This Mom Discovered Breast Cancer While Nursing — and Here’s What She Wants You to Know

Editor’s Note: This post is not intended as medical advice. Always consult a medical professional or physician before treatment of any kind.

In a photo taken by Kim Therkildsen Photography, Beth O'Brien poses with her kids in a shirt that says "Straight Outta Chemo."
Image Source: Kim Therkildsen Photography

Beth O’Brien, a mom of three from Bennington, Nebraska, was nursing her daughter when she noticed a lump in her breast. At first, like many nursing moms, she suspected it was a clogged milk duct — an annoying, but treatable condition where milk gets backed up in the breast, and needs to be massaged or expressed out.

But according to O’Brien, the “clogged duct” just wouldn’t go away, despite all her best efforts.

That’s when she decided to explore other possibilities for what the lump might be. After visiting several doctors and undergoing ultrasounds, testing, and a biopsy, O’Brien finally had her diagnosis: triple-negative breast cancer, stage 2.

Naturally, she was devastated. Not just for herself, but for her young children — the youngest of whom was just 9 months old at the time.

“I was scared for my family — I want to be able to watch them grow up,” O’Brien says.

But along with the help of her doctors and a rock-solid support system, the mom of three was able to keep a positive attitude, even as she underwent treatment for the cancer. O’Brien says her family were probably her biggest cheerleaders throughout the entire ordeal, and that the difficult time they endured actually brought them closer and made them stronger than ever.

“We banned together as a family and tackled the chemotherapy, surgery and radiation,” O’Brien shares. “Our family, friends and community helped us tremendously and we are very thankful we have such wonderful people in our lives.”

What an inspirational mother — and an incredible cancer warrior, to boot.

Beth O'Brien stands in a pink shirt, holding one of her daughters.
Image Source: Beth O’Brien

The good news is, although O’Brien still has some surgeries to undergo, as well as some lingering symptoms (she says she developed a condition called lymphedema after treatment), she is doing well now and is settling back into some sense of normalcy.

“I still have a couple surgeries later this year but I’m doing great,” she says. “I see my occupational therapist monthly for preventative lymphedema treatments and I also wear a compression sleeve to prevent fluid buildup.”

O’Brien’s new mission is to educate other mothers about breast cancer — and encourage all women to perform breast self-checks. After all, if she hadn’t been breastfeeding, she might not have found the lump. (Let’s face it, breastfeeding allows us to get up close with our breasts like never before!) And as we know, early detection is key when it comes to cancer.

“You know your body better than anyone,” says O’Brien. “So, do self exams and if anything doesn’t feel normal, get it checked out. Talk to your doctors, ask questions.”

There was also one significant distinction she has since learned that might help other mothers tell the difference between a clogged duct and a cancerous lump:

“My lump did not hurt at all,” she explains. “Normally clogged milk ducts hurt. So if you feel a lump and it doesn’t hurt and it won’t go away, please at least call your doctor or a lactation consultant.”

The bottom line, O’Brien urges, is to share any and all concerns you might have with your doctor, and not take any warning signs for granted. Additionally, just because you don’t have a family history of breast cancer or are young in age, doesn’t mean you aren’t at risk.

“It can happen to anyone,” she says. “I didn’t have a extensive history within my family.”

In the end, O’Brien’s story serves as a good reminder for us all. I know that I am often way too lax about my breast self-exams myself. (And shhhh … don’t tell anyone, but I just turned 40, and have definitely have been putting off that mammogram.) O’Brien’s story is just the good kick in rear I need to make that dang appointment, already.

So let’s hear it for this amazing mom, who not only beat cancer, but is using her story to spread awareness to others. I wish her continued health, healing, and many happy years ahead with her sweet kiddos.

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