“There has never been, nor will there ever be, anything quite as special as the love between a mother and son.” I did not fully understand this statement until the birth of my first child, a beautiful baby boy born in August of 2012. Like any new mother, I was intoxicated with the unconditional love that I have never experienced for another human being. I spent every chance I had bonding with our baby. Breastfeeding was my relaxing time to cuddle with him. He chose the right breast as his favorite and would never really eat from the left. Other new moms and lactation specialists told me that this was normal because milk could taste different from each side.
I eventually went back to work and in my effort to continue being a good mom, I would pump and save my breastmilk. One day I noticed a hard lump, like a large pebble, inside my left breast. I felt frustrated because I didn’t have time to deal with what I thought was a calcified milk duct. I wasn’t ready to give up breastfeeding my now 8-month-old son. I made an appointment with my primary physician, who is a breast cancer survivor, and she was concerned about my lump due to the lack of symptoms that would indicate a clogged milk duct. She said she wasn’t too worried due to my age and generally good health status. She ordered a series of tests just to be sure, first an ultrasound, which didn’t provide any information. Next I had a biopsy, which by the way, is somewhat painful on its own. It also complicated breastfeeding because every time I would pump, it would start bleeding again, causing me to have to throw away the pumped milk from the left side, a difficult and emotional situation for any breastfeeding mother. The results of the biopsy came back malignant, and I was in a state of total shock: I can’t have breast cancer, I’m only 29 years old with a new baby!
“You are too young to have cancer” became the words that I dread to hear. It was what everyone kept saying to me. Because of my age, my surgeon urged me to have a double mastectomy to lower my risk of recurrence. I felt defeated. I wasn’t ready to give up breastfeeding and that bonding time with our son. What if I wanted to have another child? I would never be able to breastfeed again! Questions like this were constantly running through my head. At the time, I wasn’t even aware of the fact that chemotherapy could potentially take away my ability to have more children. This compounded the thoughts and anxiety I was having.
My husband gave me a loving reminder that I needed to make the best decision so that I could be around to watch my son grow up. With that goal in mind, I elected to have the double mastectomy. After the surgery, I learned that based on the size of the tumor I had been considered Stage 2. I also was told that I had triple negative cancer, which in my definition is considered the “miscellaneous” category of breast cancer. What it basically means is that the cells were not hormone driven and there really is no explanation as to why I had cancer, especially since I tested negative for all the genetic markers. This was surprising due to the fact that I had just given birth. Little did I know he would be my Angel in disguise.
The best option for fighting triple negative breast cancer is to fight aggressively. I underwent 12 weeks of chemotherapy over a 16 week period, but since it had not spread to my lymph nodes, I did not have to suffer through radiation. After the surgery, I couldn’t hold my baby because of the stretching of the muscles. During chemotherapy, I didn’t have the strength to hold him. There are many evenings that I would lie in the bed with my husband sitting on the floor with our son just so I could watch them play. I would cry myself to sleep, wondering if I would ever hear him say “I love you,” or if I would see him start kindergarten, or get to dance with him at his wedding.
I am happy to report that I did get to hear my son say “I love beautiful” in a moment when I needed it most, during chemo treatments, when I had less hair than he did. It filled my heart with so much love because it reminded me that anyone can be beautiful despite their current circumstances. It’s been three years and though Brayden won’t start kindergarten until next year, I have no doubts that I will be holding one hand while my husband holds the other and we see him off to school. As I wave goodbye to him, I envision him morphing into an adult. I imagine dancing with him as he gets married to his beautiful bride and as we twirl I will say to him “Thank you for saving my life. If it weren’t for you, I may have never found the cancer, or if I did, it might have been too late. You gave me a reason to fight, a reason to live, and for that you are my hero.”
by Brittany Auclair