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They Were My Blessing: Facing Breast Cancer With Young Kids

By Mandy Richardson

Mandy with her husband, Brendan, and daughters Abby and Maddie.

Read Mandy’s diagnosis and treatment story: Breast Cancer at 33: A Young Mom’s Story of Self-Advocacy

As a mom to two young kids, the last thing I expected was breast cancer.

I’ve been told again and again, even through my anguish, that my diagnosis was a difficult one, that nearly any provider could have missed it.

I was 33 when I originally had symptoms of breast pain. I was breastfeeding my nearly eight-month-old baby girl. I was otherwise healthy. It only made sense that I had a clogged milk duct. Maybe a stubborn one; maybe an angry one; maybe mastitis.

It should have been a clogged milk duct.

But it wasn’t.

I received my diagnosis five months after the initial breast pain symptoms, after several instances of what we thought were breastfeeding-related issues. I saw the words in the online portal before my doctor had a chance to call me: “invasive ductal carcinoma.”

I stepped outside to make the phone calls, because my then six-year-old daughter was off school that day, happily coloring in the living room. I would have to tell her — but not yet. I was grateful that my little one (by this time a year old) was napping. I called my husband, my mom, and a good friend who had just beat this awful beast.

I made the necessary appointments and had the appropriate tests, but even from the onset, my thoughts were focused on how I was going to keep being a mom to my little girls.

We knew that my breast cancer diagnosis would impact our family, and sought out all the information we could about parenting while navigating cancer treatment. My husband and I talked to family and friends; we researched; and eventually I reached out to a family friend who had been a school counselor for many years.

We borrowed books and got advice on how to talk to our six-year-old daughter. How do you tell a young child that mommy doesn’t look sick, but that she is very sick, and that the medicine that is going to fix her, is going to make her look and feel worse before she actually gets better?

We got amazing advice. Our daughter was sad and scared, but she was brave and resilient, too.

I had to worry about things like how close I could be to our children after my PET scan. At the time, the medical staff suggested that I not spend any time in close contact with anyone, especially small children, because of the radioactive tracer that is used in the test. The staff recommended no cuddles with my girls, and absolutely no breastfeeding for a full 24 hours. Obviously I had to stop nursing before I could start chemotherapy. I had to make sure I put the toilet seat down and double flushed so the Red Devil chemo (doxorubicin) couldn’t affect them by accident.

My husband had to play mom and dad on the days after some of my chemotherapy treatments. Santa Claus had to get started wrapping presents much earlier that year so they could be finished in time. Birthday parties were foregone while I was immunocompromised.

There were so many things that made going through chemotherapy, surgery and radiation as a mom to two young children difficult. But they were also my blessing. I couldn’t just hide away and feel sorry for myself like I wanted to do every now and then.

My husband still had to work. And the girls still needed their mom. In the middle of the night. At bedtime. Getting to school — although we did have some wonderful neighbors step in and help when we needed a little extra.

They got me outside. I sat in the sunshine and watched softball games, even when I didn’t have the energy to do much else. I chased a walking toddler around the yard when the weather was nice. I got up on Christmas to watch them open the presents that it took Santa two weeks to wrap.

As difficult as it was to juggle treatment and being a mom, I think they gave me the energy and the extra motivation I needed to face my fight head on.

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Thank you for sharing your story, Mandy. SBC loves you! Resources & Support:

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