Ep 124: The Chick Mission and Fertility Treatment While Living with Cancer with Amanda Rice
Fertility Forward Episode 124:
The system fails women with cancer who want to protect their fertility and joining us today on Fertility Forward is the person on the frontline of this battle, Founder and CEO of The Chick Mission. In this episode, Amanda Rice tells us all about her cancer diagnosis, what made her decide to freeze her eggs, the disappointment she experienced when her insurance refused due to her diagnosis, and how that inspired her to create The Chick Mission. We discuss Amanda’s current status, how she got through chemotherapy, and what she learned from her experience. Young women are also educated about reproductive health in a backward fashion; with the focus being on how not to get pregnant instead of providing them with an essential well-rounded education. Amanda discusses her mission to change that as well as the other important pillars of The Chick Mission before delving into how you can get involved in her organization. Finally, we are reminded of the importance of reaching out for help. To hear all this and so much more, tune in now!
Rena: Hi everyone. We are Rena and Dara, and welcome to Fertility Forward. We are part of the wellness team at RMA of New York, a fertility clinic affiliated with Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Our Fertility Forward podcast brings together advice from medical professionals, mental health specialists, wellness experts, and patients because knowledge is power and you are your own best advocate.
Rena: So we are so excited to welcome to Fertility Forward today, the amazing Amanda Rice, who is the founder and CEO of The Chick Mission. She founded The Chick Mission after her fertility preservation coverage was denied by her insurance company. Upon her cancer diagnosis, staring down a long road of chemotherapy, radiation, and long-term drug therapy. Amanda understood the high likelihood of infertility after her treatment and decided to move forward covering the costs on her own. The idea of other patients choosing not to pursue preservation simply because of the cost barrier did not sit well. Socioeconomic standing should not dictate whether anyone has an opportunity to have biological children after they battle and beat cancer. A Tulane University graduate who has spent more than a decade of her career raising capital as a consultant and director of investor relations and business development, Amanda utilized her skillsets to get The Chick mission off the ground. She jumped down the rabbit hole of necessary paperwork to incorporate and pursue the 501c-3 designation and recruited a founding board each with their own connection to cancer and the pursuit of equity in women's health. Under Amanda's leadership, The Chick mission has committed over $2.5 million to patients for fertility preservation to date. Wow. Amanda! So, so excited to have you on today. That is incredible. We are so excited to hear from you, your story, what you've built. Welcome, welcome.
Amanda: Thank you. And, you know, just hearing the numbers out loud makes me smile. I'm sure you can hear it in my voice, but that is amazing. I, I kind of pinch myself listening to stats sometimes and just knew, you know, one day I had, I had the hope and that I think is the most important part of The Chick mission, is just hope that we would be able to accomplish what we've accomplished and and continue to. So thank you for having me. I, I really appreciate it.
Rena: Well, we're so appreciative. I know you're so busy. You also, when we were trying to schedule this, I know you also have a day job and, you know, read in your bio, you are definitely one busy woman and it's amazing that you've dedicated what I'm sure is your little free time to building this to help other people so that they do not have to go through what you went through.
Amanda: Yeah, I mean, I think I sat there feeling alone and desperate and hopeless and frustrated and angry. Like all of these just complicated emotions and those still live within me. And I think that's what drives me every day to, you know, there is, you know, the other side of this. You know, I'm in remission now and, and very healthy, but now I'm hopeful. I know that if we put our heads down and collectively work together, we can accomplish some things that I just never thought were fathomable. So, you know, there's this balance of frustration with gratitude, and that's where I sit today. So yes, I am busy, but The Chick Mission is my baby. You know, I'm not a mom and I have a wonderful four year old cavapoo, but The Chick Mission is truly my heart and my legacy, so I love talking about it. So whatever you wanna talk about!
Rena: Well, can we go back, I mean, even to the beginning? You know, and sort of walk us through sort of your story, your diagnosis, and your decision to preserve fertility.
