence said. “By improving access to fertility preservation options, we can offer our patients hope. There is nothing more rewarding than watching those stories of hope unfold.”

Cancer advocate’s journey sparks Foundation’s creation

Growing up can be challenging for teenagers. Carley Rutledge had it harder than most. Diagnosed with stage 4 Ewing sarcoma, a cancer found in bones and the surrounding soft tissue, she had many milestones disrupted by doctor visits and treatments.

Carley Rutledge young woman relaxes on grass with dog next to her
Carley Rutledge

Blazing a trail as part of an immunotherapy clinical trial, Ms. Rutledge had her cancer in remission by the end of her freshman year in college. After finishing graduate school, she became an icon of hope in the cancer community, testifying before state governments in Texas and Colorado in support of legislation extending insurance coverage for fertility treatments to young adults with cancer.

After living eight years cancer-free, Ms. Rutledge’s cancer returned. She continued to live voraciously and died at age 27. As the namesake of the Rutledge Cancer Foundation, her story still inspires others through the organization’s mission.