When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I was still in the midst of breastfeeding my daughter. As soon as I was diagnosed, all the doctors thought I should stop nursing. Their only reason, in all honesty, was that is was easier for them to treat me.
They were looking ahead to radiation and chemo and how I wouldn’t be able to nurse through those treatments. We weren’t even sure if I would need to go down those roads, yet they were insistent that I need to stop immediately.
I really didn’t think they thought it through at all. What happens when you suddenly stop nursing? You get engorged and are open for infections such as mastitis. What about my daughter? How do you suddenly tell a baby that she is “all done” with nursing? Something that has been a source of nutrition and comfort for her since she was born. Have you met my toddler? The fallout of suddenly weaning her would not be a pretty sight for anyone and would have caused me more stress in the most stressful time in my life up to this point. She would not have let it go easily.
While the doctors were thinking of themselves, they certainly weren’t thinking of the emotional and mental ramifications of what it would do to our family if we were to wean immediately.
I asked them, “What if I don’t need those treatments? You said that there is a possibility that the cancer has not spread and that by having the mastectomy, I won’t need radiation or chemo. Why would I need to wean? For surgery? I know there are certainly possibilities for safer medications that are not contraindicated for nursing. Are you willing to work with my doctor and lactation consultant in order to have safer options for both me and my daughter?”
Blank stares. “What if you DO need those treatments? Wouldn’t it be easier to wean now?”
Um, no. “And if I don’t need those treatments? Then I would have gone through all that stress for nothing?”
What they didn’t understand, is that at the end of the day during this time of diagnosis and planning for surgery, is that I could sit with my daughter and be normal. Those hormones that were being released during our nightly nursing sessions kept me sane. I found some sort of peace and calming while breastfeeding. My days were turned upside down and inside out and that was my respite. It was one point during the day when I didn’t think about my cancer or what was next. I could just be.
After much discussion with professionals and research, we decided to hold off on weaning unless is was absolutely necessary. We were also able to research the medications that were going to be used for surgery and pick the ones that were most compatible with nursing.
Did I make it more difficult? For the doctors, yes. For me and my daughter, no. Thankfully, it was only the one surgery that we needed to be concerned about in regards to the medications. I did not need radiation or chemo. Afterward, the doctors verbalized that I made the right choice. They said they never had anyone question them and persist as much as I had. My daughter went on to nurse for another several months after my surgery. My strong willed daughter self weaned at her own pace and our house was much more peaceful because of it. I am thankful we didn’t have to suddenly disrupt that process. I fought for what was right for my family during this stressful time and in the end, I was glad I did.