Surviving Breast Cancer and Becoming a Mom

An Interview with Bobbie Breastie, Emily Rich

Erin Hazelton is a freelance writer and women’s health advocate. Formerly a fashion and beauty writer, Erin’s career changed paths after being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018. Since then, her main objective has been educating women about the nuances of breast cancer and encouraging resilience in the face of adversity.

Emily Rich was diagnosed with breast cancer while planning her wedding. Cancer might have gotten in her way, but it didn’t stop her from getting married, fulfilling her dreams, and, eventually, having a baby. 

Below is more about Emily’s inspiring cancer journey and how she became a Bobbie Breastie. Bobbie is an organic baby formula brand that created a program to support new mothers who are unable to breastfeed due to cancer treatment. Read on for more on Emily, Bobbie, and a whole lot of hope…

1. Can you please share a brief overview of your cancer journey and where you are today?

In March 2019, I was diagnosed with a rare form of breast cancer. This was about four weeks after I’d moved to New York from Los Angeles. I was also in full wedding planning mode: choosing vendors, making color palette decisions, and negotiating contracts. Then out of nowhere, my life came to a screeching halt.  

One minute, the most important decision was which centerpieces were right for us, the next it was which life-saving surgery was right for me. This was not in the plan.  This was not what 2019 was supposed to look like.  2019 was supposed to be the year we got married, not the year I got cancer.

Every time I heard the words "you have cancer," I felt like someone was hitting fast forward on a VCR of life. My husband, Ian, was the only one who could slow it down for me. He called doctors, made appointments, and fielded calls from concerned friends on the days when the fog in my brain wouldn't clear for me. 

Ian knew firsthand the whirlpool of emotions that were swirling in my head: he had also been diagnosed with cancer in 2014. He knew when to share silence and when to break it. He knew when to sit in the well of anxiety with me and when to pull me out. Most importantly, he knew how to love me through every peak and valley we faced from that first day and every day that followed. I know no stronger man than the one I am married to.

After being diagnosed, I underwent a series of genetic tests to rule out any mutations. A few weeks after surgery, I underwent fertility preservation because, at the time, we had no idea what my treatment would look like. We wanted to ensure that I had every opportunity to carry a healthy pregnancy once I was out of treatment. 

After a month of grueling fertility preservation procedures (and one unexpected emergency room visit due to a complication from my extraction surgery), I immediately started radiation. After radiation, I took a few months of a break before starting Tamoxifen. I’m set to be on Tamoxifen for a total of five years. 

2. What were your next steps to becoming a mom?

After I had been on Tamoxifen for eighteen months, my oncologist gave the green light for us to start trying to grow our family. It takes about three months for Tamoxifen to leave your system.

We decided to use one of the embryos we had frozen for a few reasons:

  1. My oncology team only wanted me to be off of Tamoxifen for a limited period of time.  We didn’t want to over stress ourselves by racing against a clock to get pregnant and risk being off Tamoxifen longer than I needed to be.
  2. The embryos we had frozen were all genetically tested and viable so we felt we had a better chance of a healthy pregnancy if we underwent IVF.
  3. My body had a strong response to the IVF medications and procedures when we preserved my fertility.  We had a very successful round, freezing 24 embryos in total (15 boys, 9 girls). While we had a very positive outcome, the process was grueling. In a weird way, I felt like I needed to use one of those embryos after having worked so hard to get them out into the world. 

Our first round of IVF began in early April with our first transfer happened a few weeks later.  Unfortunately, that round resulted in a chemical pregnancy and we lost that embryo. It was heartbreaking. It’s also an important thing to note here: I was extremely healthy, reproductively speaking, I had only one minor complication from the extraction surgery, but otherwise, my body responded very well to the medication and the process. Losing our first pregnancy made me realize very quickly that no matter how healthy you think you might be, you are not immune to miscarriages or unviable pregnancies.

