In 2009, Bloomfield Hills native Tracy Weiss was a 30-year-old newlywed living in New York City when she received her cervical cancer diagnosis. Within a matter of weeks, she discovered she’d need radiation, a hysterectomy and a lymphadenectomy. One doctor mentioned, in what seemed like an afterthought, that Weiss should consider freezing her eggs in order to preserve an option of having biological children one day. When she called her insurance company, she discovered that they would not cover this procedure, considering it elective.
“I didn’t elect to have cancer. I didn’t choose to have my uterus removed,” Weiss reflects, still flabbergasted. She says she was lucky enough to pay for an egg freezing cycle – which averages between $15,000 and $20,000 – herself, but she knows most young women are not in that position. There is also a limited time between receiving a cancer diagnosis and beginning treatment, and she says that many “women go for less intense treatments to preserve their fertility, which increases the risk of recurrence.”
Weiss met Amanda Rice, a three-time cancer survivor, who had experienced similar challenges. Rice and Weiss, along with a group of other women who had “all seen cancer from different perspectives, wanted to help women in the waiting rooms with the overwhelming crushingness of a cancer diagnosis who then potentially would never be able to be a biological mother.”
In 2017, they founded The Chick Mission. To date, the non-profit has given out approximately 125 Hope Scholarships to women between the ages of 18 and 40 with new cancer diagnoses in order to assist them with the costs of egg freezing. The average age of an applicant is 31-years-old.
Much of what Weiss does as The Chick Mission’s executive director is education and advocacy work. She describes how “most people are shocked to hear that this isn’t covered by insurance when infertility is now a direct side effect of the treatment that will change your life. It’s a side effect of your disease.”
The Chick Mission works in six states and with more than 30 fertility partners. Currently, 10 states have incorporated new laws to assist women newly diagnosed with cancer. Unfortunately, Michigan is not one of them. In fact, Michigan is now one of only two states where paid gestational surrogacy is illegal, and there “has been no proposed legislation in the past three years to have fertility preservation challenged.”
Weiss hopes to bring more attention to this issue in October, when she brings The Great Egg Freeze – a “family-friendly polar bear plunge” – to Detroit.
“I’m a 10-year survivor with a clean bill of health. Every woman that I’m able to help in real time makes me remember how scared and frustrated I was when I was in their shoes. That they don’t have to worry brings me so much joy. Even though I have incredible friends and incredible family, cancer is this shitty club that no one wants to join. We speak a language that no one else can speak.
“The fact that I’m able to do that for young women makes me feel that I went through all of this misery, despair, and hardship for a reason.”
Story: Hillary Brody Anchill