By Katelyn Streeter
Life is never a straight line. I knew that, but what I didn’t know was what would make mine veer off course. It turned out to be a real doozy: I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 33 years old while pregnant with my son. Some days it still feels like an awful dream, but my breast cancer during pregnancy did indeed happen, and I am still here to tell my story. I’ve learned that this diagnosis is sadly not uncommon anymore. Women are being diagnosed with breast cancer younger and younger, and are diagnosed more often with hormonal cancers during pregnancy.
The whole experience was surreal—losing my hair, feeling so tired that I could barely move, dealing with feelings that were incredibly complicated, sitting in a chemotherapy wing of a hospital on a campus where I went to college 12 years ago. What helped get me through was my little girl, my husband, my baby boy, my family, my friends, doctors, my therapist, the Better Beginnings doulas, my sweet old dog, and many more people, some I barely knew. It was hard to accept help and acknowledge the situation I was facing, but once I did, it made it manageable, not easy by any means, but manageable. I always thought it was cheesy when people said, “It takes a village,” but it has taken on new meaning to me.
Pregnancy is so many things—beautiful, painful, emotional, fun, exhausting, the list goes on and on. The biggest lesson I learned the first time I was pregnant is how deeply personal and unique everyone’s experience can be. It can be difficult to talk about what we go through and ask for help when there are so many social media accounts out there making pregnancy and motherhood so glamorous and easy. My second time around became quite the journey, and it wasn’t about asking for help, it was just accepting all the help that was offered. The drive to the hospital and sitting in the chair for my first chemo treatment, with my little boy still in my belly, was the worst day of my life. I knew I had to do it to keep both of us alive, but damn, I did not want to. Once he arrived, and I saw his perfect little body and heard his sweet cry, it was like the biggest weight was lifted and I could breathe a little easier. What came after was more chemo, a newborn, radiation, and hormone therapy, but that is all manageable because of our support network.
I’ve been listening to Glennon Doyle’s book, “Untamed,” and she says, “We can do hard things.” We, as women, do the hardest things. Pregnancy, giving birth, being a daughter, a wife, a mother, a friend, and what I realized is that just having this body is difficult. I’ve always been a feminist, but the last year has really put women’s health and women’s rights into focus. How do I take this awful thing that happened to me, this curveball, and make it something better? Seeing my happy, healthy baby every day certainly helps. He wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for me and my village. My hope is that one day, no one has to go through the same thing.
To learn more about postpartum doula support and how postpartum doulas can be part of your village, check out this page.