Amanda: Yeah. So I, I was diagnosed with breast cancer in my thirties, and when I sat there, you know, I was working in financial services at the time. I had incredible insurance. I was the lucky one, quote unquote, who should have had all this stuff covered. And when I went to, you know, first and foremost you hear the words cancer and does not run in my family, that is a common misconception. You know, only 10 to 15% of cancer is hereditary thus far. And I sat there just feeling scared, emotional, you know, kind of frozen. I didn't know this was a whole new language, you know, the healthcare lingo and the cancer lingo. And then luckily somebody mentioned fertility to me. I wasn't even thinking about that as a side effect. You know, infertility, why, what? And it's ultimately because they are throwing everything at you when you're diagnosed as a young adult. They know you're strong, they know you can handle it, and in many cases you go into remission after treatment. But the, you know, the side effect of infertility was something that just floored me. And when I went to freeze my eggs because I had fertility benefits, they told me I didn't qualify because cancer, you know, that doesn't actually qualify you for fertility assistance, even though you're gonna be infertile afterwards.
Rena: I mean, that just gave me the chills. That's just so insane. It's just so crazy.
Amanda: It, it's just our system and, you know, in many different facets it's broken. And, you know, it came back to women's health. And I'm not saying that men don't have challenges with, you know, infertility after cancer because some of them do. But it just felt like this again, this slap in the face and this injustice. And I felt like I was almost just being tossed out. You know, nobody really cared about what the right decision was. It was just what insurance would cover. And I'm not one to just sit there and take it. I just sort of, you know, I sat there frustrated and I was like, how can I change this? I didn't even, you know, I cried. I actually didn't cry about the cancer right away. I cried about the fertility because I just was so frustrated with the system.
Rena: Well, I think as you said, it's this, like, slap in the face, right? It's like, okay, dealing with the emotional ramifications of cancer and, and everything that comes with that, and then having to think about preserving your fertility on top of it, and how do you even sort of unpack that plus financial cost, you know, dealing with the diagnosis of cancer. I mean, that's just so much for somebody to go through.
Amanda: Yeah. And I just kept coming back to, you know, a lot of the people that I knew who couldn't come up with these dollars. Like, I was lucky. I had some savings and I could electively freeze my eggs even though it was a necessity. And I just kept thinking about, you know, just looking around the waiting room and, and just knowing like, people are, were gonna make the wrong decision for their future. And I was really, really upset about that. And ultimately I think that sparked, you know, building this and researching it and, and banning together with a lot of strong women in my life to just do it the right way as far as, you know, we knew. We, I I always joke and tell people this, but I read Nonprofits for Dummies because I had no clue how to start this, but I knew it was very important to do.
Rena: So what, how did you kind of get this off the ground? Did you do this while you were, it was after you underwent treatment or sort of how did this sort of hatch, so to speak? I love that you, your website really plays up all the chick. I love that.
Amanda: We love everything chick. So yes, it did hatch, you know, it hatched in that dark moment. And ultimately I knew, you know, I had months of chemotherapy ahead of me. I had seven weeks of radiation every single day that followed that. Surgery before both of those things. So I knew I'd have a lot of downtime. Even though I was working while going through treatment, I couldn't just focus on my day job. I love what I do as my career, but I needed something inspiring. And so researching, having, having this side project and something to kind of throw my heart and soul into was, you know, very healing for me. And it was a distraction, but it was a really positive, you know, sort of take control back of something that is completely out of your control. And so, you know, reached out to friends and family and, and people I knew in my business, people like people just showed up. They stepped up, they supported me, and they wanted to build it with me. You know, the more, the more I shared with people that this wasn't covered, the more that people were enraged and were like, hey, how do I help? And so I think that as a strong type-A type of gal who doesn't necessarily like to ask for help, this was something I could ask for help with.
