When Anastasia Pittis decided to share a picture of her 6-month-old daughter Xenia breastfeeding on the popular Facebook page Breastfeeding Mama Talk, she was unprepared for the overwhelming reaction the photograph would have.
As Anastasia explains in the post, her daughter Xenia was born with stage 3 brain cancer. In the photo, you see her peacefully breastfeeding, with a visible scar from surgery. The picture shows the comfort breastfeeding can offer a baby who has been through so much at such a young age, and Anastasia echoes this sentiment in the text of the post: “I am incredibly happy to have the opportunity to breastfeed her while she goes through chemotherapy. It has been a bonding experience for the both of us, especially because no day is guaranteed.”
Anastasia shared with Babble what the response to her post has been: “The reaction has been pretty incredible. I was really surprised that the picture got so much attention and that others were being so supportive.”
Indeed, the post touched many readers deeply. To date, the photo — which was published last week — has received over 30k likes, 13k shares, and 1.4k comments.
Many expressed the empathy that you immediately feel when you see sweet Xenia nursing. As one commenter describes it:
“My heart just skipped a beat at her beauty and broke at the same time. My heart is in so much pain for you as a mommy and for her to have to go through this. PLEASE keep us updated on your beautiful angel and her progress. She is in my prayers along with the doctors and nurses caring for her.”
Other commenters shared their own experiences with childhood cancer, and the role that breastfeeding played in helping their babies cope. One mother shares:
“I’m breastfeeding my 20-month-old through treatment for neuroblastoma. It has been a lifesaver because no matter how sick or nauseated she is, she wants to nurse. My baby was diagnosed at 16 months and we were told she was potentially born with it. It is a shattering thing to go through. She goes to surgery tomorrow and I expect that our nursing relationship will be a great comfort to both of us. God bless the mama and baby in the post. Childhood cancer is the worst. Every day is so filled with fear.”
Some commenters were confused about how it was possible for a baby to be born with a brain tumor, but Anastasia explains her daughter’s diagnosis on their Facebook page, Xenia’s Journey, that she set up to chronicle her illness. According to Anastasia, doctors didn’t discover the cancer until Xenia was 2 months old. She had taken her daughter to a routine doctor’s visit when the doctor noticed that her head was especially large.
Anastasia explains what happened next, and how her daughter was diagnosed:
“An MRI scan revealed that she had hydrocephalus (fluid in the brain), caused by a very large brain tumor. We were then rushed to the Children’s Hospital Colorado to seek treatment. The aggressive and large size of the tumor indicated to doctors that Xenia was born with it.”
The family learned soon after that the tumor was malignant. To date, Anastasia has seen her daughter bravely go through three brain surgeries, and six cycles of chemotherapy.
Anastasia credits breastfeeding as a key player in helping her daughter throughout. As she tells Babble: “During this journey, breastfeeding has become very important. Besides being a huge bonding experience, it gives me peace of mind knowing that she’ll still latch on and eat even when she isn’t feeling her very best.”
Breastfeeding moms will tell you that breastfeeding is a wonderful tool to have when your baby isn’t feeing well — breastmilk is often the only thing a baby can keep down when they are sick! And in addition to all the healthy substances found in breastmilk, studies have shown that breastmilk contains a cancer-fighting agent called HAMLET, which has been shown to kill cancer cells in clinical trials.
Anastasia tells Babble that her daughter’s doctors have been very supportive about continuing to breastfeed through treatments.
As for how her daughter is doing now, Anastasia shares that her daughter’s health is currently on the upswing: “Right now she seems to be doing fairly well in comparison to how she’s been before, with everything she’s gone through.”
Still, as she explains on her daughter’s Facebook page, Xenia’s cancer has a 95 percent chance of reoccurrence, so she and her daughter are in this for the long-haul. It seems that Anastasia remains hopeful, however, and that what she wants most is for her daughter to be as comfortable as possible throughout the treatments. As she expressed to Babble, “I just hope she lives a happy life.”
Anastasia and her daughter are warriors, and their story is touching the hearts of many. If you would like to support this inspiring mom and baby, you can contribute to their Go Fund Me page. You can also follow them on their Facebook page for updates and more photos of the beautiful angel, Xenia.