Breastfeeding and Breast Cancer Blog

From breastfeeding to being diagnosed with breast cancer and then back to breastfeeding. This is an account of my experiences.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Seven years

Seven years ago I underwent surgery to remove a small lump in my breast.  The lump and resulting pathology changed the next year of my life and brought breast cancer into my health history.

It is interesting being a survivor.  I have many breast cancer sisters and enjoy providing information and support to newly diagnosed women.

In my other world, I am a mom to three children who keep growing up. My daughter who was a toddler at diagnosis, is now heading towards breast development and puberty. My post cancer baby is almost four.  My oldest hardly remembers when mom had breast cancer, but knows it's part of his history too.

Having year after year of clean scans and no evidence of disease is great and relieving. Not everyone has been as lucky.

Sunday, July 22, 2012


It's interesting how cancer really changes your perspective on things.  Every new bump or pain or odd change in your body makes you think of cancer.  If you thought nothing bad was ever going to happen to you, but then it did, it's like a rude awakening.

Since my cancer experience, I've had a few "scares."  Times when something wasn't just right and my mind jumped right to cancer.  Even if I had reason to believe that it was probably not cancer, somewhere in my mind I entertained the idea of cancer.

In these instances I've even had biopsies and that made it even more real, like a repeat performance:   waiting for results, considering the what ifs...  It is not a happy place.  But as the optimist I am, I would brush off the what if's and try to go on with my life.  After cancer, I just know too much.  I have had friends die.  It's hard to forget what I know and to not be concerned.

In one instance, I even needed surgery and general anesthesia again.  I really had thought I could make it more than five years, maybe even most of a lifetime without surgery again.  A hoarseness had become apparent with my voice.  After many months of wondering if the hoarseness was here to stay and required a doctor visit, I finally consulted my doctor and also a specialist.  In the video of my throat, I was shown a small bump in my false vocal chords.  The doctor did not know what it was, but recommended it come out and soon.  She did not want me having this bump grow and obstruct my breathing.

After consulting another specialist and confirming that the unknown bump needed to come out, I reluctantly scheduled surgery...and left my nursing toddler again.

The bump still baffled the doctor even after it was out.  It wasn't until the pathology came back that it showed it was a xanthogranuloma. While these are benign growths that can occur in the body, the throat is a very odd place for them.          

In the end, I did not have cervical cancer, or throat cancer, or even skin cancer.  When I finally received the phone calls, the biopsies were always not cancer.  I could leave the waiting place and go back to living life, just a bit more of my innocence lost.

Friday, February 10, 2012

5 Years!

I'm thrilled to make it to five years since being diagnosed with breast cancer.  I have three amazing children and a still wonderful husband.  Hitting two years and planning a pregnancy was pretty special, but five years tops it.  In addition I will celebrate my 40th birthday later this year and I am excited about making it to that milestone as well.  

Life is good all around.  Around here we still know how to have fun and exercise.  I even teach hoop fitness classes once a week.  Staying connected with women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer has been nice for me too.  I stay connected on-line and meet newly diagnosed women locally as well.  Volunteering my time supporting and providing information to breastfeeding mothers still is good too.  I wasn't sure at one point if it would be too hard for me, but I'm glad I stuck with it and am thrilled to be a breastfeeding mother again.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Bras and the Quest for Symmetry

I often wonder if bra shopping will ever be the same.

After my first surgery, I noticed my breast was a bit smaller than the other.  It wasn't very noticeable in clothes and I didn't worry about it.

Then I had my second surgery and now I had one natural breast with a nipple and one breast mound.  I found that a padded bra felt more comfortable for me.  It hid any imperfections of my surgery and my one nipple.

The next bra scenario happened when I was pregnant.  All of the pregnancy hormones were headed to my one breast and it grew and grew.  The other did not.  I finally sought out a local mastectomy boutique to see what my options were.  They fitted me with a padded mastectomy bra and sold me a mini prosthesis.  It was actually more of an enhancement designed to give someone with breasts a little boost.

Finally I am even bigger, full of milk on one side, and nursing.  My bra options seem to dwindle even further.  I would like a nursing bra, but I also like the pocket on the mastectomy bras for my "enhancement."  I see what the mastectomy boutique has to offer.  We find a couple stretchy bras that will work for nursing and have a pocket.  In addition, I find some of my old nursing bras and sew in a pocket on the one side.  These options seem to work well.

As the years pass, I wonder if I can just shop in a regular store.  I know what seems to work and what doesn't.  I find a great fit and figure I can cut near the lining seam a touch to allow me to slip in my prosthesis.

As my mini enhancement prosthesis starts to degrade and lose it's firmness, I head back to the mastectomy shop.  Initially I was very much turned off by the full prosthesis.  I went through reconstruction and have a bit of a cleavage, I don't want to hide all that with a prosthesis and a full bra. But I was curious about other options.  I was happy to find a small prosthesis that is not a full one, and it has a small nipple.  I was so tickled to try it on with my bra and shirt and notice through my shirt that I have two nipples again.  My brain sees two and feels symmetrical again.  What amazes me most is that they look identical.

