This July will mark my being in remission from leukemia for five years, and thus no longer being a cancer patient, and yet my journey as a perma-patient has only just begun. As a permanent patient, I now need several types of continued care for the rest of my life because of the treatments I received. It was an expected tradeoff that comes with surviving an aggressive form of leukemia called acute promyelocytic leukemia, a subtype of AML.
The evening I was diagnosed, not only was I told that without treatment I might not survive the night, but I had to decide on the course of treatment at once. In addition to taking arsenic and all-trans-retinoic acid (ATRA), I had two options for a primary chemotherapy agent, Idarubicin or Mylotarg, and less than 24 hours to decide.
I poured over the research and statistical studies, knowing the downsides after reading the package inserts and understanding that both could hinder my fertility, albeit in different ways. I chose Mylotarg (a new drug on the market) instead of Idarubicin as my principal chemotherapy agent for induction since I’d have less risk of hemorrhaging and could expect fewer long-term side effects. I am lucky to have made it out alive.
Instead, I now suffer from osteoarthritis and chronic bone pain, most likely caused by a drug called Lupron, the very same drug used to stop puberty in children claiming to be transgender.
Painful and Long-Term Side Effects
I received a Lupron injection on my first day in the hospital as part of the other supportive care I received. The drug was prescribed for two reasons; the first was because I had a hemorrhagic type of leukemia, and Lupron was used to stop the risk of my period transforming into hemorrhaging. The second reason was to protect fertility, operating under the theory that by temporarily shutting down fertility by inducing temporary menopause, the inactive system wouldn’t be exposed to the chemotherapy agents.
Although the use of Lupron to protect fertility is newer and not one that the FDA has approved, it was prescribed matter-of-factly compared to chemotherapy agents. Ironically, none of my chemotherapy agents caused hair loss, but I lost over half of my hair during treatment from the Lupron and wore a wig for over six months after my treatment ended.
Lupron caused both general and abdominal weight gain, but because it also caused decreased bone density, I also have chronic pain in my pelvis and arthritis in my knees from osteoarthritis that I didn’t have before treatment. I now get injections in my knees to walk comfortably; I’ve given up my passion for trail running and generally cannot use cardio exercise to control my weight. I have to sit on a cushion at work and when I drive.
When I accepted Lupron as part of my cancer treatment, I did so with a life-or-death diagnosis and the imminent threat of hemorrhaging.
Of course, many women might not have the side effects I did. The drug is also commonly used by women undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF) to either stimulate follicles or prevent ovulation before starting certain IVF protocols — all depending on the dosage and duration of the prescription.
Giving Drugs to Healthy Children
Today, Lupron is prescribed as a “puberty blocker” for children with “gender dysphoria.” As someone who has taken it, I am appalled. I cannot fathom how using Lupron on otherwise healthy bodies, knowing its long-term side effects, isn’t criminal. More appalling is that this strong pharmaceutical is used in children with a psychiatric condition that will resolve in up to 90 percent of children if left unmedicalized. This is akin to prescribing hysterectomies for “hysteria” in the 20th century.
Lupron is used differently at different doses in cancer patients. For me, Lupron was prescribed for fertility preservation at 3.75 mg monthly. Prostate and breast cancer patients sometimes receive twice the amount I did.
Boston Children’s Hospital has a document on using Lupron as a puberty blocker in their gender facility. The dosage they prescribe is a 7.5 mg injection monthly, twice the amount I received. That is twice the amount used to create temporary menopause and functionally the same amount used to create permanent menopause in women with estrogen-positive breast cancer.
As a then-33-year-old, I knew the trade-offs that come with surviving cancer. Children, especially those actively experiencing mental illness, cannot possibly fathom permanence or provide informed consent as I did. As someone who may have permanently sacrificed motherhood for literal survival, I cannot fathom how the medical community could ask children or parents to make that decision for anything less.
This is especially true given the increasing reports that women who have taken extended courses of Lupron and former pediatric patients treated for precocious puberty report devastating side effects, not to mention the sterilization that can occur in children when the drug is used to block otherwise healthy puberty.
A ‘Life-Saving’ Drug?
In the case of childhood cancers, consent for treatment often includes understanding the horrendous tradeoff of life for fertility, and parents are burdened with the final decision. However, in the case of “gender dysphoria,” there is a conflation between suicidal ideation by a minor and a deadly acute illness such as cancer to label pubertal suppression and “gender-affirming care” as “life-saving care,” that has become evident in the European experience.
It is also becoming apparent from the numerous adolescent detransitioners coming forward via lawsuits and social media that parents can’t make informed decisions when these changes are inaccurately described as “life-saving.”
Thus, we must ask ourselves, as a society, whether children or even their parents can consent to drugs and procedures that create a permanent dependence on medical care absent life-threatening illnesses, such as cancer or diabetes. Moreover, can they consent during periods of intense emotional distress? The side effects I continue to experience from only nine months of Lupron, first administered in an authentic life-and-death situation, are far less severe than those on children, but they are permanent.
I have a high degree of faith in science and medicine. Still, it’s becoming evident that we must prevent the medical exploitation of children and work to keep the temporary distresses of adolescence from being permanently medicalized and pathologized. The time for live and let live is over, and states must continue intervening. We must stop the needless sterilization of children.