I survived breast cancer—while raising two young kids

Print Friendly and PDF

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.

The very best of Motherly — delivered when you need it most.
Subscribe for inspiration, empowering articles and expert tips to rock your best #momlife.

Subscribe for inspiration, empowering articles and expert tips to rock your best #momlife.

Thanks for subscribing!

Check your email for a confirmation message.

Things We're Loving

It was a historical moment for the world and a scary moment for a woman who had just become a mother for the first time. When the Duchess of Cambridge stepped out of the Lindo Wing at St. Mary's Hospital on July 22, 2013, with her new baby in her arms she was happy—but understandably scared, too.

Kate Middleton recently appeared on Giovanna Fletcher's Happy Mum, Happy Baby podcast and when Fletcher asked her about her postpartum debut Kate said she felt a little freaked out when she stepped out with her newborn.

"Yeah, slightly terrifying, slightly terrifying, I'm not going to lie," Kate said.

During the podcast the Duchess opened up about her pregnancy and birth experiences, explaining how much hypnobirthing helped her and that she didn't know whether she was delivering a prince or princess until Prince George was born as she'd opted to be surprised.

She was surprised and thrilled when she met her son, and looked forward to post-pregnancy life after spending her pregnancy quite ill with hyperemesis gravidarum (a seriously debilitating form of extreme morning sickness). She was happy, but was also (very understandably) overwhelmed. In addition to all the pressure new moms feel, Kate had an army of photographers waiting outside the hospital for her.

"Everything goes in a bit of a blur. I think, yeah I did stay in hospital overnight, I remember it was one of the hottest days and night with huge thunderstorms so I didn't get a huge amount of sleep, but George did, which was really great," she explained. "I was keen to get home because, for me, being in hospital, I had all the memories of being in hospital because of being sick [with acute morning sickness] so it wasn't a place I wanted to hang around in. So, I was really desperate to get home and get back to normality."

Kate wanted to get home, but she also did want to share her baby boy with the public who had been so supportive of her young family, she explains.

"Everyone had been so supportive and both William and I were really conscious that this was something that everyone was excited about and you know we're hugely grateful for the support that the public had shown us, and actually for us to be able to share that joy and appreciation with the public, I felt was really important," she shared, adding that "Equally it was coupled with a newborn baby, and inexperienced parents, and the uncertainty of what that held, so there were all sorts of mixed emotions."

"All sorts of mixed emotions."

The now-iconic images of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge exiting the hospital with their firstborn have gone down in history, but so has Kate's bravery that day.

There's been a lot written about whether those pictures put pressure on other moms who might not feel ready for heels and blowouts right after giving birth, but one thing critics of the photos often miss is the positive impact it had on other young women.

Yes, Kate looked beautiful, but she also looked like a woman whose body had just given birth—and the iconic images of her in that polka-dot dress taught a generation of women that the female body isn't an elastic band and that recovering from birth takes time.

"I, myself remember being really surprised when Kate Middleton came out of the hospital holding Prince George," Tina, now a mom herself and a model of postpartum realness in Mothercare's "Body Proud Mums campaign" explained last year.

Tina recalls how Kate's postpartum appearance showed her a reality society hadn't: "She had the baby bump, and I remember being surprised that your belly doesn't just go down after giving birth. I also thought how stupid I was to have ever thought it would. I guess pre-children you just have unrealistic expectations."

Tina wasn't stupid, she just hadn't been shown the truth.

So thank you, Kate, for stepping out of that hospital in 2013, despite being terrified, and showing the world your beautiful baby and your bump.


[Editor's note: Motherly is committed to covering all relevant presidential candidate plans as we approach the 2020 election. We are making efforts to get information from all candidates. Motherly does not endorse any political party or candidate. We stand with and for mothers and advocate for solutions that will reduce maternal stress and benefit women, families and the country.]

If you've been following the Democratic candidates online you've likely noticed that Amy Klobuchar's 24-year-old daughter, Abigail Klobuchar Bessler, frequently appears in her mother's social media and at campaign events. In fact, Washington Post columnist Karen Tumulty recently declared "Amy Klobuchar's daughter wins Iowans for her mother, one hotdish at a time."


It is fitting that Abigail is one of Klobuchar's biggest supporters and her most popular surrogate, as her birth is the reason why her mom entered politics in the first place. Klobuchar was wheeled out of the hospital, without her baby, 24 hours after giving birth and decided to fight to save other mothers from the same fate.

Back in 1995, Abigail was born without the ability to swallow, and as The Washington Post's Marc Fisher reports, Klobuchar was soon discharged and forced to leave her baby behind. Klobuchar and her husband checked into a nearby hotel so that they could return to the hospital every three hours to pump breastmilk for Abigail.

Klobuchar wore her hospital gown for three days, going back and forth from the hospital to the hotel. Her experience sounds extreme in the age of family centered care, but it was pretty normal at the time. Back in the mid-90s rapid postpartum discharge was a common occurrence in American hospitals, as insurance companies aimed to keep costs down by getting moms out of the hospitals ASAP.

"I saw it as injustice for moms. I thought if men had babies, this would never happen. It was one of those one-size-fits-all policies that just didn't allow for any humanity. You've been up for 48 hours, you're a brand-new mom and you have no idea what you're doing, and they kick you out. You don't know if your child's going to live," Klobuchar said, decades later.

She wasn't a politician yet, but she was a lawyer and a new mom determined to change things, so, as she told Lisa DePaulo for Elle back in 2010, Klobuchar gathered up "six of her 'closest pregnant friends'" and successfully lobbied for Minnesota to guarantee new moms a 48-hour hospital stay.

