For months, Valarie Molstre pumped and dumped to keep up her milk supply so she could breastfeed her son after chemotherapy. Now the breast cancer fighter is doing just that and sharing how she feels “victorious” in a Facebook post that’s gone viral. (Photo: Facebook/Valarie Molstre).
Valarie Molstre’s smile is subtle in the breastfeeding selfie that she posted on Facebook, but the note she wrote accompanying the photo practically trumpets her joy. “Today my son and I overcame a huge obstacle in my breast cancer journey,” writes the Moorhead, Minnesota mother about her 4-month-old in the update, which has been shared more than 13,000 times in just 4 days. “Today he breastfed for the first time after chemotherapy.”
The breast cancer fighter — given a stage 2 diagnosis while pregnant with her son — tells Yahoo Parenting the fact that her post has resonated with so many “is exciting. I’m really glad that people are hearing about it.”
Breastfeeding, after all, isn’t just a personal choice for Molstre. “I’m a WIC dietician,” she says (referring to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, which in part provides nutrition education for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women, as well as children under 5). “So breastfeeding promotion is my job. And it’s my passion too.”
To say that Molstre faced challenges getting to this point is an understatement. While she says today, “I’m doing well. I’m feeling a lot better,” this winter things didn’t look good. When she was diagnosed at 28 weeks pregnant, doctors didn’t want to wait to administer chemotherapy, deeming her disease too aggressive.
“[Then] after 5 cycles of chemo, I gave birth to a healthy baby boy,” writes the mother of two (her daughter is 3) on Facebook. “I was told I couldn’t breastfeed for weeks after chemo… and at first I was even told I wouldn’t be able to pump. The lactation consultant at the hospital wouldn’t even come in to see me.”
Molstre and her family (Photo: Facebook/Valarie Molstre).
Eventually she details that she found a lactation consultant who researched Molstre’s medication and discovered that the mom could breastfeed 10 days after a dose of chemo and that it was safe to pump. “So, for 2 ½ months I pumped and dumped to keep my milk supply,” writes Molstre. “Then when I started a chemotherapy with doses every other week instead of weekly, I got to breastfeed 4 days each cycle.”
After months of pumping 6 times a day, it’s no wonder Molstre was thrilled to share, “I am able to breastfeed my son,” on Facebook June 15. “We still face challenges,” she writes. “Radiation will likely dry up my milk on the effected side, but I feel victorious today. This was like taking the power over my body back. I’m the one in control of this one thing. This is something only I can do for my child, and if something happens to me, this is protection and health I can give him that will last the rest of his life.”
What got her through the weeks and weeks of pumping and dumping? “The whole thing is I put my head down and told myself, do what you have to do,” she says. “That’s been my process through all of this — just power through.”
La Leche League International’s Diana West calls Molstre’s story, “astonishing.” Most postpartum mothers “can’t even manage to get in a shower,” West jokes to Yahoo Parenting, let alone pump and dump multiple times a day for weeks of chemotherapy to keep up her milk supply. “This woman’s story is so inspiring because we’re well aware that in society there are many reasons people don’t breastfeed. So to see someone fighting so hard against all odds to do it, is a testament to the spirit of a mother who wants to consider her child’s well-being at the same time as hers when her own health needs are so pressing.”
There aren’t any statistics West is aware of regarding the number of women who breastfeed during chemotherapy but she notes that the phenomenon is “pretty darn rare.” And that’s exactly why Molstre is sharing her story wide.
“I wasn’t able to find any information on breastfeeding with chemotherapy online,” writes the mom. “[And] while every situation is different, I hope this will find some women who have been told they can’t breastfeed, and encourage them to keep looking for answers. Find an expert, and if you have the will, you will find a way.”