‘I was 25, pregnant with twins, and had a 21-month-old son. After the babies were born, I noticed what I thought was a Clogged Milk Duct from breastfeeding. Then my life turned upside down.’

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“March 29th, 2018, my oldest son turned one. My husband and I decided then we wanted to have another baby. Three months later we got pregnant. We were so excited to expand our family! My first doctor’s appointment started off like any other. The ultrasound tech said, ‘For fun let’s see if we can see anything from on top of your belly.’ I was excited! There’s no greater feeling than seeing your little peanut for the first time. The tech no more than puts the wand on my stomach and says, ‘Ohhh, let’s do a vaginal one just to be safe,’ and quickly walks out of the room. I was very nervous at this point thinking something terrible was wrong. She comes back in with a different wand and once everything was set up she says, ‘There they are!’ I said, ‘THEY?’

‘Yup there’s two in there!,’ she said. I look at my husband in disbelief. ‘Shut up, are you serious??’ In that moment I was struck with so much joy and I watch my husband’s face turn white as he lowers his phone into his lap from videoing the screen. Twins do not run in either of our families. She told us they were identical. After the initial excitement and shock wears off, I begin to wonder and worry if we can make it with twins. Thinking how hard it’s going to be with a 21-month-old at home by the time they are born. The nervousness didn’t last long though before the excitement overcame me again.

Abigail Nartker Photography

I had a fantastic pregnancy with the twins as I did with my first son. The only difference was I was quite larger with these guys. Fast forward to December 11th, 2018, their scheduled C-section at 37 weeks.

Courtesy of Courtney Ehrnsberger
Courtesy of Courtney Ehrnsberger

My husband and I arrive at the hospital by 5:00 a.m. and we get settled into the room and I’m hooked up to monitors. A few hours go by and it’s show time! Carter John and Caden James were born weighing in at 7 pounds 2 ounces and 6 pounds 15 ounces. The doctor holds them each up over the curtain for me to see for the first time, they are beautiful! Next thing I know they are quickly being taken from the room. I look at my husband in panic asking him if everything is ok. He tells me everything will be fine.

Courtesy of Courtney Ehrnsberger

They stitch me up and I get back to my recovery room where I have to stay for two hours. I find out that Carter and Caden were taken to the NICU because they were having trouble breathing on their own. Once my two hours were up I was finally able to see my boys. They wheel me down in my bed and I could not contain my excitement! After a few minutes of looking at the two little miracles I started to get hot and felt sick. I told the nurses that I did not feel well and to take me out.

Courtesy of Courtney Ehrnsberger

A few seconds later I started to get sick and I felt a gush of something come out of me as I tensed up. I was unsure if I broke open my incision or what happened. I told the nurses, ‘Something gushed out of me.’ When they took my blankets off there was blood everywhere. Next thing I know there are nurses all around me taking blood soaked blankets off of me and weighing them to see how much blood I was losing. I was very tired and all I wanted to do was sleep due to the blood loss. I wake up from time to time from the nurses shaking me telling me I needed to stay awake as they couldn’t get a blood pressure reading from me. I open my eyes once more and see nurses running around pushing my crying husband into the corner because he doesn’t know what is going on either. They are pushing on my stomach, which was just cut open to birth our twin boys, to push out the blood that was filling my uterus. I was hemorrhaging. That was the most painful thing that I have ever felt. My spinal tap was wearing off and I have women pushing on the staples that are holding my belly together. I remember saying to them, ‘I’m silently cursing at you in my head!’ clenching my teeth and grabbing the bed rails tighter and tighter with every push. The doctor finally comes in and says to take me down to the OR immediately. He had to go in and physically open my cervix so the blood had a way to exit my body, like it would have done naturally with a vaginal delivery. He also did a D&C. Scraping my cervix and sucking out all the remaining blood that was still collected in there.

A few hours later I wake up in my room feeling a lot better. All I wanted to do was see my babies again and hold them for the first time. As time passes and I am able to breast feed them for the first time. Like any mother, I’m worried about my milk coming in. I was hand expressing and using a breast pump to try and get it to come in, and noticed a lump in my left breast. I shrugged it off thinking it was a clogged duct and was massaging it trying to get it to break up. We get home from the hospital and it’s not going away. Every day for two weeks I try warm compress, hand expressing, and even go as far as taking an electric toothbrush and holding it on the lump trying to get it to break up while letting warm water run on it in the shower. During all of this I was stressing about being able to feed two little humans so I was also doing everything I could to increase my milk supply. I started to notice a considerable difference in the output of milk from my left breast. So I sent a text to my family doctor and told him what I had going on and everything I had already tried. He suggested I call my OBGYN as they would more than likely want to schedule an ultrasound. I called my OBGYN and set up an appointment for a few days later. On Friday December 28th, 2018, I go in to my OBGYN to check out the lump. She said it felt rather large to be a clogged milk duct and got me in for an ultrasound in an hour.

