A first Father’s Day
Cullen and Elizabeth Kappler knew they wanted to have children after getting married in November 2015. But after a few months of waking up in the middle of the night with stomach and back pain, Cullen was given a diagnosis that he thought would make it impossible for him to become a father.
“I assumed it was a pinched nerve, but a CT scan showed that I had testicular cancer that had spread to my abdomen, lungs and brain,” Cullen said. “I was immediately admitted to Houston Methodist.”
Before Cullen began chemotherapy, Eric Bernicker, M.D., a Houston Methodist oncologist, asked the Kapplers if they wanted children. The chemotherapy needed to save Cullen’s life would likely leave them unable to conceive a healthy child on their own. His care team helped speed up the sperm banking process, so that Cullen could begin the first round of chemotherapy as soon as possible.
“I was so grateful that they thought to ask us about having children someday,” Elizabeth said. “After being told Cullen had cancer, I wasn’t even thinking that far in to the future because I was so worried about what we needed to do for him right then.”
Just three months later, Cullen was in complete remission. A year and a half later, Bernicker told them they could move forward with fertility counseling if they were ready to begin their family. The Kapplers went to Timothy Hickman, M.D., the director of reproductive endocrinology at Houston Methodist Hospital and CCRM Houston, to discuss their options. Hickman recommended in-vitro fertilization, or IVF, the process of combining eggs and sperm outside of the body and then placing an embryo in the uterus.
“IVF has been a great tool for couples who want to become parents after facing cancer, but banking healthy sperm and eggs before treatment is key,” Hickman said. “In Cullen’s case, the chemotherapy he needed has been known to cause damage to sperm DNA, which can lead to issues conceiving.”
In April 2019, Cullen and Elizabeth welcomed a healthy baby girl they named Katherine.
“She’s the light of our lives,” Elizabeth said. “We never imagined that we’d face such a long, hard walk on the journey to becoming parents, but we forgot about all of the tears and worries it took to get her here the first time we saw her face."
“Katherine is a true gift from God,” Cullen said. “She was born on April 1. It was on that exact date three years ago that I was given the news that I had cancer.”
Cullen now counsels others undergoing cancer treatment to share his experience and give them hope through CanCare, where he now holds a board position.
“It’s especially meaningful to me to help support other young men facing cancer and the unknowns of how it will affect their future,” Cullen said. “Now, I can show them a picture of Katherine and will be able to tell them about my first Father’s Day and Elizabeth’s first Mother’s Day. She’s a priceless gift, and I’ll always be grateful for the opportunity to be her father.”