Monday, January 29, 2018


Last weekend marked six years since my bilateral mastectomy. I still remember waking up from surgery feeling like I'd done a thousand push-ups, like an elephant was sitting on my chest, like a hole had been carved where fullness once had been. I remember tightness and pressure and emptiness more than pain. I remember being terrified to peek under the bandages. I remember feeling numb. Feeling devastated. Feeling relieved (because, I thought, maybe I was done with this disease. Spoiler: I wasn’t.)


If you’ve been with me here long enough, you’ll recall there was an outpouring of support when I was diagnosed with cancer more than six years ago. Of course there was. People, I still believe, are at their core generous and kind and wanting to help in a crisis (or when miracles happen, too) . There were meals delivered and organized for months, and I still crave my sister-in-law Tracee’s stuffed shells — which is saying a lot considering my memory of them is tied to recovering from chemo. Friends and family dropped in to babysit baby Quinn, sometimes dropping everything on a moment’s notice just so I could lie in the fetal position on my couch, trying not to vomit, memorizing the pattern in the charcoal fabric. Other friends flew in for cross-country visits, and then there were those special women who cut off and donated their hair to make the wig I wore for all of 2012 and a good part of 2013. I was blown away by all of it, by all of them.

And then four -- ha! I was feeling ambitious about getting this post out -- ten weeks ago now, I gave birth to a baby girl. The magic of that in itself is for another post, probably after I’ve gotten more than four hours’ sleep in a row. But in my wildest dreams, I never imagined this kind of miracle could be possible after my diagnosis, after two years in chemically-induced menopause, after having my breasts removed that January six years ago. Our friends and colleagues have again swooped in to lift us up, to help us create a nest for our baby girl, to keep our older child entertained, to give us love and food and diapers in almost equal measure.

You'd be weeping on a daily basis, too.   

We named her Noelle. We think she's perfect.

Also? These photos are everything. My talented, beautiful friend Danya offered this photoshoot to me as a gift at my baby shower. I can't stop staring at them.

And you know how I met Danya? Stupid, stupid cancer. She read my blog, realized we lived near each other and have boys about the same age, and after months of intermittent messaging, one night we randomly sat next to each other at a pizza restaurant in my neighborhood and finally made solid plans to hang out. Our boys hit it off immediately, and so did we.

Check out her widely-shared video telling her story about being diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in an effort to save the Affordable Care Act last summer. Thankfully, she's doing well right now and we are overdue for a champagne toast to celebrate both of our recent clean scans.


Even before Noelle arrived, my friends Jenn and Christine rushed over with breakfast one Sunday morning to help me launder baby clothes and set up the nursery when I thought I was going into labor two weeks ahead of schedule. Turns out I’d just peed my pants a little, and I will always blame it on: I was carrying low and Noelle's head was pressed into my bladder for weeks on end. The silver lining was that I finally got my hospital bag packed and figured out where in the house the newborn diapers had been stashed during our construction of the nursery.

Chris's colleagues gave us a hand-me-down rocking chair, bassinet, baby carriers, and an infant bathtub. Other mom friends passed down their little girls’ gently used clothing. A pediatrician friend pulled together a sampling of baby meds and ointments we might need in the coming months.

But far and away the thing that bowls me over day after day (and night after night) is the donated breast milk we’ve been able to feed our little girl. A friend with a 4-month-old gave me a few bags of extra milk; a couple of women who read my story in Facebook groups sent a few hundred ounces from Chicago, North Carolina, and Texas; another breast cancer survivor mom put me in touch with one of her former donors who passed along 50 bags worth of frozen pumped milk; and my pediatrician friend secured a couple of other local donors for us. The hospital where I delivered gave us donor breast milk while we were there and a few bags to take home with us.

Because of the infinite generosity of moms and their hours of pumping (so that women like me can feed our babies what's best for them), for six weeks my daughter’s primary source of food was breastmilk. Another box arrived from my college friend Katie today, and so baby girl will have another immunity boost, right in the heart of flu season.

A couple of times in the early weeks, when baby girl would turn her head into my chest, seeking food from me and my absent breasts, I wept. I felt inadequate. I cried to Chris, "I can't give her what she needs," which is ridiculous because we can still afford formula. But my hormones were running amok and a part of me will always carry some guilt that my body did this -- did cancer -- to itself.

My occasional feeling sorry for myself (and my daughter) notwithstanding, we have been abundantly fortunate. (Understatement of forever.) This village of women in my life, this band of mothers, has collectively pumped for hours upon hours and generously passed along their liquid gold so that my baby can sleep better, have fewer allergies, and maybe even avoid many illnesses. Perhaps between that and some Congressionally-funded research, she won't have to worry about breast cancer in her lifetime. One can hope. The future is female.

For now, we are mesmerized, in awe of our new family member, and beyond grateful for the abundance this community gives to us.