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    No.275: Stories About Motherhood After Cancer

    "Mother’s Day is a bittersweet topic in our community. 

    Growing up, I always assumed I would have children. That’s just what everyone does when they get older, right? You get married and start a family.

    However, right after college I had a rude awakening. I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I immediately had a double mastectomy (taking away any chance I had of breast feeding) and then started chemo, which for a lot of cancer patients, causes us to become infertile. 

    I never thought that in my 20’s I would face such a life altering experience. 

    Infertility. 

    However, that doesn’t stop me from wanting to celebrate my fellow breast cancer thrivers, survivors, and previvors that are able to have children.

    While it’s a hard topic for me, my heart bursts at the seams every time I see the news that a friend was able to have children. Whether it was by carrying themselves, a surrogate, or adoption. 

    There is no one way to start a family. 

    I am so happy for them and I would like to honor them this mother’s day, while also honoring my fellow breast cancer survivors, thrivers and previvors that are unable to have children.

    The women below have shared their inspiring and hopeful stories with us, and we would love to celebrate and share their stories with you all.

    Love,

    Bianca"

     

     Allie's Story:

    After finding out that I had triple negative breast cancer, I felt a deep sense of fear — fear that I would never be a mother. My fertility was threatened, and mortality slapped me right in the face— I didn’t even know if I’d make it to my 29th birthday.  But thanks to science, modern medicine, and patience… four years after my diagnosis, my son Walker was born. 


    Navigating the confusing world of survivorship alongside the wild world of postpartum/motherhood is definitely not easy— it’s fun yet exhausting and uncomfortable yet familiar. We figure it out as we go, one day at a time. Similar to survivorship, motherhood is the juxtaposition of questioning  everything, while feeling like you know it all. 


    Since Walker was born, my heart now beats outside my body and, without doubt, “Mama” is my proudest title yet.

    Want to learn more about Allie? Check her out on Instagram @alliebrumel

    Three photos of Allie. On the left is Allie and her son at the beach. In the middle is Allie holding up her son in front of the sunset at the beach. On the right is Allie and her son sitting on a beach chair

     

    Amber's Story:

    I was first diagnosed in 2017 when my youngest at the time was 1 years old and my 2 older children were 3 and 8 years old. My two youngest were unaware of what I went through but my oldest understood and it was a bit of a challenge for her. All I could think of was to stay positive, not only for myself, but for my children. If they saw that I was smiling and happy, they would know I would be okay. I also had my scar out all the time. Doing this helped them see it as normalcy.

    I was NOT expecting to have any more children, however in 2019 I became pregnant. All I could think of was if I would be able to breastfeed. It was so important to me, because I breastfed all of my children.

    My baby girl came in June 2020 and breastfeeding became quite the challenge for me. I overcame this challenge by not giving up and staying consistent with my feedings. Almost 2 years later, I’m still breastfeeding from my 1 breast. I thought I would feel less than and honestly when I first had my mastectomy I felt less of a woman, but these beautiful children I was blessed with treat me like the luckiest woman on the planet. They love me through it all and they don’t see me as a woman with one breast. They see me as their Superwoman!

    Mothers! Don’t you fret! Your children are blessings. Stay strong for them and they will be your strength. 

    Want to learn more about Amber? Check her out on Instagram @feminine_phenom

    Three photos of Amber. On the left is Amber's kids all together. In the middle is Amber shirtless with her daughter laying with her. On the right is Amber and her husband at the gym with their kids.

    Anna's Story:

    While most people would say getting a cancer diagnosis was the worst moment of their life, for me it was hearing the words “you may never be able to have children.” My road to motherhood after cancer was so painful, looking back there were times I didn’t think I could go on.

    After 2.5 years on hormone blocking therapy (Letrozole & Lupron), I was given the approval by my oncologist to take a break.  In the almost 2 years that would follow, I would go on to get my cycle back, conceive naturally and lose both the baby and my right fallopian tube in an emergency surgery that threatened to break my hope and my life. We would then go on to try naturally without success and begin the process of a frozen embryo transfer which was successful only to lose the baby in a miscarriage 7 weeks later. Jaded and filled with anger at my body we were ready to give up. The cancer clock was ticking, and we were running out of options for me to have a biological child.

    While we were preparing for our last chance at a FET, we were shocked to find I was naturally pregnant when we had given up on trying. Now 2.5 years later, I am so grateful for my miracle son Mason and am currently on a break from my meds hoping for the gift of another pregnancy.