Shortly after the chemical pregnancy, we were able to try again. We went through another round of IVF and second frozen embryo transfer, this time a success. We decided not to find out the sex of the baby until later in the pregnancy, even though our fertility doctor knew what they were implanting that day. We still wanted some elements of surprise, so keeping the sex a secret until we were ready to reveal it was important to us.

Nine months later, I gave birth to a happy, healthy, wonderful little boy named Myles Benjamin. Motherhood has been life-affirming and amazing and brutal and heartwarming and overwhelming. 

It is the best thing I’ve ever done and it is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

3. Can you tell us about your Bobbie journey?

Very early, my breasts began showing abnormal reactions to my pregnancy. My cancer-affected breast had absolutely no response to the pregnancy at all, signaling that it likely would not produce milk (which we later confirmed was the case). My other breast was overcompensating for the cancer-affected one. Later we would learn that the milk supply of that breast would be compromised as well. 

I learned about Bobbie when I was about six months pregnant. My cousin forwarded me an Instagram post announcing the “Bobbie Breasties Program,” a sponsorship program created to cover the full feeding journey for twenty-five moms who have had breast cancer treatment.  They later changed it from twenty-five to sixty moms… Bobbie is incredible. 

They were doing this because there is a major policy gap in how we support new mothers. As it stands right now, any woman who gives birth can get a free breast pump through insurance, but we don’t get any help covering the cost of formula or donor milk to actually feed our babies. 

Furthermore, what options are there for women who have had mastectomies, lumpectomies, or other breast-related treatments that leave them unable to breastfeed? And why is formula not subsidized? Bobbie is reaching out to members of congress to change the law so that formula will also be subsidized and more accessible to new parents. 

Then add the formula shortage on top of all of this… my heart just aches. What a devastating and terrifying moment for new moms. This only highlights all the gaps that need to be filled in formula regulation. The beginning of life is the most critical when it comes to nutrition. Pile on the physical, emotional, and financial stress that comes along with being a new mom, and then add the uncertainty of where her baby’s next meal will be coming from? It’s barbaric what we’re putting mothers through in this country.

4. Any tips or advice for women newly diagnosed or finishing cancer treatment? 

Honestly? It’s an unpopular opinion but my biggest piece of advice is this: Don’t take advice.  Everyone is going to try to give it to you, warranted or not. Some will want to share their horror stories of relatives or friends who had a neighbor with your same cancer… others will want to share their miracle stories of elusive diets and bizarre rituals that “cured” their coworker’s aunt’s cancer. Block it out. This is your story. Your journey. No one else’s. 

Inhale. Exhale. Take each day as it comes, my friend. You have a whole community of sisters who stand beside you every step of the way. Lean on us and your loved ones to lift you and love you back to health.

5. What are your favorite items from Stage… and why? 

My favorite item from Stage is actually the registry. I think it is a beautiful way to bridge the divide between the patients who are looking for ways to feel comforted through this difficult time and their loved ones who are looking for ways to support them.

6. What Bobbie’s formula and service mean to you?

I am still overwhelmed to tears when I talk about how life-changing Bobbie has been for our family. It drastically impacted our financial lives as new parents, but it goes so much deeper than that… deeper still that they are helping with the fight for insurance policies that actually make sense.

Pregnancy and motherhood are such profound, challenging, and moving experiences on their own, but for me (and the amazing mamas in this Bobbie group), it’s also been compounded by the daily and sustained challenges that come along with cancer survivorship.

When I learned that we were one of the selected recipients, along with sixty of my survivor sisters, it was the very first time in my pregnancy that I felt seen—truly seen—as a woman navigating these parallel worlds.

For the first time, I was with other mamas and soon-to-be mamas who were asking the same questions I was asking, and living the same experiences I was living as a breast cancer survivor.

This community has become a lifeline for me. That connection is priceless.

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It is the best thing I’ve ever done and it is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

- Emily Rich

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