Claire Glenville didn’t have any trouble breastfeeding her third child, Matilda, until she was about 13 months old. Then, all of a sudden, the baby started refusing to feed from Claire’s left breast.
“I thought it was such a strange reaction,” said Glenville. “She was fine feeding from my right breast, it was just the left one that she wouldn’t go near. She would turn her head away from it as soon as I held her near.”
Wondering what could be the problem, the 40-year-old nurse did a self-exam on her left breast and discovered a lump just below the nipple. She made an appointment to have a doctor check it out and was assured that it was just a plugged milk duct, but something still didn’t seem quite right. Claire insisted on an ultrasound to make sure.
Sure enough, the lump that Matilda had apparently noticed and refused to go near was found to be a 10-centimeter tumor, and a biopsy revealed that it was indeed cancerous. “It was as though she had literally sniffed it out and refused to go near it,” said Glenville.
“It was uncanny to see her reaction to it like that, and it was only because she had done that that I went to see the doctor and it was diagnosed. By refusing to feed from my breast, Matilda has ended up saving my life.”
But even though Matilda’s behavior had tipped off Glenville that something was wrong, she had never expected it to be as bad as it was. Not only was there a tumor, but cancerous cells were also discovered in 31 out of 33 lymph nodes in Glenville’s armpit area.
“I was so shocked that I had breast cancer,” she said. “I knew there must be something wrong for Matilda to refuse to feed from it, but I was so young to have breast cancer. It’s a frightening diagnosis to get when you are the mother of three children.”
After her diagnosis, Glenville underwent a single mastectomy and six rounds of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. In January of 2019, her doctors gave her the all-clear, a piece of good news she may never have been able to receive if it weren’t for being diagnosed when she was.
“It was a very emotional day when I rang the bell. Everyone is rooting for you, so to be able to ring it like that is an amazing feeling,” Glenville said. “I’ve heard that animals can sense when their owners have cancer, and it was as though Matilda could sense it in me too. There was a reason why she wouldn’t feed, and I’m so glad I trusted her instinct that something was wrong.”
Glenville is excited at the prospect of being able to tell her daughter how she saved her mother’s life when she’s old enough. Without Matilda’s warnings, Glenville may not have lived long enough to tell the tale.
It’s amazing stories like this that remind us to trust our instincts! Share to remind others to do regular self-exams and insist on getting checked out if anything feels “off.”
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?