Rena: I love that. So it's that idea of sort of like pain into purpose, which I think we talk about a lot on the podcast and also the, the real gift you gave people of a real concrete and tangible way to help. You know, I think so often in this process, you know, whether wherever you're at and, you know, a family-building process, you know, something like your story or you know, someone who's had miscarriage or, you know, multiple rounds of IVF, it can be so frustrating for friends and family because they wanna help and they don't know how. And so giving someone, you know, a concrete way to help you create this tangible thing, and then you could give people action items like, hey, actually this is how you can help me. I think it was almost an amazing gift that you gave to them.
Amanda: Well, and I, you know, I, I look back on it now and, you know, I kind of shake my head a little bit. I, I organized, you know, thematic chemo sessions. They were, you know, it was all chick themed because the name Chick Mission came to me before I started treatment. So it was, you know, we, we did dress up chemo and I got three guests. So I, we would do, you know, Chick Flick was a theme and Wonder Woman was a theme. And, you know, this was my way of keeping it light because I didn't want it all to be so heavy. And…
Rena: I love that!
Amanda: You know, it's a, it's a defense mechanism, but it's also, it's what I needed to do. I couldn't just sit there and have everybody woe is me, you know? And, you know, just feeling so bad for me. I needed them to feel inspired and excited. And actually, you know, a bunch of people that did Dress Up Chemo are volunteers at The Chick Mission, or founding board members, or new board members. And so that's, it's, it's full circle. It's really beautiful.
Rena: I love that. I love that. So where did you, I mean, it sounds like you're an incredibly strong person, you know, for anyone that's listening and maybe they're feeling really down and they're feeling like, oh gosh, I wanna be like, Amanda. How did you draw on that strength? Where did that come from? How were you able to find the levity, find the humor?
Amanda: Yeah, I think I've been through a lot of things in my life. A lot of challenging things from, you know, my parents getting divorced when I was a kid, to my dad passing when I was 18 years old. It's almost like a survival thing. Like, you, you have to be able to find something positive to focus your energy on, or else you're just gonna lie on the floor and cry, and that's okay too. But I just, I think finding something, you know, whether it's channeling into supporting others that come after you - I do a lot of mentoring of newly diagnosed cancer patients - whether it's building a nonprofit or joining the board of a nonprofit, or just volunteering for a nonprofit. It's amazing to me. It's actually, you know, I, I call it a little bit selfish in a way. Like, this project has healed me and helping others has healed me personally. So it's a good thing, you know, we're, we're doing great work, but it also is very, it's self-serving in a very positive way. So that's what I sort of tell anybody. You know, we are all wired a different way and we've been through a lot of different things as human beings, but everybody goes through something at some point in their life, and we can help by just being vulnerable and talking about it, or just not making it such a stigma. And that's why I love the intersection of cancer and infertility, because they're both these, everybody whispers about it, right? And we can talk about it, and we can shine a light and just help people feel less alone in all of this. Like, we struggle and we can, we can overcome it somehow, but we gotta do it together. We're not gonna do it alone, feeling hopeless and in a dark room, not talking to anybody.
Rena: That is definitely true. And I think it's that, you know, idea of losing yourself in the service of, of others and getting outside yourself to help others, I think, you know, is so helpful. And it sounds like that for you is what really helped, you know, throwing yourself into it. And as you said, you know, being vulnerable, being authentic, being raw and real with people, I think then gives them the opportunity to give back the same, and that's where real human connection is made.
Rena: You know, and it's sometimes
Amanda: Very well put
Rena: You know, I think sometimes, you know, we're afraid to open ourselves up, right? We're afraid to be real and we pretend everything's okay. But…
Rena: That’s when, you know, you go home at night or when you're alone, you cry or, you know, maybe then you displace or project and become angry at friends and family, but, you know, and you haven't really given them a chance to help.
Amanda: Yeah. And I think that's, that's a good point too. Like, nobody is a mind reader. And as much as you want them to know how you're feeling, they don't, unless you tell them. And which is not an easy thing. But I, I've turned a chapter in my life where I don't, you know, if I need help or I need clarity on something, or if somebody is kind of, of letting me down, I, I need to tell them about it because I don't wanna harbor any, you know, frustration that could just be remedied really quickly. So I, I'm, I am, my empathy is now off the charts beyond I could have ever imagined. And just my transparency and communication has really, has really increased. So,
Rena: Wow. I mean, what an incredible gift that you've given yourself and then everyone in sort of your orbit, you know, awareness.
