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I survived breast cancer—while raising two young kids

On July 4, 2016, it was hard for me to feel like I wasn’t exactly where I was meant to be in life: After enduring two major back surgeries since my first child’s birth, I finally felt healthy and strong as I hiked with my husband, 4-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter in the beautiful southwest corner of Colorado.

Then I felt the lump.

I noticed the hard, grape-sized formation while absentmindedly itching the bottom of my right breast. With intimate knowledge of how my breasts felt from my not-so-distant memories of nursing and pumping, I instantly knew something wasn’t right.

After a thorough self-exam and confirmation from my husband that the lump seemed atypical, I tried to go to sleep as fireworks burst outside the window and a series of worse case scenarios burst inside my mind.

At the age of 28, my paternal grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer that turned metastatic and proved fatal within 10 years. At 35, was I now walking that same path?

Breast cancer. Breast cancer. Breast cancer.

Until I was able to see my doctor two days later, I tried to take my mind off it. The habits of my energetic children, which I had seen as exhausting the day before, were now welcome distractions.

My husband allowed me to lead the conversation with however much or little talk I wanted. Friends offered reassurance—could it simply be a hormonal cyst related to my cycle?

Even the physician’s assistant I initially saw and the radiologist I followed up with for a mammogram and ultrasound were optimistic: Among people diagnosed with breast cancer, only 7% are younger than 40.

As I later learned, that occasionally has its downsides when it comes to reactions from health care professionals; for two new moms I met who had breast cancer, their cases were misdiagnosed as clogged ducts or mastitis and the women were dismissed before follow-up exams with instructions to take Tylenol or antibiotics. It was only because they advocated for themselves and insisted on second opinions that their cancer was detected.

For me, the lump and my family history were enough to convince my doctor to fully investigate.

My first meeting with the physician’s assistant led to a mammogram and and chest ultrasound. After a biopsy, my worst fears were confirmed.

Breast cancer. Breast cancer. Breast cancer.

The conversation immediately turned to options for treatment. My doctor estimated my case was Stage 2, which meant I could consider a lumpectomy, single mastectomy or double mastectomy.

But I wanted it gone—not just to give me as much peace of mind now as possible, but also to save me from the anxiety I knew I would experience before the recommended biannual MRIs if I opted to keep any of my breast tissue.

From there, the decisions fell into place with mechanical efficiency: I would get the double mastectomy followed by 16 rounds of chemotherapy and ultimately a hysterectomy.

Much more draining were the thoughts of how this would affect my children—both in the short-term and long-term.

Thankfully, a genetic panel confirmed I don’t have the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations linked to breast and ovarian cancer. But with oncological genetic tests still in their relative infancy, there’s no guarantee I didn’t pass other genes that raise the risks for developing cancer to either of my children.

I tried to shift those thoughts to the back of my mind. It was much harder, though, to ignore my immediate reality: Was I stripping my son and daughter of their childhood?

They had already seen me suffer through the two debilitating back surgeries and long recoveries. Now, with an exhausting course of treatment ahead of me, was I to be a shadow in their lives for the next year?

But I was on the train and it was only moving one direction. Surgery, chemo, hair loss, infections, more chemo—they all flashed by the window as the engine steamed ahead.

The only solace I had is that I wasn’t on the train alone.

My husband was my rock, willing to do anything and everything with little thanks.

Despite living states away, my parents, siblings and in-laws put their lives on hold to help me for weeks at a time.

My friends sat with my through chemo treatments, shuttled my kids around, provided the majority of my meals and even assumed laundry duties in my house.

And my kids. My sweet son and daughter were truly my sunshine on those dark, winter days when it seemed like I would never, could never, feel like myself again.

As exhausting as it was to raise two young children while battling cancer, I am forever thankful for the moments of joy they continued to bring into my life. Only with them were the moments where I forgot all about the diagnosis that was dictating the rest of my life.

Then, as impossible as it seemed to me during the middle days of chemo, it was over. This time the confirmation from the doctors was welcome: The cancer was gone and I could assume a new identity...

Survivor. Survivor. Survivor.

I then imparted on a new leg of the journey with expanders gradually (and painfully) put in my chest to prepare it for implants. Next week, 15 months after I found that lump, I’ll undergo a hysterectomy and receive breast implants.

In the months to come, I’ll have to cope with significant physical and hormonal recovery. In the years beyond that, I’ve already come to realize mortality will weigh much more heavily on my mind than it ever did before.

But for all that has been taken away from me, I do know I’ve received a precious gift: A perspective that helps me cherish life.

