Becci's story about fighting breast cancer and how her slings helped her and her son Nico to remain connected during all the hard times is truly inspiring. I'm not crying, you're crying!

The 9th of January 2019 will be forever burned in my memory. It is the date when my old life was ripped away and I began to take my first tentative steps into a previously unimaginable world of hospitals, pain and fear.

During the Christmas holidays, I had been taking my usual rushed shower while Nico, then 22 months, played on the bathroom floor. My hand brushed past what felt like a hard lump, the size of a 50 pence piece, at the top of my left breast. The panic set it. I had lost my mum in 1993 to secondary cancer after breast cancer and so I had always been meticulous about checking my breasts. The lump hadn’t been there the day before. This was my worst nightmare.

Fast forward through a teary conversation with my GP practice who were unable to fit me in, a long wait at the walk-in centre, a referral to breast clinic, an ultrasound and biopsy, and I was sat in the Breast Imaging waiting room at the Hallamshire Hospital on my own. I was breast-feeding at the time and was told by every medical professional that breast cancer in someone so young was very rare, that this was probably a galactocele (a milk-filled cyst). I was completely convinced by that stage that this was going to turn out to be nothing.

I realised that something was very wrong when the nurse came out to the waiting room and asked if I had anyone with me. I was taken to a small consulting room where my surgeon and specialist Breast Care Nurse told me that this was breast cancer. I was shocked, but I felt together. I knew that I was in great hands and that there would be a plan. The only time I cried was when the surgeon told me that I would be given a medication that afternoon to dry up my breast milk and that I would have to stop feeding my son immediately to ensure that my upcoming breast MRI was as accurate as it could be. I was floored. I was not ready for my breast-feeding journey to come to an end. The nurse told me that I could go home that evening and do a final feed, but I couldn’t handle the emotion of it, so my husband, after having to be told the news that no husband wants to hear, had to spend the next three nights consoling our little boy who just wanted his mummy’s milk and couldn’t understand what had changed.

I quickly got on the treatment train. More scans and a meeting with my awesome oncologist meant that we learned that I have a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer. Triple Negative breast cancer occurs in 10-15% of breast cancer patients and while it responds well to chemotherapy, there is a higher risk of recurrence than with other forms or breast cancer, and no option to take a preventative drug, unlike with hormone receptive breast cancers.
Battered by chemo, I was continually filled with dark thoughts; would I be there to see my boy go to school, go off to university, get married, would I see my grandchildren? Treatment really took it out of me. I lost all of my hair, eyebrows and eyelashes. I put on 2 stone. I was hospitalised twice with neutropenic sepsis. I had to have 2 blood transfusions. I could go on…

During all of this time, nothing was more important to me that being a mother to my beautiful baby. So many mornings I could have stayed in bed, kept the curtains closed and tried to shut myself off to what was happening. He got me up every single day. He made me smile and laugh and focus on the positives every single day.

Babywearing and Breast Cancer

As a first time mum, who had my baby slightly later (aged 35) I really struggled with a newborn. Without my mum around, things were so difficult – I had no one to ask! Nico was a very much wanted and loved and planned baby, but he really did turn our lives upside down! He has never been the greatest sleeper. He’s such an energetic boy, he has always proved challenging. But absolutely full of personality and I wouldn’t have him any other way! I’m just sure that you can relate to the shell shock that a new baby can bring to the idyllic life of two very hard working people who enjoyed a night out and big holidays and structure in their lives!

Babywearing and Breast Cancer

In the early days I spent a lot of time at the sling library and trained as a peer supporter. I love being able to empower other families the way that we had been empowered by babywearing.

  • Having Nico in the sling meant that I could escape the house.
  • It meant that I could accomplish tasks that gave me back that feeling of my reward centres being hit that I felt like maternity leave had robbed me of.
  • Most importantly it allowed me to form a deep and lasting bond with my son… one that my husband quickly realised that he could build too.

Throughout the long months of chemo, it didn’t matter that I was too exhausted to take Nico out to the park, or even to get down on the floor and play with him; I always had the energy to pop him in the sling and get some fresh air in the garden. I could use the sling to create that familiar calm that got him straight to sleep for every nap and every night time. Most importantly the sling represented normality – the warm bond that we have during those precious moments saved me and made me feel like cancer might have taken away a lot, but it could never take away the fact that I was Nico’s mum.

Babywearing and Breast Cancer
Babywearing and Breast Cancer

Around 10 weeks after I was diagnosed I was dealt another blow. I had tested positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation. This meant that in addition to having a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer, it was very likely that cancer would return in my breasts (60% chance over my lifetime) or ovaries (40% chance over my lifetime). As I write, I am 5 weeks out from a double mastectomy operation with implant reconstruction, and I am planning a second operation to remove my ovaries and fallopian tubes before I turn 40.

I have come to terms with the fact that Nico will never have a little brother or sister; we have a wide support network and many other children in our ‘village’ who already hold the position of brother or sister in his eyes.

What comes next for me? Could I still babywear my son?

Surgery recovery has been difficult. I had explicit instructions from my wonderful surgeon not to pick Nico up for 6 weeks. I have actively hated this. At my 3 week surgical check-up, I had healed really well, my surgeon commenting that it was because I had been the ideal patient and had done what I’d been told. I talked to her about how much I was missing babywearing and she was really positive. I explained about the more equal distribution of weight that a sling conveys than carrying in-arms and that the pressure for most front carries would not be on my chest and she was happy for me to give it a go for short periods in my kitchen and build up slowly.

I am delighted to say that, alongside amazing advice from Rosie Knowles, I am now able to get Nico to sleep in the sling again. I can’t fully communicate the impact it had on my mental health – having to refuse an action which had been such an integral part of all of my time with him. Something that had taken place between us every single day of his life.

Babywearing and Breast Cancer

Today, I am feeling happy, and optimistic for the (hopefully) long future ahead of me. Pathology results from my surgery showed that there was never any evidence of spread to my lymph nodes and that I had a complete pathological response to chemo – the best news I could ever have received. I have a full covering of hair and my eyebrows and eyelashes are back with a vengeance! I return to work in September. And while it will not be an easy journey to get back to my ‘new normal’, I am so excited to embark upon it with the help and support of my wonderful little family.

Slings will most certainly be an integral part of this next phase of my recovery. They have given me just as much as they have given my boy.