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Illinois teen utilizes Riley Hospital's fertility preservation program during cancer treatment

Riley fertility preservation program focuses on oncology patients
Blain Loll
Posted at 6:05 PM, Dec 13, 2022

INDIANAPOLIS — Looking towards the future is a big part of working through a cancer diagnosis for anyone at any age. Blain Loll’s future includes getting back on the basketball court.

“Every day is sort of a new day or game,” Loll said.

The 17-year-old guard is nearing the end of his chemotherapy treatment at Riley Hospital for Children. His journey is “bigger than basketball.”

“[Basketball has been the] biggest part of my life since I was born. My dad’s a coach. He’s been a coach my whole life. Me and my brother grew up in a gym. I’ve played since I could walk,” Loll said as he sat in an infusion room waiting for chemo to begin.

The goal is to play with his team again in the new year, but until then — he’s helping out on the sidelines.

“Even though I am not playing right now, I still get that same feeling from being on the bench that I felt when I was playing,” Loll said.

The diagnosis came in March of 2022.

“I have leukemia. That’s a blood cancer,” Loll said.

“Life-changing decision”

Life changed drastically for the Illinois family suddenly faced with an avalanche of decisions.

“When you’re faced with that news you have no time to really digest it or really understand what the future even looks like,” Loll’s mom, Andrea said.

One of those decisions is a something the Loll family — and many families going through a cancer journey — do not think of — fertility preservation. Cancer treatments can impact a patient’s future ability to start a family.

“At first it was like what’re you talking about. I just got diagnosed with cancer and now you’re talking about saving my sperm?” Blain Loll said.

“(It is a) Tough conversation to have with your 17-year-old," Andrea said. "Tough conversation for mom and dad to have to think okay, this is a life-changing decision.”

Blain and his parents had less than a day to decide if they wanted to move forward with sperm banking. It all had to happen before treatment began.

Riley houses the state’s only fertility preservation program geared towards young oncology patients. It started back in 2018.

“It really came about out of a desire from patients,” the program’s medical director, Dr. Amanda Saraf said.

As treatments advanced over the years, survival rates for kids and teens with cancer continue to improve. With that, Dr. Saraf said the need for options like fertility preservation is more important now than ever.

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"We were seeing a lot of adolescent and young adult survivors that were coming back and expressing distress and anxiety about, 'Am I going to have trouble with fertility? I haven't been able to get pregnant. That wasn't something that people had mentioned before,' " Dr. Saraf said.

Dr. Saraf noted her team meets with several hundred patients — like Blain — a year.

“Our team meets with patients of all ages. We start at birth,” Dr. Saraf added.

For the Loll family, the decision was simple even for Blain as a teenager.

“Has it been easy? Absolutely not. But my gosh what we’ve learned about life and taking it a day at a time. Blain does have a future to have a family — that means more to us than anything,” Andrea said.

Family is a word Blain uses to describe his love for the game of basketball. It comes down to the team who has his back on the court — like how the team here at Riley does too.

While a future family is the last thing on Blain’s mind as a teenager, knowing it can be a possibility means everything.

“They all care about me just as much as I care about them and they’re going to do their best to take care of me and that’s what a family is like,” Blain said.