Rena: So where are you at today with your own journey?
Amanda: So, I'm, I'm actually officially in remission. I had three cancer diagnoses in about a four year period, so 2014, 2015, 2016, treatmentall of 2017. And so I hit remission in November of last year. And so that, as far as I'm concerned, that chapter is closed and, you know, third time's the charm. We'll throw any, any little thing in there. But today, very grateful to be here. And, you know, just trying to keep up with life. You know, I'm in menopause post-treatment, and so that has a whole host of fun things that comes with it. But I think where we are as an organization, you know, we started by brainstorming, how do we help, right? How do we help this very moment and how do we help make a permanent change? And so The Chick mission is very focused today on, you know, our need-based grants, this program, need-based grants program. And we've given over 425 grants for egg freezing.
Rena: Oh my gosh, that's incredible.
Amanda: Wild. And that's from, I think we did 8 our first year. So we are just humming along there and spreading the word and, and trying to match demand with our fundraising. So tons of things going on at The Chick Mission, which I will certainly share. Another really important pillar of our mission is to educate people. You know, fertility 101. Like, let's go back to how Ill prepared we were as middle schoolers, high schoolers, college-aged students. Let's talk about our fertility instead of everybody freaking out and scaring you to death about how to get pregnant and how not to get pregnant. Let's talk about, you know, the challenges that you don't just snap your finger and get pregnant. You need to know about your cycle. You need to know things like you're born with every egg you'll ever have. You need to know actually how your cycle works and what your cervix is, and just, you know, all those things that this is our body. Like, we're proud women, we need to know how, how everything works. Do we have a painful period? Why? You don't have to just sit there and take it. There are amazing specialists that can help you out. So we have a collegiate education program that we've rolled out. We do a ton of corporate events where we try to either influence adding fertility benefits to their policies or talk about what actually their offering is and bring in, you know, somebody, you know, Dr. Lucky and I are, are doing an educational event next week. And so it's just those types of things where I think cancer or no cancer, we wanna know how everything works so that we can take control of our bodies. And then the final piece of our puzzle as an organization is advocacy work. And I think it is incredibly important to recognize as citizens of this country. I know that the national stage of politics is just, ugh, it's brutal. Like, you don't even wanna read anything or talk about anything. But at the state level, we work on advocacy. We are ravenous about advocacy, and there have been 16 state laws that have changed since the inception of The Chick Mission. Some we've worked on, some we haven't. But 16 states now mandate that insurance companies cover fertility preservation for those diagnosed with cancer. And that is what is going to put us out of business once and all.
Rena: So much amazing work. You couldn't see me nodding because technically our, our videos are off. I've actually never recorded a podcast with no video. So this is very interesting. But I mean, amazing work, especially, you know, I feel so strongly about everything you're doing, but especially that early education, right? And that idea that, you know, as women, you know, we're taught growing up how to not get pregnant, but then we grow up and well, wait a second, why did no one tell us what to look for in terms of infertility? And now we're so prepared, and I feel so strongly that, you know, sex education in our schools needs to change. It has to be so different to prepare us, you know, especially as women. So I love that you're throwing yourself into that. And all the laws changing. I've worked with RESOLVE as well and been involved with a couple of the laws, specifically in New York. And it's, it's incredible, you know, the changes that have been made in the field and you know, but we have so much more to do. And it, with you working on it, I feel full confidence that so much is going to happen. You know, it's amazing to meet other strong women throwing themselves into this, raising their voices and saying, you know, like, I'm not gonna take this. We deserve better.
