To all moms, soon-to-be moms, and those trying to become moms, I share with you this open letter to my two year old son. I hope that my story and message will encourage you to pause, reflect, and act. I am thirty-three years young, and am in a fight for my life. Breast cancer never ran in my family, until it did….with me. I was healthy, ate a moderate diet and exercised. It is not my intent to scare or cause worry. Rather, it is my wish to encourage others to check your breasts monthly, schedule your pap smears or mammogram, and promise to take care of yourselves. It is of the utmost importance. Should you find yourself ever in my shoes, please know I am a phone call away.

Dear River,

I was always asked whether I was having a girl or boy when I was pregnant. My answer never varied – “I don’t care, as long as my baby is happy and healthy.” Now that you are here, your health and happiness are my singular focus. Each day I dedicate myself to making you smile, laugh, and to experience joy in all that we do. In our journey together, you have enabled me to become the mother I always wanted to be. I thank you tremendously for that.

A few short weeks after you were born, I stepped into the shower and our lives changed forever. The pea size lump in my breast seemed odd, but I dismissed the idea that something could be wrong. Acting on the advice of our babysitter, I shared this discovery with my doctor at my 6-week postpartum check up. The doctor’s response only reinforced my initial dismissal – the lump felt like a clogged milk duct, an issue that would go away within time. As life barreled on, the lump did not go away.

Our new journey together continued. I smiled, cried, laughed, changed you, played with you and focused on being the best mom I could be. When you were only three months old, we left NYC for a home in Westchester – following a plan to provide you with a better life, more space. Our new suburban life came with many changes and unexpected challenges. Throughout this transitional time, you were my rock, and I loved dedicating my days to you.

Three months into our new life, it became clear to your father and I that we weren’t happy – it seemed the suburbs weren’t for us. We missed our old city lifestyle, and your dad despised his new commute. It took too much time away from being with us. We needed to be somewhere else – but where? Although neither of us had ever been there, I suggested we move to Jersey City, and your dad was open to the idea. A new chapter of our journey was beginning..

As we navigated the home sale process, your nursing habits abruptly changed, and you simply refused breastfeeding from my right side. Quickly my milk supply dropped, revealing a lump that had grown from the size of pea to that of a golf ball – I made the appointment to get it checked. I truly attribute my life to you for this decision you made to stop nursing when you did.

Two days after our home hit the market, and one day after accepting an offer, a mammogram determined that I had two tumors in my right breast. New developments followed quickly. I was diagnosed with Stage Two Triple Negative Breast Cancer. I was thirty two years old.

The days and weeks that followed were chaotic, confusing, and moved very quickly as my standard of care began. I completed a round of IVF to preserve embryos, completed eight rounds of chemotherapy, thirty rounds of radiation, two separate mastectomies, six months of oral chemotherapy, and am now undergoing a clinical trial for immunotherapy for the next year. Cancer treatment has been all consuming, but I’ve had the strength to carry on. You are and have been the ultimate source of that strength.
Always a believer in signs and coincidences, I have found deep meaning in our short stay in Westchester. It was in Westchester that I connected with SOUL RYEDERS® – a volunteer-driven charitable organization based in Rye, NY. In this amazing organization, I found the people who have added hope, light, and bravery to my experience. Providing programs that allow cancer patients to be a part of something larger than themselves, SOUL RYEDERS has given me an extra push to continue the fight for my life. Everyday I will fight to watch you grow, and become a kind, humble, and loyal man.

Through SOUL RYEDERS®, I have met so many new friends, many of whom are young survivors with children. Together, we are all working to navigate motherhood and the balance of being a mom, wife, daughter, and friend – all with cancer in our lives. While having one another has been and continues to be invaluable, as a group, we are not without loss and sorrow. I had the honor to connect with a fellow mom, Allison Criswell with whom I had an instant connection. This summer, we tragically lost Alli as her passing took us by surprise at the age of 35 years old, reminding us how fragile life can be. It is because of Alli that I now hug you tighter and hold you longer.

Life is a precious gift. We must always remember to spread our joy, laughter, and kindness with those who share in our journey.
This is my letter to you River. Thank you for coming into my life. I will always fight harder for you.

Love Always and Forever,

Ma.

Thanks to Jessica Matfus for this moving piece. Please check out her group SOUL RYEDERS® for more information and how you can donate. Thanks to Michelle Wolfe Photography for the images.

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