"When some lobbyists wanted to delay the time until the bill took effect," Klobuchar recalled, they had to ask when it should take effect. "All my pregnant friends raised their hands and said, `Now," she said.

It worked, and the mom who was wheeled out of the hospital too soon became a mom on the road to political success.

In 2006 Klobuchar became the first woman elected as senator in Minnesota's history. In 2020 she hopes to be the first woman elected as President. She placed third in the New Hampshire primary this week, prompting pundits to declare her a "serious candidate."

Abigail Klobuchar Bessler says her mom has always been serious about fighting for families, and the 24-year-old is so serious about supporting her mom that she's using up all her PTO from her job in New York City Council's office to do it, telling TIME: "Who better to talk about my mom than someone who's known her her whole life?"


Gabrielle Union + Dwyane Wade have been blended family goals, an inspiration to those struggling with infertility and now they are an inspiration to parents of trans kids and supporters of trans rights.

This week Wade appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and spoke about his 12-year-old daughter Zaya coming out as transgender and Union posted a beautiful video + caption to Instagram, inviting fans to "meet Zaya."

In the video Zaya is riding in a golf cart with her dad and dropping wisdom. She says: "Just be true to yourself, because what's the point of even living on this earth if you're going to try to be someone you're not?...Be true and don't really care what the 'stereotypical' way of being you is."


Union was so impressed by her step-daughter, captioning the video: "She's compassionate, loving, whip smart and we are so proud of her. It's Ok to listen to, love & respect your children exactly as they are. Love and light good people."

Later in the week Union addressed criticism of Zaya's transition on Twitter, writing: "This has been a journey. We're still humbly learning but we decided quickly w/ our family that we wouldn't be led by fear. We refuse to sacrifice the freedom to live authentically becuz we are afraid of what ppl might say. U have the ability to learn & evolve."

Zaya's big brother is also on her side. Newly 18-year-old Zaire posted the cutest throwback pic from when he and Zaya were just little kids, noting how the siblings were and are best friends.

"Man, I remember bugging my mom as a kid telling her I wanted a brother so bad. I was the only child looking for company and someone to look after and take care of," Zaire began his caption. "I have been blessed to have my best friend, Zaya with me for 12 years. We did everything together … we fought, we played, we laughed and we cried. But the one thing we never did was leave each other behind."

Zaire continued: "I've told you that I would lay my life down to make sure you are ten toes down and happy on this earth," he told his younger sibling. "I don't care what they think Z, you are my best friend and I love you kid, and if it means anything, just know there's no love lost on this side ✊🏾"

We are so impressed and inspired by the love Zaya's family is showing her (and other kids by sharing this story publicly). You've got this Zaya!


The Duchess of Cambridge is opening up about the meditative method that helped her deliver all three of her children and helped her cope with pregnancies made challenging by hyperemesis gravidarum (HG), a seriously debilitating form of pregnancy nausea and vomiting.

The former Kate Middleton says she relied on hypnobirth, which is routinely used at the hospital where she delivered. In a new interview on the Happy Mum, Happy Baby podcast with Giovanna Fletcher, Kate explained, "I saw the power of it really, the meditation and the deep breathing and things like that—that they teach you in hypnobirthing—when I was really sick and actually I realized that this was something I could take control of, I suppose, during labor," she said.


The Duchess explained: "It was through hyperemesis that I really realized the power of the mind over the body because I really had to try everything to try and help me through it."

So what is hypnobirthing?

Well, it's not the party trick hypnosis commonly portrayed in pop culture. It's more of a form of meditation proven to help mothers relax during childbirth. It involves visualization, breathing techniques, guided meditation and sometimes massage.

It can be used during vaginal births and C-sections (and, as Kate proves, even when you're not giving birth but dealing with other challenges). Research indicates hypnobirth may make labor faster and reduce the risk of C-section, and that it can reduce a mom's fear and anxiety. Classes on hypnobirthing are available in most major cities (many experts recommend taking them when you're around 25 to 30 weeks), and several companies offer online courses as well.

Colleen Temple shares her experience. "Pre-hypnobirthing, I would literally cry on the spot when I thought about going into labor. Post-hypnobirthing? I felt empowered, strong, prepared and very ready to birth my baby. It transformed my mindset completely," she previously wrote for Motherly.

"With the help of the meditations and affirmations used in hypnobirthing, the fear of the unknown that I had before the course started shifted into the ability to truly trust that my body and my baby were going to do exactly what they needed to do to bring my little one safely into this world," shares Temple.

The mind can be a powerful thing, and Temple and the Duchess have plenty of company on team hypnobirth. Mogul mama Jessica Alba is also a fan. She told Ellen it's not weird, and is something women can involve their partners in. "My husband takes me through sort of a meditation. He'll say, 'you're relaxed, and you're floating on clouds while you're going through labor and your contractions. I'm just concentrating on breathing and staying relaxed," she explained.

The Duke of Cambridge wasn't quite as into it as Alba's husband, but that's because it was more of Kate's thing. "I'm not going to say that William was standing there sort of, chanting sweet nothings at me. He definitely wasn't! I didn't even ask him about it, but it was just something I wanted to do for myself," she said on the Happy Mum, Happy Baby podcast.

Every mama should have things she wants to do for herself, and pregnant or not, meditation can be a great form of self-care.

[A version of this post was previously published April 26, 2018. It has been updated.]

Motherly provides information of a general nature and is designed for educational purposes only. This site does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.Your use of the site indicates your agreement to be bound by our  Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. Information on our advertising guidelines can be found here.