Amanda: Yeah. And we don't have to take it. That's the thing. It's like we have the power. We are electing these state officials, we are constituents. So you can reach out to your state senator or your state representative and say, Hey, there's an issue I wanna talk about. And anybody who's listening, who wants to know if their state has changed the law, or if we wanna, or if we're focused on changing the law in their state, or it's on our to-do list. Yeah. Shoot us a note. I mean, we are, I answer a lot of our DMs on Instagram still because I just know, I, I love when passionate people, you know, reach out and they're like, wait a minute, I wanna know what's happening in my state. I live in Oklahoma! I live in Tennessee! I live in Florida! Wherever! Those are actually, I, I name them. 'cause those are my next three I wanna get accomplished. But, but we passed, you know, Texas passed the law this year, and I live in Austin. So I was really happy. It was gut wrenching and took a village and a lot of tenacity. But that law has changed.
Rena: Amazing. It's amazing, amazing work. And I think for anyone listening too, I mean advocacy, I think it's surprisingly easy to get involved. I think.
Rena: You know, we, we think, oh, I, I don't know what to do. I'm not in politics. It's so easy. Resolve makes it really easy. They have advocacy days. You can go to Albany, you can go to DC.
Rena: It's very easy. Yeah. Pick up the phone, call, you know, because people, they want your vote, so they wanna know what you care about because they wanna be...
Amanda: Absolutely. And this is a non-polarizing, like who doesn't want people who survived cancer to be able to have biological children, you know?
Rena: Right. Exactly.
Amanda: This is a completely bipartisan moment, and it's a time for them to maybe shine in something that's bipartisan, that won't be this, you know, heavy, you know, argument. Maybe it's just, hey, you can reach across the aisle and this is something y'all can work on together. So…
Rena: Right. General human interest. Let’s help people out.
Amanda: Yeah. We've built out portals on our website to sign letters of support. We just, we try to work really hard, but really smart. And luckily have some friends, you know, who know people. So we, we tend to get some meetings. Like, I have no shame in my game asking for somebody's help. Like, that is just human 101. Let's help each other. People inherently want to help.
Rena: They do.
Amanda: They don't have time, but we can just help them, help us.
Rena: Exactly. I love that. I think that's exactly it. I think people inherently want to help.
*Rena: And I love that you can see that and that you're also receiving that too.
Rena: Beneficiary of that.
Amanda: Heck yeah.
Rena: So, okay. So tell us also, how can people find you? Do you look for volunteers? I mean, how can people, if they wanna be involved with you, how can they do that?
Amanda: Yeah, I mean, we are, we have an amazing core group of volunteers all across the country. So you don't have to be physically in New York or in physically in Texas, or, you know, wherever we are at the time. We've got our volunteer core down to, you know, a well-oiled machine. So, because I mentioned, you know, a few different ways that we like to solve for this issue, we wanna, we wanna tap into what you're passionate about. So, we have people who reach out on Instagram @ChickMission, or they go to our website. So we're thechickmission.org or chickmission.org. I think we own all of them. And we are on Facebook, we're on LinkedIn, we're on TikTok, like we're everywhere.
Rena: Oh my gosh.
Amanda: I know, it's, it's hilarious. And so we, you know, our, our logo is just freaking adorable and we love it. So it's all about, you know, being chicks on a mission, and it's not just for women, it is for men too. And so we have a whole host of things that happen all around the country. I would mention, not sure when this is airing, but we have our annual gala coming up in New York City on Thursday, October 26th. It is the most fun party. We really have, we have structured it in a way to make people not dread it, but get excited about it. And so it has, you know, it, it'll be sold out pretty soon. So I would encourage everybody to, you know, kind of put it on their radar screen. All the tables are sold out. They were sold out in August! So really proud.
