Teen with cancer undergoes procedure to protect chances of being a mom one day

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INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) — Many people dream of having biological children and becoming parents. Even kids play house and think about having a family of their own one day. But what happens when a child gets diagnosed with cancer and lifesaving treatment takes that away from them? Fortunately, for one young lady and many other young pediatric patients the medical science is on their side to preserve their fertility.

Her name is Taylor Mason. She played volleyball. She went to homecoming and prom. She started dating an older boy who her super protective dad didn’t approve of right away.

“Dad wouldn't let me date an older boy with his license,” said Mason. But during the summer of Mason's sophomore year, those adolescent life experiences came to a screeching halt.

"I got this knot on the side of my head,” said Mason.

That knot turned out to be a malignant mass, and a doctor told Mason she had leukemia.

“He did it very gracefully however you can to a 15-year-old girl tell her you have cancer,” said Mason’s grandmother, Lori Bishop Mason.

Mason started chemotherapy, and it worked. But then 16 months later, on June 12, 2018, a rash popped up on her leg.

"I told my grandpa on the way over here I'm sick again,” said Mason. “He was like no you're not. I said yup. I'm sick again."

The cancer came back, but before starting treatment this time around, Dr. Jodi Skiles talked to Mason about her future. Not just about her life but about bringing new life into this world by having her own children.

"Now that outcomes have improved substantially especially in pediatrics, and we expect many of these kids to go on to live long healthy full lives we have to think about like what does their adulthood look like,” said Skiles. “What is it like to grow up knowing that you can't have babies because of a condition you had when you were young?”

Skiles is the Director of Fertility Preservation Services at Riley Hospital for Children and the Cancer Center. She’s also the Director of Pediatric Stem Cell Transplant. Skiles says the process of fertility preservation can start at birth for both girls and boys. She’s personally had the conversation with the parents of babies.

"If we get the tissue now, we at least have the option for the future science to develop in a way that it can be used in the future,” said Skiles.
One method still being tested right now is called Ovarian Tissue Cryopreservation (OTC).

Skiles says there's been about 100 live births using this method. This process involves taking out an ovary or a piece of an ovary, freezing it and then when the time comes doctors reimplant it into the body either in the other ovary or believe it or not into the arm. Reimplanting the ovary into the other ovary is called orthotopic. Re-implanting the ovary into the arm is called heterotopic.

Another method being tested right now is called in vitro maturation. Skiles says there are no success stories with this method yet. This process is similar to IVF. The difference is doctors retrieve the eggs while they’re still immature and freeze them. When the time comes, the eggs will be thawed and then in a laboratory setting doctors will expose the eggs to hormones, allow them to develop into mature eggs, combine the mature eggs with the sperm and then implant an embryo into the uterus. The process is also being tested for males. Skiles says in animal models, they’ve been able to remove one testicle, freeze it, thaw it, mince it and reinject it into the other testicle. Skiles says amazingly this process has triggered the resumption of normal sperm production at least in animal models. She says human studies are just starting.

"Everybody at this point in time feels a little bit anxious about the prospect of implanting tissue that could have possibly at one point contained cancer cells for fear that you would just be reseeding cancer into the patient's body,” said Skiles. “And so because of that nobody feels real warm and fuzzy about putting that kind of tissue back into a patient if their original disease was leukemia or lymphoma."

Fortunately for Mason, before starting chemotherapy again and undergoing a stem cell transplant, she got to do IVF.

Mason added, "For someone my age it was kind of weird because you see all these couples in there, and I'm just there.”

Doctors have preserved eight of Mason's eggs and she hopes to be a mom one day. Mason called all the younger patients at Riley her babies.

Her boyfriend, Trevor, also wants kids. He stood by her side for the last three years and promises to be in her future too, a future in which biological children are no longer out of the question.

October 10 is very special to Mason. Three years ago on that date, doctors told her she was in remission for the first time. The next year on October 10, Mason's boyfriend gave her a promise ring, and then on October 10, 2018, she got to leave the Ronald McDonald House and go home.

Next year, on October 10, 2019, Mason hopes to meet her donor.