At some point I may consider more surgery to even things up.  I will have to wait until I am done nursing and my natural breast gets back to it's final size.  I still am not thrilled with the idea of a artificial implant inside my body.  And even less thrilled that I may need to replace it in my lifetime.  Right now, I keep the prosthesis in my bra for a couple days at a time and just put the bra on and off.  I do wear a different enhancement in my swim suit which is a mastectomy suit.  But I am comfortable around my family with nothing and in my nightshirt.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Coming Full Circle and Nursing Again

Breast cancer influenced my nursing timeline three years ago.  Having the opportunity to nurse a new baby has lessened the sadness surrounding that weaning.  Nursing was always such a large part of mothering for me.  Breastfeeding is more than food;  it is warmth, comfort, reassurance, love, and more.

As a new baby, she didn't realize that she can’t nurse on both sides.  She would try to latch onto anything and often would try to nurse though my shirt on whichever side I held her.  I am conscious that I only nurse her on one side and try to hold her and have her sleep on my other side occasionally.

I am fairly protective of my remaining breast.  Because I only have one, I had concerns about not being able to switch sides during a big growth spurt or even with sore nipples.  For the most part breastfeeding on one breast has been an easy task.  It is interesting to never need to switch sides and never wonder which breast I used last.

Chiropractic care has helped us both stay more even with the one-sidedness.  Having a sore nipple is unique in that I can't know if it's occurring on both sides or not as there's only one.  This is especially true for soreness due to hormonal changes.  With two nipples, there is confirmation that the soreness is "normal" and on both sides.  Probably the biggest challenge was developing mastitis at six months. It was rough and nursing through it was the best option.  It certainly would have been nice to have two breasts then!

Through my volunteering as a lactation counselor and my personal experience of nursing two other children, I know that breastfeeding is all about supply and demand.  I have seen twins nurse successfully.  I know nursing on one breast is possible, but seeing it is amazing.  I marvel that my body works so well and my baby thrives on just my milk.

As my baby turns into a toddler, I love that nursing is still a part of our lives.  I see how important it is to her.  She knows there's only one breast and nipple and it's just fine with her.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Becoming Pregnant

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer just over two years ago, I wondered if I would ever be pregnant again.  As treatment options became reality, it seemed less and less likely.  Now I am pregnant again and it seems so normal, yet so long ago that I felt like this.  It was a lifetime ago, but only 5 and a half years ago. 

Having a cancer grow inside your body feels so foreign and is something so unwelcome.  Becoming pregnant is taking back some of that control, though trying to get pregnant is another lesson in lack of control.

Feeling my remaining breast swell and do what it is supposed to do is so normal.  Growing a healthy, normal baby again is so fulfilling.  

I feel tremendously lucky that I have no evidence of disease and am able to be pregnant.  If I had had a hormone receptive cancer, I would likely still be taking Tamoxifen and not pregnant.

Even though I feel like a breastfeeding expert, I do have some concerns about nursing on only one side.  There isn't much information available for women who find themselves breastfeeding after a mastectomy.  What if my nipple becomes damaged?  What if she seems to need more?  Even though I know that through the perfect system of supply and demand, she will have just enough.

Being older and post cancer treatment certainly has made this pregnancy a bit harder than my others.  I started at a higher weight and did have some concerns about being 37 years old.

Already having a six year old and a ten year old brings many people to pause.  Why the big space in my family?  Do I really want to “start all over again?”  Watching a baby grow and develop is an awesome experience, seeing it through my older childrens’ eyes is even more so.  I know what to expect in some instances, but for them it’s like magic.

Ultimately choosing to have another baby and being able to was the best decision for me.  It has been healing to see my body function more normally.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Finishing Herceptin and Cancer Treatment

The new normal:  what life following a cancer diagnosis is often considered.

My life which used to be filled with toddler music class, story time at the library, shuttling to karate classes, visits with friends, the zoo, and the children's museum had been replaced almost entirely with doctor visits, IVs, fatigue, and a general sense of being distracted.  I read cancer magazines, books about cancer, and participate on a message forum for young women diagnosed with breast cancer.  I have scars and lots of doctors.

As my appointments began to space out and I neared my final Herceptin, I read about how patients often feel happiness mixed with some sadness.  The cancer experience is a busy one mixed with not feeling great.  Not much else goes on, even in one's mind. The patient is the center of attention at each appointment.

For me, I was ready to be done and have my days back, though it felt a little strange knowing I would have no plans to go back and get more IVs.  It had become such a normal activity for me.  I looked forward to feeling myself again and losing the gained weight.

It really wasn't until I was feeling rested and done with treatment that I realized how fatigued I had been. I hadn't stopped all our activities at once, they were slowly dropped. I had to try to remember what we had done with our days.  I was ready to sign up for activities again and find our friends we hadn't seen.