Maternity: With breast cancer, mother makes farewell rehearsal of breastfeeding

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Breastfeeding is a dream for many women and involves effort, dedication and the search for information. Photographer Isabelle Favarin, 40, breastfed her first son, Artur, for up to a year. When Bento was born, she wanted to breastfeed for longer, but a breast cancer treatment and a mastectomy interrupted her project.

To immortalize that moment with the baby, she decided to do a photo shoot before the start of chemotherapy. Today, cured, Isabelle says that she had to reframe many things after the treatment and that she helps women who are going through the same health problem that she experienced.


“As soon as my son was born, I learned a massage from the maternity nurses to prevent the milk from hardening. In the first month I had mastitis, I had to take medication and it was very difficult, but I continued massaging myself.

When my son was three months old, during one of these massages, I discovered a lump in each breast, but I thought it was hard milk.

Suspicious, I looked for the doctor because I thought something was wrong. She sent me an order for an ultrasound. I went with the whole family. It was a Saturday. The doctor who performed the exam found it a little strange and decided to do a mammogram right away to rule out the hypothesis they had.

At the end of the exam, I was reassured by the nurse. She explained to me that when she finds out at the beginning, she goes all right. Surely she noticed my vulnerability. She had the baby in her arms at the time.

The result came out and my doctor referred me to the biopsy. The result arrived when I was at my parents’ house. I remember my oldest son was playing in the garage while the youngest was on my lap, and my mother was beside me.

When I opened it, the result said “invasive carcinoma”. My doctor wanted to talk in person in the office.

There he opened a hole in the ground. I was lost, you know? Not knowing how it was in my body, how it was affecting me.

The doctor informed me that it was in both breasts. From that moment I became more tense, scared. I was in the middle of puerperium. She warned me that she would have to start treatment soon and that she would also have to stop breastfeeding my son. It was a bucket of cold water.

I cried a lot. My son was only three months old, he was very small. Artur, my first child, breastfed until he was one year old. I went back to work very early and as he started using the bottle and pacifier, he weaned. So I had in mind that Bento would nurse as long as he wanted. When he wanted to stop, I would stop giving. But not always what we want is what life puts in front of us.

I weaned my son the week before starting treatment. It was really hard. He didn’t want to take the bottle at all. He was very tiny. Although he was confident, that emotional side weighed heavily.

I expressed a lot of milk for him, left several reserves. Not so many, because I also wanted him to suck at the breast while it was giving. To have a farewell.

I’m a photographer and I called a colleague to take some pictures. I wanted to record that moment and I knew it would end. I told Bento that I wasn’t going to breastfeed him anymore, but that I would continue to take care of him, that I was going to stop breastfeeding him so that he could take care of me. I needed to be well to take care of them. Talked a lot, even though he was very small. It’s funny, but it seemed like he was getting the point. This connection is funny.

The treatment started quickly. In less than a month of the diagnosis I had the first chemotherapy. I wanted to face everything in a positive way, I always thought it would work from the beginning. I thought “I’m going to get rid of this quickly, it doesn’t belong to me”.

But when I got home, I was very tired, physically and emotionally consumed. I had a very strong anxiety attack, shortness of breath and I thought I couldn’t take it, that my life was going to end there. I called my mom to come stay with me. My husband was home, but I needed her. I woke up with hard breasts, with a lot of milk. I extracted it with the inhaler and then took a nap. This first stage was very exhausting. I even asked my doctor for a medicine to stop producing milk.

I had a few chemo sessions, I think there were eight. Only later did I get used to the side effects.

Because I was only 35 years old and had two cases of the disease in my family, the doctor asked for a genetic test, and it turned out that I had a mutation. Because of that, the surgery that would just be to remove the two nodules turned into a mastectomy.

After that, I had to undergo radiotherapy, which is super tiring. You can’t romanticize this whole process. I passed, I’m fine. But you can’t romanticize it, it was too complicated. There was a child and a baby at home.

My mother, my father, my sister and my husband have always been by my side, whether to take care of the house and the children or to be with me in the sessions. But as much as I had this support network, I was also a mother. I had a house to take care of, I had children to take care of.

We discover a strength inside that we don’t know where it comes from. I used to say “Our Lady, you who are a mother, you understand my situation”. I always asked for strength. My goal was to stay alive to take care of my children, I wanted to see them grow up. Every day I woke up and was grateful for another day.

The cancer hadn’t spread, it was just in the breasts and it’s been shrinking since the first session.

Therapy was very important in this whole process, because I had to resignify this whole story. I recently had my ovaries removed. I had a whole understanding that this does not make me less of a woman. It’s a rediscovery, we get stronger in another way.

Today Bento is 4 years old and Arthur, who was 5 at the time, is now 9. I face what I went through in a lighter way. I even try to help other women with this. There is still a lot of taboo on this subject.

I have marks, but I’ve never been afraid to show them. I explain it to my kids in words I think they’ll understand.

Everything in our life happens for a reason. I started to appreciate little things, waking up in the morning more grateful. Having this understanding that death can happen and that we are fragile gives us a different view of the world”.


GESTATIONAL BREAST CANCER

Gestational breast cancer, which occurs during pregnancy up to one year postpartum, is rare. It has an incidence of 1 in every thousand pregnancies and corresponds to 0.4% of breast cancer diagnoses in women aged between 17 and 49 years.

“Any persistent palpable nodule for more than a week needs to be investigated”, warns Fernanda Leite, breast surgeon at ACCamargo.

Paula Moraes, breast imaging coordinator at Salomão Zoppi, explains that during breastfeeding, the breasts become denser and this can make the diagnosis difficult. “It is also common for some areas of the breasts to become harder or more sensitive during the period, but they normalize after breastfeeding or massage”, she explains.

Ultrasound is the most recommended exam and mammography is the second option. It can be done during breastfeeding and lactation, as the radiation dose for the baby is very low. “A patient takes more radiation on a plane trip than during a mammogram”, explains Paula.

In cases where cancer is detected, breastfeeding is indicated during treatment. “Some medications can be passed into the milk, which makes breastfeeding risky. In surgery, it is also recommended that the breast be empty, to avoid excessive bleeding”, points out Paula.

About prevention, Fernanda Leite points out: “Breastfeeding causes a constant cell renewal to occur, in addition to hormonal changes that reduce by 4.3% every 12 months of breastfeeding, the chance of a woman developing breast cancer”.

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