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

What was the hardest part for you about having to stop breastfeeding? The hardest part for me is that it wasn’t my choice to stop breastfeeding and my son wasn’t ready to stop breastfeeding. It didn’t seem fair or natural. Maybe the most difficult part was it wasn’t the way that I wanted to stop breastfeeding. It wasn’t under our terms. I felt like someone was ripping away my ability to nurture and nourish my son.

You have chosen to use donor milk for Ellington. Did you have worries or concerns about using informal milk donation with Human Milk 4 Human Babies? How did you combat these worries?Initially, I didn’t have any concerns. I am somewhat naive and trusting of others. I assumed if these mothers were breastfeeding their children, then everything was ok. I am someone who assumes the best intentions of others. I also do not believe in doubting myself or decisions. I did become worried when we took our son to one of his monthly check-ups and the doctor was concerned about him receiving breastmilk from other mothers. I thought about the doctor’s comments a few times and then I reminded myself that I am making the best decisions that I can make during this time with the information that I have. I don’t have time to have these concerns or worries.

Danica and Ellington with Anita, her milk donor, and Devin

How do you feel when bottle-feeding your baby in public? And when watching other women breastfeed? When I bottle-feed Ellington in public, I do not really think about how others may perceive us because I am only concerned about my baby being fed. I also have to bottle-feed him. There isn’t another option for us. When I see other women breastfeed, I am envious. At the same time, I am so happy for them that they are able to continue to breastfeed their child. This experience has taught me that there is a lot more going on with mothers and babies than just bottle-feed and breastfeeding. We all have our unique stories. Some of the stories are based on external factors. Anytime I see a mother feeding her child, I hope that the mother is the one who is making the decision on how to best nourish her child and she isn’t in a similar situation as I am.

What are your thoughts on this idea of a ‘mummy-war’ that exists between breastfeeding and bottle-feeding mothers?Not everyone gets the choice or option to breastfeed. Sometimes there is a lot more going on than meets the eye. We all have unique experiences and stories. As moms, we need to appreciate others’ stories and be an advocate for other moms, not be at “war” with one another. I cry every time I see that photo of me breastfeeding Ellington, and then I think about how generous everyone had been to us and I cry even more.

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Danica, one day I will stop tearing up when I see that photo of you breastfeeding Ellington. Maybe. I am in absolute awe of you, of all that you do, of all the positivity and sunshine that you are and that you continue to spread. Thank you so much for sharing your journey with me.

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