Jessica Rhoad Photography

I walk over to the next building for what I thought would be a quick ultrasound. The tech is taking pictures and taking measurements. The radiologist comes in and says, ‘I believe the lump you feel is a fluid filled cyst, I will need to go in and aspirate it for you. Worst case scenario, it doesn’t aspirate and we will need to biopsy it.’ I believe he felt confident so I was not worried. They numb me and I’m watching the monitor as the needle pierces my breast into the lump. Watching and waiting for the mass to become smaller on the screen the radiologist says, ‘I’m sorry it did not aspirate, we will need to biopsy it.’ Looking to the tech and seeing her face have a sad, disappointing look upon her, I knew then it was not going to be a good outcome. But I would not let myself think about it or even possibly begin to think cancer because I just gave birth to two beautiful healthy twin boys – nothing bad could possibly be happening.

As the radiologist and tech leave the room to gather the equipment needed for the biopsy I text my mom who is waiting out in the waiting room, now for two hours at this point, to let her know what all was going on and what they needed to do still. I told her to say a prayer, that it was nothing bad. They come back into the room and do the biopsy and tell me that typically if they have the tissue samples up to lab by 2:00 p.m. they will have the results the next day. By this time it is 5:00 and time for everyone to go home. I have all weekend to try not to worry about the results thinking I will get them back by Wednesday the following week. That Monday, December 31st, 2018, (New Year’s Eve) I get a phone call asking if there was any way possible I could get a hold of my husband and we meet at their office for the results that day. My sister and her husband take me to the appointment while my husband is coming from work and meets us there. The office is empty and everyone has left except for a nurse and the doctor who are about to read the results. My sister, husband, and I sit around a small table as the doctor sits down and says, ‘I’m sorry to have to tell you this but the biopsy came back as cancerous. It’s what we call Invasive Ductal Carcinoma.’

All I could say was, ‘What??’ He apologized again and went on to explain how big he thinks the tumor is from the imaging on the ultrasound. They believed it to be 5 centimeters. The biggest lump they had on a chart in their office was 3 centimeters trying to compare it. I took a tissue and covered my face and just started sobbing. My husband put his hand on my leg and was crying with me. After a few minutes I gather myself and look up, my sister was crying as well as the nurse. All I could think was, how? I am a healthy 25 year old with a 21-month-old and two newborns. We get in the car to leave and I start to sob again thinking about my boys. In that moment, I knew I had to be strong, there was no other option. ‘You will beat this,’ my husband tells me.

So The Story Goes Photography

I had two weeks to tell my family before I met with my team of doctors and all the appointments started. Telling my family was the worst part. Watching the pain in their eyes and knowing there was nothing I could do to take that away was ripping me apart. When we met with the panel of doctors and nurses they told me they further tested the biopsy and what type of cancer I had. Of that first appointment all I remember was the oncologist saying I have grade three Triple Negative breast cancer and that it was very aggressive. My mind blocked everything else out. My husband and my mom were my ears during all of this. After that appointment I was sent off to begin all the scans for staging. That day I had my first mammogram and breast MRI done. We had the weekend to relax then two full weeks of more appointments every day. I had another ultrasound done of my right breast to make sure that it was not in both breasts. I also met with my surgeon who would place my chemo port.

I had CT scans of my abdomen, chest, and pelvis. I also had a full body bone scan done and what they call a MUGA scan of my heart. That basically tells them how well my heart is functioning because one of the chemo drugs I was going to be receiving weakens the heart. They also biopsied a lymph node on the left side where the tumor is. A nurse asked me how I would like to receive the results, via phone or in the office. I told her a phone call was perfectly fine because I knew I already had cancer, it either spread to my lymph nodes or it didn’t. I prayed it hadn’t, but I received the phone call the cancer had spread out of my duct wall into my breast tissue and into my lymph nodes. With all the staging done I was told I had stage three breast cancer and the size of the tumor they could see on the ultrasound went from being 5 centimeters to 8 centimeters. I went on to get genetic testing done that fortunately came back negative. We do not have any family history of it. Some of my family members questioned as to why I got it, I just smile and say because God chose me to fight this fight.

