Reality Show Contestant Harvests Eggs Before Ovarian Cancer Treatment

As a contestant on MTV”s Real World/Road Rules Challenge in 2006, Diem Brown expected to undergo a difficult journey.

But the 23-year-old did not expect to undergo the challenge one month after having surgery for ovarian cancer. Brown had one ovary, several lymph nodes and part of her fallopian tube removed, but still flew off to Australia to participate in the show. She and her partner, Derrick, finished in fourth place in the competition.

After successful treatment, Brown went on to be a cast member in MTV’s The Challenge series, “The Duel” and “The Ruins”.

She also founded a charity called “the first ever patient gift registry” .  The registry program is designed for anyone hospitalized and in need of items and support.

I created MedGift to finally help answer the question Patients are so often asked by their friends, family and co-workers “How Can I Help?” & “What Can I Do?”

Last October, Brown began to experience abdominal pain. Although initial tests came out OK, the pain persisted and in May a special ultrasound showed a large cyst in her remaining ovary. The cyst was removed, and Diem got the bad news- the ovarian cancer had returned!

But Brown remains optimistic about her prognosis.As she told People magazine:

I know I will be fine.   I beat Cancer once & I’m gonna do it again! I know God has a reason for every speed bump in life & I’m ready.

Since the doctor was able to keep 30% of her remaining ovary when the cyst was removed, Brown made the decision to postpone treatment temporarily so that eggs could be harvested before the remainder was removed as part of her treatment for cancer.

She found Dr. Jamie Grifo at NYU who was able to harvest five eggs today. Diem is chronicling her journey in a series of blogs for People. You can follow those here.

Keeping the hope alive…

For many young people diagnosed with cancer, survival is usually the first thing on their mind.

But with improved survival rates in young cancer patients, thoughts must now turn to how surgery, radiation and chemotherapy may affect their future fertility.

A number of fertility preservation techniques are available. The most common including cryopreservation (freezing) of sperm, eggs, or embryos.

Egg retrieval

A minor surgery, called follicular aspiration, is done to remove the eggs from the woman’s body.

The surgery is normally done as an outpatient procedure in the doctor’s office. The woman will be given medicines so she does not feel pain during the procedure.

Using ultrasound images as a guide, the health care provider inserts a thin needle through the vagina and into the ovary and sacs (follicles) containing the eggs. The needle is connected to a suction device, which pulls the eggs and fluid out of each follicle, one at a time.The procedure is repeated for the other ovary.

The woman may have some cramping after the surgery, but it usually goes away within a day. In rare cases, a pelvic laparoscopy may be needed to remove the eggs.

We wish Diem a speedy recovery in her current challenge.

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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