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I survived breast cancer—while raising two young kids

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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.

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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.

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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As mamas, we naturally become the magic-makers for our families. We sing the songs that make the waits seem shorter, dispense the kisses that help boo-boos hurt less, carry the seemingly bottomless bags of treasures, and find ways to turn even the most hum-drum days into something memorable.

Sometimes it's on a family vacation or when exploring a new locale, but often it's in our own backyards or living rooms. Here are 12 ways to create magical moments with kids no matter where your adventures take you.


1. Keep it simple

Mary Poppins may be practically perfect in every way, but―trust us―your most magical memories don't require perfection. Spend the morning building blanket forts or break out the cookie cutters to serve their sandwich in a fun shape and you'll quickly learn that, for kids, the most magical moments are often the simplest.

2. Get on their level

Sometimes creating a memorable moment can be as easy as getting down on the floor and playing with your children. So don't be afraid to get on your hands and knees, to swing from the monkey bars, or turn watching your favorite movie into an ultimate snuggle sesh.

3. Reimagine the ordinary

As Mary says, "the cover is not the book." Teach your child to see the world beyond initial impressions by encouraging them to imagine a whole new world as you play―a world where the laundry basket can be a pirate ship or a pile of blankets can be a castle.

4. Get a little messy

Stomp in muddy puddles. Break out the finger paint. Bake a cake and don't worry about frosting drips on the counter. The messes will wait, mama. For now, let your children―and yourself―live in these moments that will all too soon become favorite memories.

5. Throw out the plan

The best-laid plans...are rarely the most exciting. And often the most magical moments happen by accident. So let go of the plan, embrace the unexpected, and remember that your child doesn't care if the day goes according to the schedule.

6. Take it outside

There's never a wrong time of year to make magic outside. Take a stroll through a spring rainstorm, catch the first winter snowflakes on your tongue, or camp out under a meteor shower this summer. Mother Nature is a natural at creating experiences you'll both remember forever.

7. Share your childhood memories

Chances are if you found it magical as a child, then your kids will too. Introduce your favorite books and movies (pro tip: Plan a double feature with an original like Mary Poppins followed with the sequel, Mary Poppins Returns!) or book a trip to your favorite family vacation spot from the past. You could even try to recreate photos from your old childhood with your kids so you can hang on to the memory forever.

8. Just add music

Even when you're doing something as humdrum as prepping dinner or tidying up the living room, a little music has a way of upping the fun factor. Tell Alexa to cue up your favorite station for a spontaneous family dance party or use your child's favorite movie soundtrack for a quick game of "Clean and Freeze" to pick up toys at the end of the day.

9. Say "yes"

Sometimes it can feel like you're constantly telling your child "no." While it's not possible to grant every request (sorry, kiddo, still can't let you drive the car!), plan a "yes" day for a little extra magic. That means every (reasonable) request gets an affirmative response for 24 hours. Trust us―they'll never forget it.

10. Let them take the lead

A day planned by your kid―can you imagine that? Instead of trying to plan what you think will lead to the best memories, put your kid in the driver's seat by letting them make the itinerary. If you have more than one child, break up the planning so one gets to pick the activity while the other chooses your lunch menu. You just might end up with a day you never expected.

11. Ask more questions

Odds are, your child might not remember every activity you plan―but they will remember the moments you made them feel special. By focusing the conversation on your little one―their likes, dislikes, goals, or even just craziest dreams―you teach them that their perspective matters and that you are their biggest fan.

12. Turn a bad day around

Not every magical moment will start from something good. But the days where things don't go to plan can often turn out to be the greatest memories, especially when you find a way to turn even a negative experience into a positive memory. So don't get discouraged if you wake up to rain clouds on your beach day or drop the eggs on the floor before breakfast―take a cue from Mary Poppins and find a way to turn the whole day a little "turtle."

Mary Poppins Returns available now on Digital & out on Blue-ray March 19! Let the magic begin in your house with a night where everything is possible—even the impossible ✨

After a pregnancy that is best described as uncomfortable, Jessica Simpson is finally done "Jess-tating" and is now a mama of three.

Baby Birdie Mae Johnson joined siblings Ace and Maxwell on Tuesday, March 19, Simpson announced via Instagram.

Simpson's third child weighed in at 10 pounds, 13 ounces.

Birdie's name is no surprise to Jessica's Instagram followers, who saw numerous references to the name in her baby shower photos and IG stories in the last few weeks.

The name Birdie isn't in the top 1000 baby names according to the Social Security Administration, but It has been seeing a resurgence in recent years, according to experts.

"Birdie feels like a sassy but sweet, down-to-earth yet unusual name," Pamela Redmond Satran of Nameberry told Town and Country back in 2017. "It's also just old enough to be right on time."

