Mental Health,  Mom Triumphs

Mom Triumphs: Breast Cancer While Pregnant

This is the first post in a new series called Mom Triumphs. I’m so grateful to Anissa of Mama Goes Beyond for sharing her story. Reading it for the first time struck me at my core. You don’t want to miss her words of wisdom throughout this post.

I’ve battled depression and anxiety for several years, and I know times can be tough as a mom when you’re dealing with a personal struggle while trying to care for your children.

Going through a major life challenge can really change your perspective. I started my blog to help other moms care for themselves and live more intentionally.

I’ve come to realize that many of us have faced major hurdles in life and come out on the other side with knowledge that could benefit others. The Moms Triumphs series is about celebrating the incredible strength of mothers and sharing experiences to inspire other moms, including those who are struggling.

Anissa’s story is a perfect example. I hope you’ll find it as inspiring as I did.

Want to be featured on Mom Triumphs? Apply here.

Mom Triumphs: Breast Cancer While Pregnant
This post contains some affiliate links, which means I earn a small commission if you use them (at no cost to you). Full disclosure. Tips in this post are based on personal experience and should not be considered medical advice. Full disclaimer.

Anissa’s Story

Tell us a little about you! Where are you from? What do you like to do? What is your family like?

Hi! I’m an American mom who most recently owned a home just outside of Washington, DC. In June of 2019, my family of four got rid of our home and nearly all of our possessions in preparation to travel the world as a family.

I love traveling (obviously) and taking on new challenges/learning new things. For the last couple of years, I’ve tried to pick a new hobby to devote myself to every six months. Hobbies so far have included running, playing the guitar, and starting a blog. Currently, I’m spending my limited hobby time learning Spanish. I also teach singing lessons online.

My husband is self-employed in the theatre/event management industry. We met while working on an Asian tour of The Sound of Music. (He was the stage manager, and I was the Mother Abbess.) My two boys are 5 and 7. They are homeschooled and love Legos, Hot Wheels cars, and spending time outside pretending to be ninjas.

What is a major challenge that you’ve experienced during your time as a mom?

My biggest challenge to date was being diagnosed with breast cancer back in 2014. I’d noticed a lump in my breast while showering, but I’d dismissed it due to the fact that I was pregnant with my second child and experiencing all sorts of breast changes. When the lump didn’t go away, I brought it up to my doctor at my 34-week OB appointment. He ordered a breast ultrasound, which led to a biopsy, and a diagnosis of stage III triple negative breast cancer a few days later.

What were your thoughts when you first encountered this challenge?

A diagnosis like this is obviously absolutely gut-wrenching. The thing that really struck me at the time was the contrast between what my life had been the day before my diagnosis and what it became afterward. In a day, I went from being a healthy person to being a sick person. My to-do list became completely irrelevant. A fiercely independent person, I became someone who needed live-in help to get through each day. I went from being someone who assumed I’d live to 100 to someone who feared I could die with two kids under age three in the house. Everything changed overnight in every possible way.

How did you figure out what approach to take in facing your challenge? Did your approach change over time?

Honestly, my approach was just to keep moving forward. I knew I had to keep fighting for myself and my family. Even though it was a battle I never wanted to fight, I knew it was one I had to win. My motto was, “failure is not an option.”

What helped you during times when you were struggling? Did you have any support?

The time that I was in treatment was when I first really had to confront my mental health. I’ve always been a naturally resilient person, but this diagnosis shook me to the core. I began to see a therapist who specialized in chronic illness. I started a daily meditation practice. I wrote a gratitude list each evening. I did all sorts of work with affirmations and visualization to help my mind see my body as strong and totally capable of beating cancer (with the help of chemotherapy, mastectomy, and radiation).

I had an unbelievable amount of support. My husband was a total trooper—coming to appointments with me and caring for our newborn and 2-year-old while holding down an incredibly demanding job. My parents moved in with us for six months to help care for everyone. I was heartbroken that I couldn’t breastfeed, but the other moms in my community donated enough breast milk that my son was exclusively breast fed for three months and drank breast milk for a year. Meals, gifts, and words of support came from all over the world from people that I loved and people that I’d never even met.

How do you take care of yourself?

Mental health-wise, I have continued the daily meditation and affirmation practice I began while I was sick. It really helps me to stay calmer and less reactive to daily stressors. As an introvert, I strive to make quiet time to be by myself every day. This usually happens before the rest of the house gets up since we’re a homeschooling family with two parents that work from home. As far as my physical health goes, I get most of my exercise when the kids do—going for walks, swims, and bike rides. I drink a ton of water every day as I really notice a difference in the way I feel when I don’t.

Sleep Better With Cool-jams Tonight

Did this challenge affect others in your family? How did you balance addressing their needs and your own?

Certainly my cancer affected everyone in the family. I am still saddened by the playground days I missed with my then-toddler and the days I was too sick to even give the baby a bottle. To cope, I got help with the mundane tasks such as cleaning my house and cooking meals, and I saved my limited energy for things like reading bedtime stories, giving snuggles, and building with blocks.

How are things today versus when you first encountered this challenge?

Life today is amazing. I’ve always been a type-A person who strives to get the most out of life, but I think I’d gotten a little comfortable in my life as a suburban mom. My illness reminded me that I don’t necessarily have all the time in the world to knock off my bucket list items. In the last few years, I hiked the Inca Trail in Peru, ran my first and only marathon (having never run regularly before), and decided that our family loved to travel so much, we should do it full-time.

What advice would you give other moms going through something similar?

Just keep going. It’s an enormous mountain to climb, but you will get to the top. Life looks amazing on the other side.

Are there any helpful resources you would recommend?

I was incredibly inspired by a book called Radical Remission by Kelly A. Turner. She profiles the tactics people used to beat ‘incurable’ cancer.

I also loved the cancer meditations written by Belleruth Naperstek (healthjourneys.com). They helped calm my anxiety and helped me visualize my treatments working.

Finally, I was grateful for my hyper-specific Facebook support groups: Kick Ass Cancer Mamas and Triple Negative Cancer Sisters. These ladies knew exactly what I was going through and were a tremendous help both emotionally and in terms of the information they provided.

What’s your super power as a mom?

I asked my boys, and they said “reading.” It sounds like kind of a boring super power if you ask me, but I was grateful to hear that they enjoy our storytimes as much as I do. I’m off now to make my “Reading Girl” t-shirt.

What have you learned or gained from this experience?

It’s a cliché, but life is short. We’re not promised the opportunity to live to 100, to share retirement sitting on the front porch with our spouses, or to see our kids grow up. We need to make sure that we’re actually living rather than just existing.

About Anissa

Anissa from Mama Goes Beyond

Check out more from Anissa on her blog Mama Goes Beyond, where she helps moms hack life.

You can also connect with Anissa on social:

"We need to make sure that we're actually living rather than just existing" A mom's breast cancer story

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