I had always wanted to be a mom and was thrilled when I had my son. But I couldn’t have imagined the turn life would take seven months later. A hard, pea-size lump I felt while breastfeeding—a plugged milk duct, I’d assumed—turned out to be invasive breast carcinoma.

My descent into isolation—as a new mom, then a cancer patient—prepared me for quarantine. What I wasn’t prepared for was how this pandemic took what little control I had over my life. One day, I was blissing out while nursing. The next, I was being told where to be, who to see, and what needed to happen.

After a lot of thinking, I decided to have a double mastectomy and go flat, meaning no reconstruction. I wanted my breasts gone. No reconstruction meant I could go back to being a mom sooner. It was empowering to make that choice and have my husband, friends, and doctor support it.

Because of the type of tumor I had, chemo came before surgery. Shortly after I finished chemo in February, COVID arrived. My doctor said my April surgery couldn’t happen the way I wanted. They could only remove the breast where the tumor was or do a lumpectomy. Removal of my other breast—considered elective—would need to wait until restrictions were lifted.

It knocked the wind out of me. I’d gone through a lot to reach that decision, and for the moment, it wasn’t mine to make.

COVID-19 also robbed me of my support system. Family and friends who had watched Henry when I went to chemo or was sick from treatment could no longer enter our house—I was too vulnerable.

Fortunately, in May, I was able to complete my double mastectomy. The doctors told me I couldn’t lift anything over 5 pounds for six weeks, including my child. I agonized over how I would both parent and heal. My husband and I decided to put Henry in daycare. I was no longer as compromised from chemo, and my doctors felt it would be OK. Amazingly, the daycare owners heard my story and took Henry free of charge as I was recovering.

I’m happy to say that I’m in remission. This has been the hardest time of my life. But also the best because I have Henry. He gave me the motivation to get through this. I hope he won’t remember that I was sick, or this pandemic. I look forward to when we can go to a park and just have fun.

This article originally appeared in Parents magazine’s October 2020 issue as “Breast Cancer in the Pandemic – Darcy Andersen, 34 Brookfield, IL” Want more from the magazine? Sign up for a monthly print subscription here

Peg Rosen

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