At this moment in time, Simpson and her husband, former NFL player Eric Johnson, are probably busy counting little fingers and toes , which is great news because it means Simpson's toes can finally deflate. She's had a terrible time with swollen feet during this pregnancy, and was also hospitalized multiple times due to bronchitis in her final trimester.

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We're so glad to see Simpson's little Birdie has finally arrived!

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Spring is officially here and if you're looking for a way to celebrate the change in the season, why not treat the kids to some ice cream, mama?

DQ locations across the country (but not the ones in malls) are giving away free small vanilla cones today, March 20! So pack up the kids and get to a DQ near you.

And if you can't make it today, from March 21 through March 31, DQ's got a deal where small cones will be just 50 cents (but you have to download the DQ mobile app to claim that one).

Another chain, Pennsylvania-based Rita's Italian Ice is also dishing up freebies today, so if DQ's not your thing you can grab a free cup of Italian ice instead.

We're so excited that ice cream season is here and snowsuit season is behind us. Just a few short weeks and the kids will be jumping through the sprinklers.

Welcome back, spring. We've missed you!

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No parent wants to imagine their child dying. To think that your little bundle of joy would pass away before they could live a full life is unfathomable. But when a parent does lose a child, it can feel like a shock to the system, and recovering is a life-long process we need to talk about.

In 2018 Catastrophe actor Rob Delaney revealed that his 2-year-old son Henry died after a long battle with brain cancer. This week, speaking at a fundraiser for families with seriously ill children, Delaney spoke candidly about how hard the last 14 months have been, the Evening Standard reports.

"I'm a mess. My child died 14 months ago and I'm basically a bag of wet rubbish. I need a lot of help. It has been very hard. It comes in waves. I've learned to not control how the waves come. Right now I'm sad a lot," he said, explaining that he shares this openly in the hopes that "if a bereaved parent or bereaved sibling reads this, I want them to know that it's okay that they feel terrible, sad, confused and so brutally humbled."

In a previous Facebook post about Henry's death, the 42-year-old comedian shared that Henry had been diagnosed with a brain tumor shortly after his first birthday, and had undergone surgery to remove the tumor, as well as additional treatment. But the cancer returned and he passed away shortly after.

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As a way to cope with his loss, Delaney wrote that he focuses his energy on his family—his two other sons and his wife, Leah. He said in his post, “I am astonished by the love-in-action displayed by Henry's mom and his brothers. They are why I will endeavor to not go mad with grief. I don't want to miss out on their beautiful lives. I'm greedy for more experiences with them."

Delaney's message about grieving is so important, especially for other bereaved parents. In that one statement, Delaney highlights one big, undeniable truth: How a parent decides to mourn the loss of their child is a deeply personal choice.

“Mourning is the outward or public expression of grief, a means of sharing grief with people who also are grieving or who want to support you," writes oncologist Dr. Edward Creagan for the Mayo Clinic. “Religious rituals, cultural traditions and personal beliefs often shape how we mourn.

Whatever form it takes, mourning is a critical process that can help you lessen the intensity of grief and help you adapt to your loss."

For Sandy Peckinpah, a certified grief recovery specialist, mourning the loss of her 16-year-old son meant turning to a journal. In an essay for HuffPost, Peckinpah writes that after her son's death from misdiagnosed bacterial meningitis, she felt as though her pain was “visible to others, and I would forever be wearing grief as a mask and a tagline... 'I'm Sandy Peckinpah and I've lost a child.'"

"Then a friend gave me a journal and said, 'Write. Just write,'" Peckinpah continues. On the first page, she could only write one sentence: “My son died and my life will never be the same."

“The next day, I wrote a paragraph, and each day after that I found words came more easily. My journal became my safe haven to empty the well of my sorrow, pouring tears of ink onto paper. And for a little while, I could let my emotions rest," shares Peckinpah.

Whether it's pouring yourself into your family or into a journal, there's one thing for sure: Grief is not a one-way street. Grief is a twisting, never-ending highway with exits and on-ramps and merging lanes and service roads.

Over time, your feelings of grief will subside or, at least, “feel less constant as if it's moved into the background of your emotions," Creagan writes. “But long after a death," he continues, “you may also find yourself caught off guard by a moment of profound grief, for example, on the anniversary of the death, during holidays or on your loved one's birthday."

In other words: You never know when the pain of your loss will hit you—or when you're even ready to move on.

And that's okay, bereaved parents. It's okay if you don't go “mad with grief"—and it's okay if you do. It's okay if you break down in your kitchen—and if you laugh at your friend's bad dad joke. Grief is not uniform.

But just remember: You don't have to walk this journey alone.

[A version of this post was first published February 12, 2018. It has been updated.]

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I say this as a sufferer: Peanut allergies are the worst. I learned I was allergic to peanuts when I was 13 years old, and although my allergy isn't severe, I choose not to bring peanuts or peanut products into my house. As a result, I was unable to expose my son to peanuts earlier in his life.

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