    Want to learn more about Anna? Check her out on Instagram @mycancerchic

    Three images of Anna. On the left is Anna and her husband holding hands with their son in the middle. In the middle is Anna's son on a picnic blanket smiling. On the right is Anna and her husband holding up their son in the air for a photo

    Melanie's Story:

    In November of 2012, my bloodwork came back positive for a BRCA1 mutation. This confirmed what I had long suspected- that I had inherited my mom's gene and with it an 87% chance of having breast cancer-just like she did. I stumbled through 5 years of screenings and scares and biopsies before ultimately deciding to move forward with preventative surgery in 2018, 6 days after my 31st birthday. 

    I was four years young when my mother (now 30 years out from this date🙏) was diagnosed with breast cancer. Before we knew the word "BRCA" but aware something was up with the women in our family. I have distinct memories of the day my mom came home from the hospital, in a bright colored zip up tracksuit, with a fluid bulb peeking out the bottom of the jacket. I remember trying to crawl into her lap and my father grabbing me, pulling me back and screaming stop you can't do that. It's burned into my head like nothing else from that whole year of my childhood. I decided I didn't want my children having this memory. 

    When I originally found out my BRCA status I wanted surgery immediately and was told to wait, to think about it, you're only 25. I was told absurd things like "What about when you have kids?!." My new breast surgeon however had looked me squarely in the face and said "Nope. Your baby will need you more than your breastmilk." Of course. Obviously. My mother said the same thing. But it was still ringing in my head from the second my husband and I decided to try to have a child.  

    You know how everything seems to magnify around you when you're thinking about it yourself? From the second I went off my birth control I felt like I saw nonstop ads for IVF and posts from other women doing egg freezing to ultimately eliminate the BRCA gene from their family tree. For anyone not familiar, this process is extremely expensive (a friend was recently quoted around $30k and that's before genetic selection) and most insurances didn't cover it. It's not what I'd call easily accessible and it's not what should ever be presented to patients as a guaranteed path. So my husband and I decided to roll the dice so to speak. Ultimately my final decision came down to my gratitude that I'm here, that my mom is here and that her father who passed on this gene initially was here. This is an extremely extremely personal decision which I feel has no real "right" answer. For us though, this was what felt right. When my son is an adult (and inevitably finds my very public overshared health life all over the internet 🤪) he will have to decide for himself what he wants to know. 

    My son was born just before midnight on September 29, 2021-that year's National Previvor Day, something I'm always going to find very fitting. I had an incredible OB who connected me to the head of postpartum and did his absolute best to keep all breastfeeding talk away from me. I even made a huge sign to drive the point home. Lost cause. Lactation consultants ran in and tried to excitedly tell me how they would help me breastfeed. Every nurse asked. It was like an inescapable bubble of "breast is best" land. But what about if yours weren't best? What about it they were likely plotting something horrible just like your mom's were? What then? Pass the formula and get out please. 

    My hope throughout my life sharing my artwork and my BRCA story is that my son will grow up knowing he can and should always advocate for his health and for the health of others. I also hope it teaches him that bodies as we see them are ever changing and temporary in many senses and the soul of the person in them is what truly matters. I hope as a mom to teach him that he should trust his gut when it comes to his health and never be afraid to speak up or get something checked. I'm astoundingly grateful everyday for his beautiful presence in my life, and to my mother who's willingness to enroll in a genetics study so many years ago helped unlock the family secret and let me keep myself  just a little bit safer. 

    Want to learn more about Melanie? Check her out on Instagram @melanielynnpenndesign

     

    Three photos of Melanie. On the left is Melanie and her husband holding Melanie's stomach. In the middle is Melanie in front of a sign that says no breastfeeding. On the right is Melanie and a friend standing together smiling while holding Melanie's stomach

     

    Emily's Story:

    Hi, I’m Emily Pareti! I’m a 2x cancer survivor (Hodgkin’s Lymphoma) and was treated in both 2010 and 2017 with chemotherapy and radiation. After learning about my recurrence, I chose to freeze my eggs in hopes to have my own children someday. My husband and I prayed hard for a baby and learned in August of 2021 that we’d be expecting our first child the following March. I loved being pregnant - the feeling of life inside of me was pure magic. I enjoyed moving and getting on my yoga mat during pregnancy - I am a yoga teacher certified in vinyasa, aerial yoga, prenatal yoga and have my reiki level II certification (I did reiki over my belly to send healing energy to my unborn child). All of the movement definitely helped prepare my body for a natural and unmedicated delivery. I gave birth to a healthy baby boy on March 20th, 2022. If you told me five years ago that I’d become pregnant naturally, I probably wouldn’t believe you. There are so many options to have children post cancer treatments - be patient, trust the process and don’t give up!

