When Beth O’Brien was nursing her 9-month-old daughter, she found a lump in her breast. Like many breastfeeding mothers, she thought it was just a clogged duct.
But it didn’t hurt like a clogged duct does.
And it didn’t go away when she tried different methods of getting rid of it. So she decided to get medical help.
O’Brien made the rounds to several doctors and went through a multitude of tests, ultrasounds, and a biopsy before she got the news. She had triple negative breast cancer, and it was stage II.
Though the idea that it could be breast cancer was lurking in the back of her mind, she was more concerned about her family and how they would deal with a cancer diagnosis.
“I was scared for my family — I want to be able to watch them grow up,” she said.
O’Brien underwent 28 doses of radiation, 20 rounds of chemotherapy that made her lose her hair, and a double mastectomy.
Of all her treatments, the double mastectomy was the hardest on the mom of three because she couldn’t pick up Annabelle, who was only 15 months old when she had the surgery.
But her family was her rock throughout the ordeal. Her two boys, Cael, 9, and Finn, 6, were a great help with their younger sister when O’Brien was recovering from surgery and unable to lift her.
She ended up developing lymphedema, a build-up of lymph fluid that causes swelling in the affected limbs, as a side effect of her treatment. She sees an occupational therapist regularly to treat it and also relies on a compression sleeve to help keep the swelling down.
O’Brien is currently cancer-free. She’s planning on getting a preventative hysterectomy but is regaining her footing as she adjusts to her new “normal.”
After everything she went through, she’s come out the other side hoping to educate other women about breast cancer and the importance of self-checks.
“More people need to know that it happens in younger women,” O’Brien said. “It does affect the whole family. It’s hard for families that are raising kids and can’t work.”
If she hadn’t been nursing Annabelle, O’Brien isn’t sure she would have even found the lump in time — especially since triple negative breast cancer is an aggressive form of the disease.
Being familiar with what your breasts normally look and feel like can go a long way in catching any signs of the disease early.
O’Brien wants to underscore one detail in particular:
“My lump did not hurt at all,” she said. “Normally clogged milk ducts hurt. So if you feel a lump and it doesn’t hurt and it won’t go away, please at least call your doctor or a lactation consultant.”
C. Dixon likes to read, sing, eat, drink, write, and other verbs. She enjoys cavorting around the country to visit loved ones and experience new places, but especially likes to be at home with her husband, son, and dog.