Health and Wellness

Breastfeeding saved my life: New mother learns she has stage 3 CANCER after difficulty producing milk

A New Jersey woman was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer after mistaking her symptoms for issues with breastfeeding. 

Lauren da Silva, 39, was pumping breast milk for her infant son, Lucas, when she noticed a lump in her right breast in April 2021. 

Mrs da Silva chocked it up to a clogged milk duct – when breast milk can’t properly flow to the nipple – which was common for her.

However, when she couldn’t unclog the duct through breastfeeding or pumping, she sought medical attention. Her doctor believed the lump was just a sign of tissue changes from breastfeeding, and an ultrasound came back all clear.

But about two months later, ‘my right breast just exploded,’ Mrs da Silva told Women’s Health

Lauren da Silva, 39, had just found out that she was pregnant with her second son, Ryan (pictured here), when she was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer

Mrs da Silva underwent 12 rounds of chemotherapy, a double mastectomy, had both ovaries removed, and had five rounds of radiation

Mrs da Silva underwent 12 rounds of chemotherapy, a double mastectomy, had both ovaries removed, and had five rounds of radiation

Her breast had grown to about twice the size of her left one and began causing pain. Around the same time, she had discovered she was pregnant with her second child. 

‘I was terrified,’ Mrs da Silva, a nurse, said. ‘Not only was I pregnant, but I also had a little son already.’ 

‘In my gut I knew I had signs of breast cancer.’

Mrs da Silva was diagnosed with stage three hormone-positive HER2-positive breast cancer, which she called ‘the worst news of my life.’ She was 22 weeks pregnant with another son. 

Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in both the US and the world.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) estimates there will be more than 300,000 new cases this year, along with 43,700 deaths.

Overall, the chance of a woman developing breast cancer is 13 percent, meaning one in eight women will be diagnosed with the condition.  

Death rates have plummeted 43 percent between 1989 and 2020, after successful public health awareness campaigns, better screening and new drugs.

And nine in 10 patients are expected to survive after five years.

Symptoms include a lump in the breast or armpit, thickening or swelling of the breast, breast irritation, redness or flakiness around the breast, nipple discharge such as blood, change in breast size or shape, and breast pain. 

HER2 is a protein that causes breast cancer cells to grow quickly, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). In HER2 positive breast cancer, the patient has higher than normal HER2 levels. 

The ACS estimates that 15 to 20 percent of breast tumors are HER2-positive. 

These cancers tend to spread faster than HER2-negative cancers, though they can be treated with drugs that specifically target the HER2 protein. 

The cancer is highly treatable if it has not spread. According to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, localized HER2-positive breast cancer (which has not spread from its primary site) has a 100 percent survival rate.

Those with regional cases, meaning the cancer has spread to nearby sites, has a 90 percent survival rate. 

However, this likelihood drops significantly for distant cancer, with a 32 percent five-year survival rate.

Hormone-positive breast cancer means that these are hormone receptors on the breast cancer cells, meaning that hormones like estrogen and progesterone could cause them to grow.

Mrs da Silva went through four rounds of chemotherapy before going into labor at 33 weeks. Despite the cancer treatment and preterm birth, her son, Ryan, came out ‘perfect.’ 

She completed 12 total rounds of chemotherapy, as well as several rounds of immunotherapy to target the HER2 protein. 

Mrs da Silva then underwent a double mastectomy, during which both breasts are removed, and had several cancerous lymph nodes removed. 

Additionally, both ovaries were removed, and she was put on hormone blocking medications.

‘At 39 years old, I’m already in menopause, which sucks,’ she said. 

Mrs da Silva is now cancer free. Now, the mother-of-two, whose own mother died of breast cancer in her 40s, is now advocating for women to pay attention to symptoms and seek medical attention if something seems off.  

‘When I look back on my experience, I wish I had been more aggressive after that first ultrasound. Something was there,’ she said.

‘I just hope that more women will listen to their bodies when they hear a story like mine. Always check.’

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