As a Breastfeeding Mother Who Additionally Labored as a Lactation Guide, I Thought My Breast Lump Was a Clogged Milk Duct

As instructed to Erica Rimlinger

My three youngsters and I had a straightforward time breastfeeding, and I nursed my youngsters for so long as doable. Pals teased, “These infants are sufficiently old to ask for a soda,” however I didn’t care. I’m an insurance coverage agent by commerce and a well being advocate by ardour. I taught train courses for pregnant ladies and offered lactation training for girls within the WIC program. I’m a cheerleader for wellness, and I promote the health-enhancing advantages of breastfeeding for mothers and infants. On the highway of well being, my lane is prevention.

When a tough lump appeared whereas I used to be nursing my third son, I assumed I had a clogged milk duct. In my years of breastfeeding and dealing with breastfeeding ladies, I’d seen clogged milk ducts, however I’d by no means had one earlier than. The traditional treatments of heat compression and therapeutic massage didn’t work, so, puzzled, I went to the physician.

I’d just lately moved from Rochester, New York, to Houston, Texas, to get my diploma in kinesiology with a give attention to well being teaching at Texas Lady’s College (TWU). I lived close to Texas Medical Middle, a block away from the TWU campus. With no personal healthcare supplier (HCP), I went to TWU’s Pupil Well being Workplace, which was run by the College of Texas. To my shock, the HCP instructed me I wanted a mammogram. Then, after seeing the mammogram, she instructed me to get an appointment with an oncologist.

“Why would I see an oncologist for a breastfeeding subject?” I requested. “Inform me straight. What’s going on?” I attempted to get the HCP to look me within the eye. She prevented my gaze and my query, and mentioned, “If somebody says you don’t want a mastectomy, they’re mendacity to you.”

I used to be 43 years previous and a wholesome mother. I exercised six days per week. I by no means took or wanted to take medication, even an aspirin. Now, the phrase “oncologist” hung within the air like a ghost. My father and his two brothers had died of pancreatic most cancers. I knew what an oncologist did.

Tamiko Byrd along with her youngsters, 2022. (Photograph/Cocoa Rae David)

Tamiko Byrd along with her youngsters, 2022. (Photograph/Cocoa Rae David)

Two weeks later, I sat at a spherical convention desk on the College of Texas MD Anderson Most cancers Middle with a group of 5 medical professionals. I obtained my straight reply. I’d undergone a full day of testing and discovered I had stage 4 breast most cancers. My left breast was riddled with tumors that had metastasized to my shoulder blade.

I remembered what my sister, a nurse practitioner, mentioned when our father was recognized with stage 4 most cancers: “There’s no stage 5.” That day, my sister was on a enterprise journey in Costa Rica after I known as and instructed her. She fainted.

I felt faint, too, however I had a struggle to win. Inside per week, my mother and sister arrived in Houston to assist my therapy, which started nearly instantly with chemotherapy.

I now felt simply as sick as my analysis implied. I assumed I’d identified what fatigue was, however I didn’t. I assumed I knew how sick I could possibly be and survive, however I didn’t. I misplaced my hair, and my eyebrows and eyelashes: the essence of my womanhood. The most cancers heart had a magnificence salon the place they shaved me, so I wouldn’t have to look at my hair fall out strand by strand. I silently prayed, “It’s simply you and me, God! I’m scared. I don’t wish to die, God!”

I had been working 30 hours per week whereas I attended college. My well being protection would have kicked in after 90 days, however I used to be recognized with most cancers the week earlier than protection began, so I used to be denied protection. Thankfully, I labored in insurance coverage for years, and I knew I may attraction. As I labored, attended college, raised my sons and fought for my life with each cell in my physique, I additionally went to battle with the medical health insurance firm, interesting its choice. I used to be extraordinarily and unusually lucky that the hospital allowed me to proceed therapy throughout my attraction. I’d, after preventing for months, in the end win the attraction. Within the meantime, I utilized for Medicaid and acquired it.

I do know that if I didn’t occur to have a background in insurance coverage, I by no means may have navigated the advanced and time-consuming attraction course of. I may barely handle it within the situation I used to be in.

I misplaced feeling in my toes and fingers. My joints ached. My fingernails and tooth loosened. However that wasn’t the worst of it. After my fifth spherical of chemotherapy, I misplaced management of my bowels at work. “This may’t be taking place,” I sobbed, as I frantically rushed to scrub up my mess within the lavatory with skinny brown paper towels in between bouts of throwing up. I left work that day and by no means went again.

As robust as this was, I had religion that God was with me. I journaled my journey on Fb to rally assist and let my family and friends know we had been preventing. From as far-off as Africa, Rochester and Costa Rica, my neighborhood rallied with prayer circles, groceries, meals, wigs, childcare assist and extra. Earlier than my mastectomy, I threw a going-away celebration for my left breast. It was an intimate second the place I sang, cried, prayed and mourned for my breast. In Rochester, I had run a free neighborhood train program known as Soul Health 10 hours per week. Now my previous college students had been educating me that if you give one thing to the neighborhood, the neighborhood offers again.

One month after my mastectomy, my grade level common dropped to 2.99 and I used to be robotically kicked out of faculty. For months, my spirits had been buoyed with love from my neighborhood and household. However I’d additionally been buoyed by the mental stimulation of faculty, by studying and protecting my thoughts lively, and pursuing my dream of turning into a credentialed well being coach.

I obtained offended. I had lastly gained my attraction towards the insurance coverage firm, and now most cancers was coming to remove my training. “You can’t have my thoughts, too,” I instructed most cancers, and I filed an attraction on the college.

The dean and administration within the graduate research program couldn’t determine why I needed to remain. “Why not simply take a while to give attention to regaining your well being?” they requested. However I didn’t know if I ever would regain my well being, and I needed to spend no matter time I had left pursuing my dream.

I understood why folks stop — however I used to be not going to. I’d by no means stop.

The varsity relented, telling me, “OK, Ms. Byrd. We’ve by no means seen anybody struggle this tough.” I used to be allowed to retake my semester. However they warned me: Monetary help wouldn’t cowl it, and if I failed, I used to be out for good. I assured them I had fought so many battles, I may deal with another.

Per week later, I went to the hospital for my scheduled full physique scan.

The scan discovered no proof of illness.

Preventing each step of the way in which, I’d crushed stage 4 breast most cancers.

I returned to highschool. I acquired an A+ in my retaken courses. I graduated with an government MBA and a grasp’s diploma in kinesiology, the one scholar in my class to graduate with two levels.

Now, when folks ask me how I did it, I inform all of them the teachings I discovered in life previous to my most cancers analysis had been getting ready me for a warfare I by no means thought I’d must enter. A very powerful lesson was this: Preserve preventing. Even when it looks like you gained’t win — particularly when it looks like you gained’t win — struggle anyway.

This useful resource is created with assist from Merck & Sanofi.

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