Some days, it seems like social media is riddled with one depressing news story after another, leading you to wonder whether the basics of human kindness and compassion have completely flown out the window. That’s why my heart brimmed with joy when I recently came across the story of a heartbroken mother who was diagnosed with cancer — and the generous stranger who came to her rescue when she needed it most.
Late last year, Ashley Chestnut, a mom of two from La Vista, Nebraska, was breastfeeding her then-5-month old son Easton when she began to experience the worst pain she’d ever felt before.
“All of a sudden a sharp pain in my shoulder and chest, it was like hitting a freight train,” the young mother shared with 3 News Now. “It was so sharp. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t talk.”
Terrified, Ashley told Nebraska Medicine (where she was later treated for cancer), that the pain was so bad she had to put her son down and literally crawl to the phone to call her mom and boyfriend and tell them what happened.
“It was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced,” Ashley shared in an article that later went up about her story. “The pain was so sharp that I couldn’t even lift my 13 lbs. baby.”
Just before Christmas, the 30-year-old mom was diagnosed with primary mediastinal B-cell lymphoma, a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma that most commonly seen in young women. The main symptom they present with is a large chest mass.
“It looked like two baseballs sitting on top of each other,” Ashley recounted, describing her cancerous mass.
Treatment began almost immediately after the mom was diagnosed and thankfully, soon after that Ashley learned that the type of cancer she had was caught early enough and her prognosis looked good. But that doesn’t mean she didn’t have many scary and earth-shattering obstacles to face.
One of them came when she learned that she would need to immediately stop breastfeeding Easton. And it broke her heart.
“I couldn’t breastfeed anymore,” Ashley told 3 News Now. “I’d be tired all the time, sick all the time, I felt like his first year was going to be robbed from me.”
But her heartbreak was quickly eased by the generosity of Jaclyn Kenney, a staff nurse who happened to be working on the same floor where Ashley was receiving treatment for her cancer. Kenney, who has a daughter very close in age to Easton, had a stockpile of pumped breast milk, and as soon as she heard Ashley’s story, she knew she wanted to help.
“I didn’t really think twice, I had a freezer full of breast milk, and I just went in there and asked if she’d be interested in having it,” Kenney told 3 News Now.
One of Ashley’s top concerns about having to wean Easton was that her son has an intolerance to both milk and soy, and it would be hard to substitute her milk-and-soy-free breast milk with a suitable formula.
Luckily, Kenney’s milk was a good match for Easton in terms of his milk and soy sensitivity. Additionally, Kenney had her milk tested to assure Ashley that it was healthy and safe for little Easton.
“It broke my heart when I heard Ashley’s story,” Kenney told Nebraska Medicine. “My daughter, Halle, is one day older than Ashley’s son and also doesn’t tolerate dairy. I did lab work here at the hospital to make sure my breast milk is safe for Easton. It felt amazing to be able to donate to a patient who was cared for on my floor.”
Naturally, Ashley was overwhelmed by Kenney’s kind gesture, and it has given her a much-needed sense of comfort during this difficult time.
“[I]t just instantly felt like, God had heard my prayers, and he had sent her,” the mom shared with 3 News Now.
So far, Kenney has donated 1,000 ounces of breast milk to baby Easton — the equivalent of roughly 8 gallons! This should last Easton about a month, though Kenney says she may be able to donate more milk to Easton in the future.
“It was an answered prayer,” Ashley told Nebraska Medicine. “As a mother, I want to provide my son with the nutrition he needs.”
Of course, it’s not just the nutritional aspects of the donation that make the gesture so incredible. It’s the fact that a fellow mom came forth to brighten up Ashley’s life during such a dark time — and she did so selflessly, with such an outpouring of love.
So, let’s all give Nurse Kenney the high-five she deserves for being such a force of good in the world — and let’s hope Ashley recovers quickly and smoothly, with many years ahead to enjoy her sweet babies.