As women, we are often given conflicting information on breastfeeding and breast cancer. We believe that if we breastfeed, you won’t get breast cancer. But while it is true that nursing will lower your risk, it doesn’t mean you won’t get breast cancer.
One in 8 women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. One in eight! Before I got breast cancer, I didn’t know anyone who had it. But since the time of my diagnosis, three women I know have been diagnosed, and two other friends have found lumps, but thankfully have gotten the all-clear.
But this story is mostly directed at breastfeeding and weaning mothers. If you feel a lump that you suspect is a clogged duct, and it hasn’t changed in more than two weeks, please see your doctor. If the lump has gotten bigger, see your doctor. If your doctor doesn’t want to do a mammogram, get an ultrasound. These actions could save your life.
In September 2015 at the age of 36, I gave birth to my daughter. I have a very active girl who is currently 18 months old. I didn’t think I could have kids. I had miscarried in the past along with other complications and had simply accepted I wouldn’t become a mother. Needless to say, my pregnancy came as a huge surprise.
I made the decision before her birth that I would breastfeed her for a full year. I had wanted to breastfeed for a full year, but I had to stop short of 11 months. My milk was drastically depleted. I would pump for at least an hour on both breasts, and I would be lucky to get 2 ounces.
It was about this time I first felt the lump. I assumed I had a clogged duct and tried to massage it out. I had experienced clogged ducts in the past and knew that it just required me breaking it up. At least three weeks had passed when I realized that the lump was still there. I called my doctor and spoke with the nurse. I told her I’d found a lump and that I believed it to be a clogged duct and asked what I could do aside from massaging and heat to fix it.
She told me to continue with the massage, and if there was no change in three days, I should call back. I waited over a week before calling back, and that’s when they told me to come in. I was scheduled for a mammogram as well as an ultrasound to double-check.
The following week, I had both tests done on the same day. Roughly four hours later, I got the call. They needed to do a biopsy, and the breast diagnostic center would call me the next day to set up an appointment. Once I heard this, I knew it was cancer. I later learned it was a mass roughly 1.8 inches in size — not small by any means.
While I waited that week, a friend introduced me to a breast cancer survivor. When I learned my lump might be cancer, I sought someone to talk to who could understand my situation. You can be the toughest girl on the planet emotionally, but you still need someone to help you through it — someone who has been there, done that, and has the proverbial T-shirt. Even if you don’t have that official diagnosis, it helps to have the guidance. This woman was so important to me during this time. To this day, we still talk.
On October 6, they finally called with the results. Let me tell you: That week of waiting was not easy, but I had prepared myself. I tried to think positively, but there’s an old saying “prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” and that is what I did. But I also did what you should never do and researched breast cancer on the internet. I figured it was most likely stage 2b, maybe stage 3, but honestly either way I had to fight. Regardless of the results, my little girl needed her mommy.
And it was what I feared, a pretty aggressive cancer. My treatment needed to begin as soon as possible. The doctor informed me that I had invasive ductal carcinoma, stage 2b with a grade 3 tumor. Breast cancer tumors are graded from 1 to 3, and the higher the grade the faster it is growing. My oncologist informed me that my tumor had only been there for around six weeks. So basically, it grew from nothing to the aforementioned size during that time.
This is why I implore moms to please check their breasts. All women should, but breastfeeding moms in particular are likely to believe a lump is simply a clogged duct. If it’s been there longer than two weeks, please don’t wait. If it hurts, please get it checked out. The old thinking of “if it hurts, it isn’t cancer” is not true.
And while cancer is never an easy journey, you just have to choose to fight and look for the good in life. I’m finished with chemotherapy as of a couple weeks ago and on the road to surgery and radiation. I will be having a mastectomy of the afflicted breast, then radiation, then mastectomy of the other breast, and finally reconstruction. Every day, I’m appreciating the life I have and the family and friends who have supported me in every way possible.