Like 15-year-olds everywhere, Christina Montana spends much of her day pondering things like the nature of boys, the latest trends in jeans, the anticipatory joys of having a driver’s license and who might ask her to prom.
Unlike her friends and classmates, though, Christina must often do her thinking from a chair in the infusion center at UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center, where she receives chemotherapy to battle Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Though her big brown eyes and quick, stunning smile rarely reveal it, Christina’s yearlong fight — she was diagnosed at 14 with the cancer of the lymph node system — has been difficult. “My family keeps me positive,” she said. “I miss school and the social interaction of learning, but I text my friends like a typical teenager.”
Nonetheless, the fight has made Christina mature beyond her years, most notably when she was confronted recently with news that her cancer had flared out of remission. “There was a 15 percent chance of recurrence,” said Christina’s father, Jesus Montana. “She’s now being treated more aggressively.”
The support of her family has helped Christina make some life-changing decisions that most girls her age never think about. Nationwide, only 30 to 40 percent of young patients newly diagnosed with cancer receive counseling on how cancer therapies might impact their future fertility and their ability to have children. Fewer than 10 percent of them undergo a fertility preservation procedure.
Nationwide, ony 30 to 40 percent of young patients newly diagnosed with cancer receive counseling on how cancer therapies might impact their future fertility and their ability to have children.
Christina has thought about these things — and she’s taken action. “My family had many in-depth conversations about preserving my eggs when I was diagnosed,” she said. “I want to have children someday and decided I’d rather be safe than sorry.”
Working with Irene Su, MD, an assistant professor in the Department of Reproductive Medicine at UC San Diego Health System, Christina opted to bank eggs for future use. Su said it was a smart and brave decision.
“Christina absolutely amazes me,” Su said. “It was surprising how certain she was at her age to undergo all the injections and blood draws for egg banking. Her family’s openness to speak about fertility preservation is inspiring.”
Indeed, Su said Christina has energized the clinical and research teams to work even harder to find new and better ways to preserve fertility in young patients. Su noted that egg-freezing technologies have significantly improved in recent years and the process is no longer considered experimental.
That bodes well for Christina and others who look forward to having families of their own. “Since her cancer came back, we are relieved to know our daughter will have the option of having her own biological children,” said Jesus. “As parents, you want only the best for your children.”
Someday, Christina hopes to say the same.