Courtesy of Courtney Ehrnsberger

During all of these scans I was told I need to dry up from breast feeding. I did the quickest way I could and ended up getting mastitis in my right breast, a very painful infection. This pushed back surgery to get my chemo port placed and also pushed back starting chemo. Once I was cleared my first chemo was January 18th, 2019. Just three days after turning 26. ‘Does it hurt?,’ I remember asking my oncologist during chemo treatment, the day before. She chuckled a little and said, ‘No honey it doesn’t hurt.’ She then went on to explain the chemo drugs I would be receiving and also said they would be dose dense. Asking what dose dense was, she explained I need to receive more than the recommended amount because my tumor was so large and the cancer was so aggressive. So I was to receive four dose dense AC chemo treatments given every two weeks and then once I was done with those, four dose dense Taxol treatments given every two weeks.

Courtesy of Courtney Ehrnsberger

I was still very, very nervous for my first day. I’ve read horror stories about people undergoing chemo and them being deathly sick. I googled the survival rates of this type of cancer even though I knew not to. I shaved my head right before my second treatment because the one thing I did not want to see happen was watch my hair fall out, it terrified me. I loved my hair. It’s one of your trademarks for being a woman. We had a head shaving party at the salon where I used to get my hair cut. My husband took a turn shaving a section, then my mom (who also helped my 22-month-old try to save a section), then one of my sisters. My husband along with my mom and my sister all got pink strands in their hair for me. That was very emotional. I came back home, stared at myself in the mirror and said, ‘Who are you? You look sick.’

Courtesy of Courtney Ehrnsberger

A few treatments in I remember lying in bed one night, bald, asking my husband how he was really doing with all of this. He looked at me and said, ‘I’m doing well because you’re handling it so well.’ Physically my body handled chemo better than I could have ever imagined. I never got sick. I was tired a lot, had bone pain, and was nauseous. I felt crappy, but nothing like I thought I was going to feel. I am very grateful for that. I was able to get up in the middle of the night with my babies still and take care of them during the day. It was more of a mental fight than anything up to a certain point.

Courtesy of Courtney Ehrnsberger

I thought about dying and leaving my husband, kids, and family behind. I still do from time to time because I have not yet been told I am cancer free, but it doesn’t scare me. I believe in the power of God and believe he has held my hand through all of this. In the very beginning I was sitting on my bed one day and just had a sense of peace overcome me. In that moment I knew I was going to be ok. I just had to take one day at a time. I am very grateful for my sisters. They have helped me more than I can ever thank them for. For 72 hours after my chemo treatments, I could not hold my babies for risking the chemo being excreted from my body through my pores and sweat and the baby’s tiny bodies soaking it up. So I had to offer up not being able to snuggle my babies when I felt the crappiest.

Courtesy of Courtney Ehrnsberger
Jessica Rhoad Photography

I am all done with chemo treatments and am having a mastectomy on May 31st, 2019. The original plan was to do a double mastectomy at this time, but my reconstructive surgeon wants to hold off on taking my right side to save my skin, and will do the mastectomy of the right side at the time of reconstruction. I am a bit nervous for surgery. Another thing that makes you female is your breasts and I will be losing them. I know I will get them back with reconstruction but it’s scary to think about. What makes me ok with it is the fact they are trying to kill me and I will not let that happen! I will have 4 weeks off to recover from surgery and then have 33 rounds (6 weeks) of radiation. They will be doing a biopsy of my lymph nodes an hour before surgery. If there is any residual cancer left, I will be put on a chemo pill for 6 months.

Trisha Ann Photography, LLC
Trisha Ann Photography, LLC
Trisha Ann Photography, LLC
Trisha Ann Photography, LLC
I am a big believer in the power of prayer. I thank all of my family, friends, and community for storming the heavens for me. I believe that is why I handled chemo so well, it made having a positive mind and attitude about this even easier. I pray I have a complete pathological response (chemo killed all cancer cells) to chemo. If not, I will fight until I have beaten this monster. Cancer may have started this fight, but I will finish it.”

Trisha Ann Photography, LLC
Trisha Ann Photography, LLC
Trisha Ann Photography, LLC
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Courtney Ehrnsberger of Ohio. You can follow her journey on Facebook. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

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