    Want to learn more about Emily? Check her out on Instagram @EmilyPareti

    Three images of Emily. On the left is Emily doing yoga while pregnant, in the middle is Emily laying on her back on a yoga mat with her leg in the air. On the right is Emily in a field holding her stomach

    Angie's story:

    BRCA changed my life.  It took away so much from me and forever altered who I am.  I lost so much time with my children during each of my four surgeries and each recovery after.  I feel like I've lost so much of myself.  With all the changes during surgical menopause, I lost my carefree personality and my calm demeanor.  My children probably didn't realize that they saved me. They made me stronger than I ever thought possible. On days when the walls felt like they were closing in on me, they kept me going.  What I really miss the most is the feeling of my kids' heads on my chest when they hug me.  Now I squeeze them extra tight just so I don't feel like I'm missing out on the moment.  I still battle with the fact that I may pass this genetic mutation down to my children. I constantly remind myself that the only thing I can do is advocate for myself and others, as well as set a positive example for my children. What I hope they know is that every night I pray to be here so I can watch them grow up. I hope they see a mother who would do anything to be here with them, a mother who shows them that they have the strength to overcome anything that comes their way, a mother who lives each day like it's a gift, because each day with them is not only my biggest gift, but also my greatest blessing!

    Want to learn more about Angie? Check her out on Instagram @angiemomof4clt

     

    Pic collage of Anjail photos

     

    Kelsey's Story:

    Motherhood and cancer, not necessarily two things you put together when thinking about parenthood. But that became my reality at 30 years old with four small children. Motherhood itself is messy and simultaneously beautiful; it comes with an immense amount of guilt as well. As moms we go to bed every night wondering if we made the right decisions, did we tell each child how much we loved them throughout the day? Was it necessary to yell when the frustration was mounting? These were thoughts of mine before cancer. Through cancer treatments, I was thinking about the activities I was missing out on because I was so sick. The homework that I couldn’t help with, the bedtime stories I wasn’t reading. The fact that my children were trying to explain to their friends why their mom was bald. I felt like I was ripping away their childhood with each passing treatment.

    But as I healed mentally and physically, I realized that my children came out of my diagnosis with a sense of empathy that not many have at such a young age. They learned by watching, how to get knocked down and back up again. That by changing your attitude you can change your outlook on life, no matter the circumstances. Cancer changed my life, it put things into perspective, it made me put my health and wellness first, in the end it has made me a better me…a better mom.

    Want to learn more about Kelsey? Check her out on Instagram @kelseybucci

     

    Three photos of Kelsey. On the left is Kelsey ringing the bell. In the middle is Kelsey and her kids getting photographed. On the right is Kelsey holding hands with all of her kids.

    Lindsay's Story:

    When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, my sons were just 9 months and 4 years old at the time.  The diagnosis was so devastating to my family and I.  Sometimes I would look at my kids and cry hoping that I would make it through, because if I didn’t they may not remember me.  My boys were always (and continue to be) my biggest “why”.  And I would go to hell and back again just to be able to be here to raise them. We as women and mothers are so much stronger than we even know or give ourselves credit for! Now that I’m through treatment, I try to slow down as much as possible to enjoy all the little moments with my boys because I’m truly grateful to be here experiencing them.

    Want to learn more about Lindsay? Check her out on Instagram @runningpastcancer

     

    Three photos of Lindsay. On the left is Lindsay ringing the bell holding her son. In the middle is Lindsay with her kids in front of a sunset at the beach. On the right is Lindsay holding up her son

    Alyssa's Story:

    I'm a wife and a stay at home mom to three boys. I'm 33 years old and was diagnosed with the BRCA1 gene when I was 24. I’m actually the fifth generation with this gene in my family and thanks to technology and science I was able to get a double mastectomy before ever actually getting breast cancer. That's what they call a "previvor" . It was a super hard road especially with three young children. I'm so glad I made the choice and I’m so blessed that the option was given to me. Losing a part of your womanhood is emotionally draining but thinking of all the life I get to still live is what got me through. My number one piece of advice to anyone going through a tough time with BRCA is to always always always take the help that is offered to you. Knowing you have a community behind you full of support will absolutely help get you through!

    Want to know more about Alyssa? Check her out on Instagram @alyssarenna

     

    Two images of Alyssa. On the left is Alyssa holding up balloons in front of a Pink brick wall. On the right is Alyssa with her husband and family 

    I know that cancer is not easy and I know that motherhood after cancer is even harder. We as AnaOno are here to celebrate you all. Happy Mother's Day to all the current and future mothers out there!

    Dana Donofree

    Dana Donofree

    Founder and CEO of AnaOno. After a diagnosis of breast cancer in her late 20’s, Dana took her own lived experience and fashion design background and (re)designed intimates for those that have undergone breast surgery. Dana’s story has been published around the world in outlets like New York Times, BBC, Huffington Post, The Today Show, and more.