Interview with Danica: Breast Cancer and Donor Milk

This is Danica.

Danica, a member of my breastfeeding support group, found a lump in her breast when her little boy, Ellington, was only eleven weeks old, and was diagnosed with breast cancer three weeks later. Get your tissues ready and read about this incredible woman's strength and determination, and embrace her positivity, despite being thrown one of the greatest curve balls.

Can you tell me a bit about your breastfeeding experience? I knew that breastfeeding would be challenging for myself because when I was in my early 20’s my OBGYN told me that breastfeeding would be challenging because I have one inverted nipple. At the time, I laughed and didn't think much about it. When I got pregnant, I immediately remembered what my OBGYN told me many years ago and unfortunately I was scared and nervous about my ability to breastfeed. As a first time mom, I had done my reading and I was looking forward to this beautiful, natural crawl that all babies “know” to do when placed on their mother’s stomach. Ellington and I did not have that beautiful, natural crawl. He wasn’t interested in eating. I wasn't producing a lot of milk. A lactation consultant visited me and recommended that I pump every two hours, 20 minutes on each side and to eat dates to help my milk come in. Ellington was fed my breastmilk with a small drinking cup or spoon for the first day or so. I used nipple shields for the first month of breastfeeding and had to continue to use a nipple shield on my inverted nipple for another month. At this point, I thought I was in the clear and I would meet my breastfeeding goals. I wanted to breastfeed Ellington for the first six months of his life and up to one year. When Ellington was about 2.5 months old, I discovered a small knot, what I thought was a clogged milk duct. I went online and searched for ways to unclog a milk duct. Trust me when I tell you that I tried all of them and had no success at unclogging the milk duct. I scheduled an appointment with my doctor. My doctor referred me to another doctor for an ultrasound of the knot. The doctor informed me that the knot looked mostly ok, but there was an area which concerned him. He wanted to do a biopsy of the knot and informed me that I would receive the results in a few days. On Friday afternoon, my doctor called me and told me she need to schedule an appointment with me and my husband first thing on Monday morning. I knew it was not good and asked for her to share what information she knew. She informed me that I had breast cancer and she would meet with me on Monday to discuss next steps. I did research over the weekend regarding mothers who continued to pump and dump through chemotherapy and radiation and was hoping that would be something I could do. My doctor informed me that pumping and dumping wasn't an option because my surgery and treatment would basically take up the next year of my life. I was and still am more upset that I had to stop breastfeeding my son, than I am about having cancer. Within one week, I had to stop breastfeeding my son and prepare myself for surgery and my upcoming treatment plan.
The last time Danica breastfed Ellington


For Dads

Whenever I ask new mums what they need from their husbands/partners, the overwhelming response is 'support'. But what does that really mean? What concrete things do new mothers need from their partners?

Our first baby's first morning

I remember having a conversation with my wonderful man back in the day about needing more support from him, and watching him slowly come apart at the implication that this was somehow lacking. His role in the births of my two boys was so vital -- he was my partner, my advocate, my masseuse, my hypnotherapist, my yoga instructor, my everything (I have no memory of him eating, sleeping or even going to the toilet for the seemingly infinite hours of my first birth, nor my second...), and he has always been my anchor amidst the furious storms of postnatal depression. I began to realise that he couldn't do everything, and as much as he tried, he couldn't be my everything. I needed women with experience and knowledge, women who truly understood the instincts and primal need deep within me to sustain my babies on my milk alone. Slowly I began finding knowledgeable support elsewhere, through my breastfeeding support group and a few other places online, but I still needed this man of mine, this man who was so excited to become a dad.

First time with bubba in the wrap. Happiness!
Here are some ways that dads (or partners) can support a new mama:


Interview with Lindsey

Lindsey McLean (writer of the blog Swiss Lark) is one of the mothers I met very early in the life of my first-born boy, back when breastfeeding was failing for us. I remember watching her breastfeed Coco and being in awe; being filled with envy at her ability to do this magical, unattainable thing; being the mother that I had dreamt of being my whole life. I doubt that she has any idea of the impact that she had on me at that time, but she has always been a mother that I admire -- for her confidence to follow her heart when it tells her to try new things, for her openness to making a change, and for her continued hunt for happiness. 

Lindsey is the first of hopefully many mamas I will interview about their breastfeeding experience. Here she is, fully exposed, in all her vulnerable, beautiful glory: 

Why do you breastfeed? 

I LOVE breastfeeding. In my view, there is nothing more beautiful than a contented baby (or toddler!) at the breast. I am a big believer that “breast is best” and I love the bonding it provides for mother and baby. Theo is 21 months. His older sister Coco is 4 ½. I nursed Coco until she was 2 ½ and plan to do the same for Theo. My allergies are off-the-charts horrible, so I also want to do everything I can to prevent that for my children. Long-term breastfeeding is supposed to decrease allergy severity. It may not be true because mine are so bad – or, they might have been even worse if my mom hadn't nursed me for two years!


Where to from here?

I've been thinking a lot recently about what I want this blog to become, as I no longer have the need to write about my breastfeeding journey every single day, often multiple times a day. As unbelievable as it is, breastfeeding is normal now. The day to day variation is very little, and unremarkable. I am not plagued with insecurity about my milk supply (though wowsers, yes it is low. Some days it seems nonexistent. And yet at 19 months old, I am okay with that.). That doesn't mean that I don't often have questions, but the wonderful support network that I have built -- initially primarily for my own support, though now there are over 500 mums! -- does a great job at brainstorming and discussing these, so much so that I don't have the need to offload here.

Look how big he is! It astounds me! 

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