Amanda: Yeah. And then we have something called the Great Egg Freeze, which is our version of a polar bear plunge, but like a party plunge. So we're doing one in Brooklyn and we're doing one in the Bay Area. We're doing one in Austin at Barton Springs in December. And then we have, you know, in New York City and in California, we're gonna be rolling out this ladies-only event called Bubbles and Bad Behavior. So it's just kind of a grab your bestie and, and show up and support women in need, but super-curated and just a good old time. And then ultimately for those that join as volunteers or board members, we, you know, we just sort of mine your interests, you know, if you're one that likes to plan, you know, events, great. That is totally not me. Luckily our executive director's really good at that, but I, that's not what I find, you know, that doesn't do it for me. I like to sit there and have, like, a strategic, clinical, you know, brainstorm about who do we know in Oklahoma? Which constituent will be our voice? How do we get more boots on the ground there? Maybe there is a foundation that would, you know, give us a grant to accomplish what we wanna accomplish there. So I'm like a big picture, like, get in the weeds. And then there's kind of everything in between. So we've got you know, the educational events, there's always, like, things to do. We apply for grants for support. So there's grant writing, there's just mining, you know, who do you know? Maybe it's a friend of your mom that sits on a board. Maybe we would be a good candidate for support. Or maybe your corporation, whichever one you work for, maybe they wanna, you know, sponsor a gala table or they have a whole grants process. So, there's just so many ways to get involved. And we do a lot of mentorship too. So we're gonna be rolling out, you know, sort of a, I'll call it a high school mentorship program in 2024. We wanna start ‘em young getting to know their bodies and the educational component of this.
Rena: Incredible. So it sounds like a ton of ways to get involved. Anyone is, is welcome and can really sort of do as much or as little, but it sounds like you have so many fun things going on and yeah, this is, this is not heavy. This is a fun way of giving back and doing something amazing and what an amazing and incredible inspiring thing that you have created through your own story. And we're so grateful that you have come on to share that with us today.
Amanda: Yeah. Well, and we love our partnership. You know, you guys are on the ground every day treating patients that are dealing with so much, and we just feel like you're an extension of what we do every day. So we are very proud partners.
Rena: Well, we are so happy to know you, partner with you. It has been such a pleasure to connect with you. I wanna get involved with The Chick Mission. I want to, so we can certainly talk offline after. The way we like to end our podcast is by sharing something we are grateful for. So something that you are grateful for today?
Amanda: I am so grateful for my team. Our team has grown. Our executive director, you know, never worked at a nonprofit before, but she is slaying it every day. Everybody works so hard and they allow me to focus on my day job and what I love doing. You know, I love doing both of these things, but I feel like it's in such, such a great position to grow and prosper. And I don't even have to do, you know, everything. So I am gonna just send out a lot of gratitude to everybody who does the day-to-day work for The Chick Mission.
Rena: Oh, that's so beautiful. Well, I hope that they're listening. I'm sure they are and they're sending it right back to you. And then I'll say, I feel like I always say the same thing on here. I always say I'm so grateful for meeting other inspiring women, but I mean, that seems to be our guests and it really is such a gift to meet other people. You know, both Dara, my cohost and I, we got into our own lines of work in the fertility space because of our own journeys and our own struggles. And so it's really incredible to meet other women that sort of turned their own pain into purpose and raising their voice, you know, not thinking we have to accept subpar treatment. And it really is such a gift to be able to have this network and know there are other women out there just trying to make the world a better place for the next generation. So I am super grateful for that opportunity.
Amanda: Yeah. Well, I, I thank you too. And you know, if anybody is listening and you know, somebody, God forbid, gets diagnosed with cancer, just keep us in mind. Make sure, don't assume that the doctors have told them about fertility preservation. Make sure you tell them because we want them to make the right decision for their futures. And we're here to help.
Rena: Yes. Advocacy, advocacy, advocacy. Raise your voice. You are not annoying. You are not gonna be treated differently. I think people are always really afraid of that. They're afraid to ask questions or, and
Amanda: And you're not alone.
Rena: Yes. You're not alone.
Amanda: You are not alone. So thank you. I had a blast chatting with you.
Rena: Pleasure was mine. Thank you so much.
Dara: Thank you so much for listening today. And always remember: practice gratitude, give a little love to someone else and yourself., and remember, you are not alone. Find us on Instagram @fertility_forward and if you're looking for more support, visit us at www.rmany.com and tune in next week for more Fertility Forward.