Yes, I’m that mom who really, truly stops for a moment to take in the blessings that surround me—like my son confidently running off for his first day of kindergarten, my daughter telling me stories about the friends she’s making in preschool or the both of them saying how glad they are to have Mama back beside them during adventures instead of sidelined.

There is no more taking life for granted. I just hope others don’t have to learn this in as hard a way as me. No matter how old you are and how invincible you feel, please use this reminder to perform regular self-exams of your breasts. And if you think something isn’t right, advocate for yourself.

When you do, you’re also advocating for your family.

To learn more about self-exams and how to help others this Breast Cancer Awareness Month, visit the National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc.

Story by Heather McLeod, as told to Emily Glover.

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Going back to work after having a baby is hard. Regaining your footing in a world where working mothers are so often penalized is tough, and (just like most things during the postpartum period) it takes time.

The challenges we face as working women returning from a maternity leave can be so different from those we faced before, it can feel like we're starting over from scratch. But mothers will not be deterred, even if our return to the working world doesn't go exactly as planned.

We are resilient, as Serena Williams proved at Wimbledon this weekend.

She lost to Angelique Kerber in the final, just 10 months after welcoming daughter Alexis Olympia and recovering from a physically and emotionally traumatic birth experience.

Williams didn't get her eighth Wimbledon title this weekend, but when we consider all the challenges she (and all new moms) faced in resuming her career, her presence was still a huge achievement.

"It was such an amazing tournament for me, I was really happy to get this far!" Williams explained in an emotional post-match interview.

"For all the moms out there, I was playing for you today. And I tried. I look forward to continuing to be back out here and doing what I do best."

The loss at Wimbledon isn't what she wanted, of course, but Williams says it does not mean there won't be wins in her near future.

"These two weeks have showed me I can really compete and be a contender to win grand slams. This is literally just the beginning. I took a giant step at Wimbledon but my journey has just began."

When asked what she hopes other new moms take away from her journey, Williams noted her postpartum recovery was really difficult, and hopes that other moms who face challenges early in motherhood know that they don't have to give up on whatever dreams they have for themselves, whether it involves working or not.

"Honestly, I feel like if I can do it, they can do it. I'm just that person, that vessel that's saying, 'You can be whatever you want to be.' If you want to go back to workand to me, after becoming a mom, I feel like there's no pressure to do that because having a child is a completely full-time job," she said.

"But to those that do want to go back, you can do it, you can really do it."

Thank you, Serena. You may not have won, but this was still a victory.

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Since baby Crew became the newest member of Chip and Joanna Gaines' family three weeks ago, his proud parents have been keeping the world updated, sharing sweet snaps of their youngest and even giving us a glimpse into his nursery.

Now, Chip Gaines is showing off a pic that proves there is nothing cuter than a floppy, sleepy baby.

"My heart is full..." the proud father of five captioned the photo he posted on his Instagram and Twitter accounts.

Earlier this week Crew's mama shared how she gets him so sleepy in the first place, posting an Instagram Story showing how she walks around the family's gardens on their Waco, Texas farm to lull her newborn boy to sleep.

The couple are clearly enjoying every single moment of Crew's babyhood. As recently as 7 days ago Chip was still sporting his hospital bracelet. Joanna says with each child he's worn his maternity ward ID until it finally wears off. We can't blame Chip for wanting to make the newborn phase last as long as possible.

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It was a changing table must-have a generation ago, but these days, many parents are forgoing baby powder, and now, the leading manufacturer of the sweet smelling powder was dealt a big financial blow.

Johnson & Johnson was just ordered to pay almost $4.7 billion to 22 women who sued, alleging baby powder caused their ovarian cancer.

A St. Louis jury says the women are right, but what does The American Academy of Pediatrics say about baby powder?

It was classified "a hazard" before many of today's parents were even born

The organization has actually been recommending against baby powder for years, but not due to cancer risks, but inhalation risks.

Way back in 1981 the AAP declared baby powder "a hazard," issuing a report pointing out the frequency of babies aspirating the powder, which can be dangerous and even fatal in the most severe cases.

That warning didn't stop all parents from using the powder though, as its continued presence on store shelves to this day indicates.

In 1998 Dr. Hugh MacDonald, then the director of neonatology at Santa Monica Hospital and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Fetus and Newborn, told the Los Angeles Times "Most pediatricians recommend that it not be used," adding that the consensus at the time was that "anybody using talcum powder be aware that it could cause inhalation of the talc, resulting in a pneumonic reaction."

