Breastfeeding with cancer:
I remember the first time I heard those words, “It’s cancer.”
I had just turned 27 years old, I was 8 weeks postpartum with my baby girl and my oldest was 18 months. We had just gotten back from the park and we were waiting for daddy to get home from school. The phone rang and it was my doctor. After those words were spoken, “it’s cancer,” my vision started to close in, the doctor was still talking but I couldn’t process any of it. I interrupted him to say, “Can I just come up to your office? I need to know what’s really going on and I can’t understand you over the phone.” He said yes and I hung up. I sat on the ground and called my husband and my family. What happened after that was a whirlwind of sleepless nights, doctors visits, hospital stays, surgeries, waiting for test results, etc.
That first week we didn’t know what stage it was or the prognosis. I couldn’t sleep and I was truly walking around my house, watching over my babies at night and wondering if they would know me. It was an awful waiting period. During this time, I leaned so heavily on my family, community, and faith. I’m extremely lucky to have the support system I have.
Initially, I was diagnosed as stage 3 and I had two surgeries within a few weeks. It was hard spending time away from my kids for Drs appts, tests, and surgery. It was especially hard to be separated from a newborn baby and let others take care of her while I was gone. I was incredibly lucky to have the help, but I felt a loss of control as I wanted to be the one who was comforting her and taking care of her. Believe it or not, breastfeeding really helped us both during that time. When I was away from her, I felt a sense of importance in pumping her milk - I knew I was the only one who could do that. When we were reunited, breastfeeding brought us right back together because you physically have to be close to breastfeed.
I’m so grateful for the knowledge and confidence I gained during my first breastfeeding experience so when I hit a big hurdle after my second baby (cancer diagnosis), I wasn’t questioning my milk supply or when I could or couldn’t feed her. That was all second nature and I was able to focus on getting through treatment and healing. My milk supply and breastfeeding goals remained intact through this because I knew how to maintain my supply and how to trust the process. Also, because it was healing for me. Others may have not chosen to continue breastfeeding through cancer, but it truly was a light that helped get me through a really uncontrollable and difficult time. A lot of people ask me where the idea or passion came from to start Lactation Link. This is truly where it began! I wanted other women to be able to breastfeed on their own terms - with the right education and good support, despite the “hurdles” that will inevitably come up during our individual experiences.
After my initial two surgeries, I was declared “cancer-free” or what they call “no evidence of disease”. After spending a few months in occupational therapy and more months recovering mentally and emotionally (this is still ongoing, actually), I hoped my cancer days were behind me for good. But the ugly thing reared its head two more times after that initial diagnosis. Each time it came back I was knocked down to ground zero but I decided to stand up, dust myself off, and fight. I was fortunate to be apart of a clinical trial at Huntsman Cancer Institute in 2015 that resulted in a “complete response” and a cancer-free declaration once again. Now I’m four years cancer-free and so grateful for my health.
After much prayer, thought, and discussions with my doctors, I’m now pregnant with a baby boy due later this year! I can’t tell you how healing this pregnancy has been for me after such trauma. A lot of times in life when we’re in the thick of a problem, we can never see how seemingly immovable things could shift to allow for things to “work out” later. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to add another baby to our family, and while it’s hard to be “grateful” for an experience like cancer, I know it’s made me a better person and taught me some valuable lessons. I’m always rooting for all my fellow cancer fighters, survivors, and thrivers....as well as all fellow mamas that have their own unique struggles. Each day we can find a way to keeping moving forward and find joy amidst our struggles.
Lindsey Shipley, mama, cancer survivor, RN, IBCLC, Confidence Creator
About Lindsey Shipley
Lindsey Shipley is an RN, Childbirth Educator, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, cancer survivor, mom of 2, and founder of Lactation Link! When her second baby was just eight weeks old, she was diagnosed with cancer and went through two years of treatment. With education and support she gained with her first baby, she was able to reach her own breastfeeding goals with baby number two despite facing that challenge. That experience made her passionate about creating a breastfeeding resource families knew they could trust when they experienced challenges of their own. Through the Lactation Link video classes, she has created reliable, research-based information that is also easily accessible. She is based in Utah, but her customer base is everywhere because of her online classes and e-consults.