‘You have cancer.’ I rubbed my growing belly in disbelief, tears pouring down.’: Third-generation breast cancer warrior battles diagnosis while pregnant

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“‘Here is your treatment plan for breast cancer,’ said my oncologist.

I rubbed my growing belly in disbelief that my pregnancy celebration was now overcast by ER/PR+, grade III, stage IIB Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. At 31 years old, I never saw this curveball coming. As the tears poured down my cheeks, holding onto every word my doctor said, I was overwhelmed and filled with regret and brokenness.

I wish my mom’s oncologist hadn’t changed her mind about me having my first mammogram at 30. I wish I had my skittle-sized hard lump checked out when I found it six months earlier. I brushed it off as a clogged milk duct since I was still nursing my then 2.5-year-old. My nonchalant attitude changed to concern when I mentioned it to my OB during a routine physical. She urged me to have it checked to know for certain, especially since breast cancer ran extensively through my family. My experience with breast cancer followed the diagnosis of my maternal grandma and mom, both shocked by my news.

woman with her mom and grandma who had cancer
Courtesy of Niya Kight

Being pregnant with breast cancer made this journey a waiting game. It was not safe to begin treatment until the middle to end of my second trimester. First, I underwent a unilateral mastectomy on my right side. My surgeon discovered ten cancerous lymph nodes instead of the suspected one, removing seventeen lymph nodes. Sadly, this adjusted my treatment to include radiation.

After healing from surgery, I tackled four rounds of AC chemotherapy. It was quite a stressful time due to the pandemic. I found myself working from home, educating my son, and attending chemo. Chemotherapy slowed me down. Before my diagnosis, I prided myself on being busy nonstop. I worked multiple jobs and was responsible for managing my household and my oldest child’s needs. During my first chemo session, I felt my perspective shift from brokenness to acceptance as it forced me to face the hidden pain, toxicity, and sadness in my life. The isolation of chemo treatments due to lockdown and my body’s constant need for rest helped me begin to rebuild from the inside out. For the first time in a long time, I could put my needs first. As I prioritized myself, I could focus more on enjoying my pregnancy.

Baby Sunflower was born during an unexpected home birth. I nursed for six weeks. It was such a struggle to produce milk, and she always wanted more. To limit my stressors, I opted to supplement with donor breast milk. I grieved not being able to breastfeed for a more extended period. I felt like a failure as a woman and a mom. It still hurt even though I knew a fed baby was best. Thanks to thousands of ounces of pumped milk by donors, Sunflower is well-nourished and flourishing. I am thankful for all the women who helped me feed my daughter. Their kindness truly blessed my family.

woman taking a selfie after cancer treatmnet
Courtesy of Niya Kight

After six weeks of adjusting to being a mom of two and healing from labor, I resumed treatment with four rounds of Taxol chemotherapy. Surprisingly, my white blood cells struggled to recover as quickly, so I had to rely on the Neulasta patch. It kicked my butt with all the spasms and cramps. The immobilizing pain caused by this patch gave me a greater appreciation for my body and all it does for me daily.

Reluctantly, I agreed to complete radiation after another six-week break. For me, it was the scariest part of treatment, probably because it was not part of my original treatment plan. I struggle with change. Radiation taught me to surrender and to go with the flow. There were many hiccups with radiation, which made my nerves worst. I had to learn to let go and flow through this process. Hackers shut down the hospital’s computer system for a week. Not only did this delay my schedule, but it added a couple of more treatments at the end.

I experienced quite a bit of loss during radiation. First, I lost my job as a preschool teacher because the school opted to return to in-person learning during the lockdown. There were safety concerns from my oncologist about me returning in person during active treatment. In the middle of radiation, I finally admitted to myself that I was in an abusive relationship, and I wanted better for myself and my children. I walked away from life as I knew it and restarted as a solo parent. These unexpected storms forced me to change and rebuild.

woman taking a picture by a bridge
Courtesy of Niya Kight

Even though breast cancer took a lot from me, it forced me to grow in many ways. It birthed a magnificent daughter who taught me at a young age to choose myself. Enduring treatment during pregnancy taught me my strength.

Breast cancer helped me to love myself again and tap into my femininity. When I began treatment for breast cancer, I could not look at myself in the mirror. I was ashamed of my scars and my body’s transformation. I committed to meditating using the Insight Timer app, repeating the words, ‘I love you cancer. I forgive you cancer. I love you, Niya. I forgive you, Niya’ until I believed them. By the time I completed radiation, I felt a sense of pride for my imperfections. My body was now a road map for my journey of self-love.

I found my voice thanks to breast cancer. I never imagined the world would know my story, but here I am sharing and empowering other women with my experience. I use to be very quiet and enjoyed being in the background, but now my advocacy work is forcing me out of my comfort zone. Sometimes I have to pinch myself because I am living my wildest dreams such as modeling and writing.

Seeing breast cancer as a learning opportunity shifted my mindset and allowed me to focus within to heal. During my life after cancer, I desire to hold onto these lessons, and I finally feel like I moved from a place of healing to joy. Hearing ‘you have breast cancer’ did not end my life, instead, those were the words I needed to hear to start living the magical life that I deserve. I rediscovered myself thanks to breast cancer and now focus on finding the magical moments in every by playing, moving, laughing, and focusing on the present moment.”

woman sitting on a bench smiling
Courtesy of Niya Kight

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Niya Kight from Washington, DC. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos

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