Photo source: Babble
Ashley Chestnut, a mother of two children from La Vista, Nebraska, was breastfeeding her 5-month year old son Easton when she began to experience a sharp and sudden pain in her shoulder and chest. “All of a sudden a sharp pain in my shoulder and chest, it was like hitting a freight train. It was so sharp. I couldn’t move, I could breathe, couldn’t talk,” said Ashley. The pain was so severe that she had to put her son down in his crib and crawl to the phone to call her mother and husband to tell them about what had happened. “It was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. The pain was so sharp that I couldn’t even lift my 13 lbs. baby,” she said.
After going in to consult with a healthcare professional about her pain, Ashley was diagnosed with primary mediastinal B-cell lymphoma – a type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that commonly presents a large cancerous mass on the chest. “It looked like two baseballs sitting on top of each other,” said Ashley. Thankfully, Ashley had caught the cancer at an early stage and her prognosis looked good. Still, the 30-year-old mother soon learned that undergoing chemotherapy meant that she would have to stop breastfeeding her son and it broke her heart. “Breastfeeding to me is a privilege, because for one reason or another, not all women can do it. I loved this special time with each of my kids, and I felt like it was being stolen away from me and there was nothing I could do to stop it,” she said.
Ashley could no longer breastfeed
Ashley was putting off treatment for as long as she could so that she could continue breastfeeding her son. Unfortunately, her cancer became too aggressive and she was required to immediately start 6 rounds of chemotherapy. “I couldn’t breastfeed anymore. I’d be tired all the time, sick all the time, I felt like his first year was going to be robbed from me,” she said. “While I was in the hospital for my first treatment I was having to pump and then discard my milk and it was very discouraging and it made my morale pretty low. I was away from my kids, and for Easton it was the first time I was away from him for more than a couple hours, so you can imagine how down I was feeling,” she added.
A nurse was motivated to help out
Jaclyn Kenney, a staff nurse on the floor, heard about what Ashley was going through. She had a daughter, Halle, who was one day older than Ashley’s son Easton. As soon as she heard the heartbroken mother’s story, she knew that she wanted to help in any way that she could. “I didn’t really think twice, I had a freezer full of breast milk,” said Jaclyn. “I stopped in her room and asked if she would be interested in the breast milk, and she immediately broke into tears stating that I absolutely made her day after getting the news she could no longer breastfeed,” she added.
Yet, one of Ashley’s main concerns was that her son had a protein intolerance to milk and soy. So, Jaclyn tested the milk to determine whether it was healthy and safe for Easton and luckily, it was a good match to his milk and soy intolerance. “It broke my heart when I heard Ashley’s story. My daughter, Halle, is one day older than Ashley’s son and also doesn’t tolerate dairy. I did lab work here at the hospital to make sure my breast milk is safe for Easton. It felt amazing to be able to donate to a patient who was cared for on my floor,” said Jaclyn.
Ashley felt like she was finally regaining control
Ashley was thankful and overwhelmed by Jaclyn’s remarkable generosity. It gave her much-need comfort in knowing that her son would be able to receive the proper nutrients that he needed. “It was an answered prayer. As a mother, I want to provide my son with the nutrition he needs. This was just another example of extraordinary care at Nebraska Medicine,” said Ashley.
“It felt like I was getting some control back. Like cancer wasn’t going to take this from me after all. It completely helped change my attitude,” she added. Jaclyn has donated over 1,000 ounces of breastmilk to Ashley’s son, Easton, and said that she may be able to donate more in the future. “It just instantly felt like, God had heard my prayers, and he had sent her,” said Ashley. She also stressed that Jaclyn’s bigheartedness had given her the strength to continue in her battle with cancer. “I knew I was going to fight this tooth and nail but the effect on my kids was really hard for me to get past. With this burden lifted I was able to get my mind right to prepare for this fight,” she said.
Coping with chemotherapy
The support did not stop there. Ashley knew that chemotherapy meant she would lose her hair so she decided to shave it off according to her own terms. “I had no idea how to tell my 2-year-old daughter, Gracie, that I had cancer. Nebraska Medicine’s child life specialists sat down with her and explained what was happening. They helped Gracie pick out matching hats for us,” she said. Ashley’s oldest sister, Theresa Hops, also decided to shave off her hair in support of her sister. “And at that moment I thought, at least she doesn't have to do that alone. I can do the hair with her,” said Theresa. Joanna Tate, known as ‘resident head shaver’ at the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center at Nebraska Medicine, was in charge of shaving the sisters’ heads. “When I heard what Theresa wanted to do for her sister, I told them, ‘this is awesome. You can be cancer warriors together,’” said Joanna. Theresa even decided to donate her hair to Locks of Love.
The next step was to find Ashley a wig from the free wig banks available at the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center and Nebraska Medicine – Village Pointe. “I tried on brunette, blonde, red and even raspberry – which provided some much-needed laughter. Not having to pay for a wig is a huge relief,” said Ashley. Currently, her prognosis is good, as she continues to undergo needed treatment. Ashley credits her sister Theresa, nurse Jaclyn, her family, husband, church community, and others for all that they have done for her. “I'm strong because of them, because I have such a strong support system,” said Ashley.
Another similar story
Similar to nurse Jaclyn’s kind gesture, a nurse in Florida, by the name of Lauren Hodges, donated 184 bags of breast milk to help feed premature infants. She had recently given birth to her second child and noted that she was overproducing breast milk. “I was pumping like 16 ounces to 20 ounces just in one pump session in the morning time,” she said. For this reason, Lauren decided to donate her as many bags of breast milk as she could, knowing that breast milk can be more easily digested by premature babies than formula. 100 bags of breast milk are approximately equal to more than 7 gallons of milk and this number can feed a little fewer than 1,000 premature infants.