Recent updates

A 2015 update to the AAP's Healthy Children website suggests the organization was even very recently still more concerned about the risk of aspiration than cancer risks like those alleged in the lawsuit. It suggests that parents who choose to use baby powder "pour it out carefully and keep the powder away from baby's face [as] published reports indicate that talc or cornstarch in baby powder can injure a baby's lungs."

In a 2017 interview with USA Today, Dr. David Soma, a pediatrician with the Mayo Clinic Children's Hospital, explained that baby powder use had decreased a lot over the previous five to eight years, but he didn't believe it was going to disappear from baby shower gift baskets any time soon.

"There are a lot of things that are used out of a matter of tradition, or the fact it seems to work for specific children," he said. "I'm not sure if it will get phased out or not, until we know more about the details of other powders and creams and what works best for skin conditions—I think it will stick around for a while."

Talc-based baby powder is the kind alleged to have caused ovarian cancer in the lawsuit (which Johnson & Johnson plans to appeal), but corn starch varieties of baby powder are also available and not linked to increased cancer risks as alleged in the case.

Bottom line: If you are going to use baby powder on your baby's bottom, make sure they're not getting a cloud of baby powder in their face, and if you're concerned, talk to your health care provider about alternative methods and products to use on your baby's delicate skin.

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In the days since a The New York Times report revealed a resolution meant to encourage breastfeeding was blocked by U.S. delegates at the World Health Assembly, breastfeeding advocates, political pundits, parents, doctors—and just about everyone else—have been talking about breastfeeding, and whether or not America and other countries are doing enough to support it.

The presidents of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians say the controversy at the World Health Assembly reveals that mothers need more support when it comes to breastfeeding, while others, including The Council on Foreign Relations, suggest the national conversation needs more nuance, and less focus on the "breast is best" rhetoric.

The one thing everyone agrees on is that parents need more support when it comes to infant feeding, and in that respect, the controversy over the World Health Assembly resolution may be a good thing.

In their joint letter to the editor published in the New York Times this week, the presidents of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians, Dr. Colleen Kraft and Dr. Lisa Hollier urge "the United States and every country to protect, promote and support breast-feeding for the health of all women, children and families."

The doctors go on to describe how breastfeeding "provides protection against newborn, infant and child infections, allergies, asthma, inflammatory bowel disease and sudden infant death syndrome," and note the health benefits to mothers, including reduced risks for "breast cancer, ovarian cancer, diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.

"Helping mothers to breastfeed takes a multifaceted approach, including advancing public policies like paid family leave, access to quality child care, break time and a location other than a bathroom for expressing milk," say Kraft and Hollier.

Certainly such policies would support breastfeeding mothers (and all mothers) in America, but some critics say framing the discussion around domestic policy is a mistake, because the World Health Assembly resolution is a global matter and women and babies in other parts of the world face very different feeding challenges than we do here at home.

In an op-ed published by CNN, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations suggests the laudable goal of breastfeeding promotion can backfire when mothers in conflict-riddled areas can't access formula due to well-meaning policy. Lemmon points to a 2017 statement by Doctors Without Borders calling for fewer barriers to formula distribution in war-torn areas.

"International organizations like UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) promote breastfeeding ... and provide infant formula, but only by prescription. We believe that distributing infant formula in a conflict situation like Iraq is the only way to avoid children having to be hospitalized for malnutrition," Manuel Lannaud, the head of Doctors Without Borders Iraq mission wrote.

The various viewpoints presented this week prove that infant feeding is not a black and white issue, and policy debates should not be framed as formula versus breast milk—there is more nuance than that.

A recent study in the Journal of Pediatrics found opting to supplement with formula after first breastfeeding improves outcomes for infants and results in higher rates of breastfeeding afterward, and while the benefits of breastfeeding are numerous, they are sometimes overstated. Another recent study published in the journal PLOS Medicine found breastfeeding has no impact on a child's overall neurocognitive function by the time they are 16. Basically, parents should not be shamed for supplementing or choosing to use formula.

This, according to Department of Health and Human Services says national spokesperson Caitlin Oakley is why the HHS opposed the original draft of the breastfeeding resolution at the World Health Assembly (although critics and the initial NYT report suggest the United States delegation were acting in the interests of infant formula manufacturers).

"Many women are not able to breastfeed for a variety of reasons, these women should not be stigmatized; they should be equally supported with information and access to alternatives for the health of themselves and their babies," Oakley said in a statement.

That's true, but so is everything the presidents of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians presented in their op-ed, and that's why the U.S. should support breastfeeding policy.

Here's another truth: This is an issue with many perspectives and many voices. And we need to hear them all, because all parents need support in feeding their babies, whether it's with a breast, a bottle or both—and we're not getting it yet.

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