Thursday, April 22, 2010

Cancer Sucks: When Cancer Leads to Abrupt Weaning

I received my Spring edition of Brain, Child magazine a few weeks ago in the mail and though I always look forward to it, I was especially excited to read this issue's personal essay on breastfeeding. This essay entitled "This Sucks," was about a mom who had to abruptly wean her infant son when she found out she had breast cancer. The author, Kelly Feinberg, writes:

When Ari was only seven months old, I was forced to wean him from exclusive and happy breastfeeding when an enlarged milk duct turned out to be cancerous. Due to my age, treatment needed to be swift and aggressive, involving a bilateral mastectomy. One day I breastfed Ari on demand, wore him wrapped tight against my chest, and slept with him skin-to-skin; the next day I mixed bottles of formula to hand over to my husband and moved to the other side of the bed, out of reach.

This sucks, indeed. Thankfully, although she had to wean, Kelly found a new way to remain attached and bonded to her son: finger sucking. Like breastfeeding, Kelly soon found out finger sucking can sometimes be too intimate, embarrassing in public and uber demanding. Often the skin on her fingers would be raw from Ari sucking on them all night. Her emotional state caused her to lash out at him and she even tried covering her fingers with a glove to dissuade him from sucking. She says the sucking made her feel strangely exposed in a way that nursing in public didn't. She writes,

Then, I felt important breastfeeding in public, a champion of all things natural and best for my baby. Now I just feel sad. My finger is a poor substitute for breastfeeding, and my baby and I both know it. It is evident in his continuous, never-satisfied suck and in my impatience.
Having to wean abruptly due to a cancer diagnosis is heartbreaking, but I loved the way the author and her son found a way to continue their nursing relationship. Another mom who was dealt this shitty hand is Jenn Michelle of the blog bits of myself. She had to wean her daughter Nugget so she could begin chemotherapy and in the meantime, they nursed like this

Photo © Jenn Michelle

Luckily Jenn and Nugget were eventually able to resume nursing. Unfortunately Jenn learned in June of last year that her cancer is back. Kelly also learned that breast cancer had metastasized to her liver and has begun chemotherapy again as well.

Reading about these stories makes you hug your own baby a little bit closer. Even though I have been ready to wean, when my son asked for his milkies this morning when he woke up, I pulled him in close to me and gladly nursed him, thankful that I still had the option to do so.
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