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UOL: Reframing the Notion of Nursing After a Mastectomy

DeShonjla Peterson is a grateful God loving woman. She is a lover of all things funny and beautiful. She is a cheerleader for the underdog and an adventurer. She is a contributing author to 12 Shades of Breast Cancer, Our Story Our Way. She is blessed to play the lead of wife, mom, sister, and friend to some amazing human beings. And, she is a breast cancer ass kicker!

You are so brave, they say.

I don’t want to have to be brave. I want to live, so I don’t have any other option, but to do what is necessary to ensure that my daughters have a mom as they grow up, for as long as possible.

Bravery is much like courage to me. I fought even though I was scared out of my mind. I battled to keep my child and delay treatment to protect my unborn child and myself. Is that bravery? I call it my only option.

See, pregnancy was a luxury for me. It took my husband and me seven years to successfully bring a human to our lives. We longed for a second one, but when I got diagnosed at 39 years old, I figured that would not be our lot in life. I also thought, who am I to be greedy? I am grateful for the daughter I have and I need to be here for her. So we were good and happy with our family of three.

December 19, 2016 my plan to clean up my projects at work and prep for my double mastectomy on December 20th was thwarted by the beautiful complexity of pregnancy.

My husband, on the Saturday before surgery, shared that he had a dream that I was pregnant. I told him emphatically, “God would not bring a child into this chaos,” but oh God would.

In a ghost town of an office building on the morning of the 19th, I took a pregnancy test to prove to my husband that his clairvoyance was not a real thing. As the lines of the first test turn blue in 2.5 seconds I have an out-of-body experience.

I cuss and say a prayer of thanks at the same moment, but the emotionally tumultuous dichotomy began.

In one breath, I wanted to get this cancer out of me and live my life. However, just as urgently, I wanted to bring this child into our family.


Having kids was not as simplistic as I envisioned based on the song: first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage. We experienced miscarriages, failed intrauterine treatments (IUI), and a late-term miscarriage before our carriage was filled.

The late-term miscarriage nearly consumed me. Having God tell you no about something that you want so desperately can be incapacitating. Was I being punished by God? I felt for days that I couldn’t breathe. I was pissed off daily that the sun had the audacity to shine without Logan in our life.

With all of that baggage as the backdrop of this current landscape, terminating a pregnancy to save my life was a nonstarter. I was a bit snarky and demanding when I had to make a decision because the same God that took Logan would have to be the one that took Zoe because I was not making that decision.

I cried daily. I felt so many emotions surrounding this decision. Was I being selfish for not terminating and starting treatment sooner? Was I being inconsiderate of those who loved me? So much of what I wanted to be as a mom I felt like I was lacking. The only thing I fervently possessed was my desire to protect Zoe.

I was continually worried that Zoe would be getting the short end of the stick and not the same level of care as her big sister. For that, I cried A LOT. I still do, but for totally different reasons. One thing that had me vexed was that I would not be able to breastfeed Zoe for as long as I did her sister.

I thought with one breast I might not produce enough and I was also on a timetable to start treatment. How fair is that to Zoe? If I started treatment during pregnancy I would have to wait to nurse and I would be terrified of passing that poison to her. This was one of the key reasons for me not doing treatment while pregnant.

Even with all of the decisions I made being in the best interest of my unborn child, I still felt Zoe was being slighted.

The contradiction was that I felt empowered, protective and guilty all at the same time.

Image of the author, Deshonjla Peterson nursing her infant daughter in a hospital bed. Her mastectomy scar is visible

I remember going to my parents’ house and sitting next to my dad on the couch crying about my continually erupting molten mix of emotions and not being fair to my unborn child.

My dad said with so much love, “Child do you think that when this baby meets you that she will say that you didn’t smile enough, or that she felt slighted because you can’t nurse her for 18 months? All she will think about is who is going to feed, coddle and change my poopy diaper.”

Once he put it so simply, I settled a bit. I was able to readjust my demeanor to a space of gratefulness. From this space, I was able to love unencumbered by doubt and guilt.

Although I would not be able to nurse for the length of time I desired, Zoe would get the best that I had to give. The doctor said if I had Zoe a month earlier, I would nurse her for 6 weeks prior to starting treatment.

On July 31st, Zoe graced us with her presence and from the first latch, the breast milk from my one breast was enough. The message at that moment was that what I had and did for her was enough, whether I got the privilege to nurse her or not. I never had to supplement her feeding during that month. I was even able to produce extra.

What I realized is that even if I wasn't able to nurse as a result of both of my breasts being removed, I would have been no less of a mother, or provided a different level of loving care for her.

Cancer took many things from me, but as a result of the journey, it brought me closer to those that are most important, unearthed some things that needed to be addressed, and gave me the courage, desire, and gall to live this life on my own terms.

2nd image credit: ncee photography

Unmentionables Out Loud is a monthly series centered around our mission to break the silence surrounding taboo topics. We’ll share your real and raw experiences— the things we still don’t talk about enough to open our minds and hearts to greater knowledge and empathy. We’re passing the mic to YOU. Let’s get loud.

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