October 14, 2016

How Breastfeeding Saved My Life

Our dear friend Amanda wrote an intimate story of how she found out that she had breast cancer & how she survived.  If it weren't for the constant attention she was giving her breasts because she was breastfeeding, she may not have caught it as soon as she did. We will let Amanda take it from here....

October is "Breast Cancer Awareness" month. It also happens to be my "Cancerversary." Four years ago on October 4th, I learned that the weirdness I felt in my right breast, was indeed, cancer. Not only that, but it had aggressively spread into my lymph nodes. I was only 34. I had a baby whom I was still nursing. In fact, nursing her was largely one of the reasons that I was able to find the cancer in the first place. 

Estelle is my youngest of four, and her life had been an uphill battle from day one. From intense morning sickness, to early labor and birth, a stay in the NICU, and postpartum depression. Nursing her had never gone easy, despite having plenty of "nursing experience." She had a tied tongue that ended in a simple surgery for her and lots of pain for me. We got thrush together. I consistently got clogged milk ducts, milk blisters, mastitis, you name it, we dealt with it. 

That is why, when I felt a mass in my breast, it didn't completely alarm me. At all, in fact. It wasn't a lump, per say. Just a denser place that felt, to my touch, EXACTLY like all of the clogged ducts I had had before. I proceeded to massage it, use warm compresses, nurse my baby exclusively on that side - I even wore cabbage leaves in my bra (stinky!) and nursed her upside down (that was an awkward configuration, let me tell you!) I did everything that had worked before, and still, my breast was different. 

I kept expecting to come down with a fever, or have the redness start spreading across my breast, but unless I had been massaging it, it hardly even hurt. I'm not the type who wants to take antibiotics for no good reason, so I avoided going to my OB for fear that they would brush it away as mastitis. I didn't feel sick, it didn't hurt, I just needed to unclog this duct! So, I called a general surgeon who had aspirated a breast cyst (in the opposite breast) years before, and made an appointment. The rest, they say, is history. One ultrasound, and a biopsy later, revealed that it wasn't what I thought, and it was spreading fast. 

Over the past years, I have come to discover that the most important thing that I want to relate is not "check your breasts" even though I want you to do that often! And it isn't "give to organizations who research breast cancer" even though I want you do that as well. These things are IMPORTANT.  But the thing I MOST want to say to those looking ahead and thinking "this could happen to me - what if it does?" is that IF you are a woman, young or old, who receives the news that you fear most, please know that there is a God who loves you despite the brokenness of this world and the brokenness of our bodies. 


Your job, if your worst fear happens, is to take it one day at a time and expect some kind of redemption from a Creator who grieves with you and walks with you and carries you. He provides masses of people to surround you when you need it most. You get to the end of a painful, sick day and you realize that you lived through it! You may even have had moments of joy and laughter sprinkled throughout the worst times of your life. You have found out who your true friends are. You've enjoyed someone else's cooking. You have gotten to share an important moment with someone in the chemo room. You have never tasted a milkshake so good and watched an entire TV series in one sitting - and those things are nice. There is GRACE all over the place. And you keep scraping up MERCY out of the dirt and mud of your life.


When we think ahead, "What if..." our minds never factor in the miracles of God into our fear. But when it is happening, HE is RIGHT there. A real power. A real force. A real presence. 

That is what this whole journey really culminates to.  A new knowledge of the Creator - if you WANT to know him. The hardest times are when you can see him the easiest; and then there is HOPE.


So, please check your breasts. Please see your doctor if ANYTHING feels different. Give to cancer research. But don't fear. Just take it one step at a time. You WILL find treasures in the midst of the pain.

If you want to read more of my story, you can start here: http://amandaconley.blogspot.com/2012/10/the-c-word.html?m=1  and press "newer" or forward to continue.

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