Newborn Detects Mom's Breast Cancer

Jennifer O'Neill
·Writer
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Shakti Dalal is both grateful for, and to, her daughter, Laila, 3. When the preschooler she calls her “angel” was just weeks old in 2012, she helped save her mother’s life by drawing her attention to a breast lump, which turned out to be cancer.

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The newborn had stopped wanting to breastfeed on one side, the mom, 41, tells Yahoo Parenting. “She was really fussy. And she was only 2 months old, so it was pretty precocious of her to communicate to me that there was something wrong.” The mother of three — including sons Niko, 10, and Dilan, 8, with her husband, Sam — then “tried to figure out myself what was going on,” she explains. “I was producing enough milk, so I knew that wasn’t the problem, but around the same time I started feeling a lump.”

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The Dalal family, while Shakti was pregnant with Laila. (Photo: ABC 10)

After Dalal had a doctor check that lump, which was actually under her arm (and which she initially guessed was a blocked milk duct), the mom got devastating news: She had stage 3 breast cancer that had spread to her lymph nodes. The red flag Laila raised while breastfeeding “was one of those second reminders” that gives you the push to get something that’s nagging you checked out, Dalal declares. “To this day, doctors still say that they couldn’t see much. They were arguing about what was the primary source of the cancer because it was so tiny before it moved pretty quickly to my lymph nodes.”

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Shakti Dalal today. (Photo: ABC 10)

With no history of breast cancer in her family and being a self-described “in-shape vegetarian,” Dalal marvels, “None of the risk factors applied to me at all.” So how did Laila sense a problem? “My oncologist, Dr. Frankie Holmes, said that cancer cells probably produce a bitter taste, so when she was tasting the milk she probably didn’t like the taste of it,” Dalal told ABC 10 (Dr. Holmes did not return Yahoo Parenting’s request for comment).

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Laila Dalal as a baby. (Photo: ABC 10)

Dalal promptly began multiple months of chemotherapy, then radiation, and ultimately a single mastectomy. By February 2013, the stay-at-home mom was declared cancer-free. And after enduring four surgeries to reconstruct her breast, the survivor says she’s decided to speak out now about her experience so that other women may learn to pay attention to any inkling they have that their health may be at risk.

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The Dalals at Shakti’s recent triathlon. (Photo: ABC 10)

“You really need to stop and listen to your body and get things addressed immediately,” says Dalal, who now says her health is back “100 percent” and competes in triathlons. “Nine times out of ten nothing will be wrong, but at least you’ll have that peace of mind.”

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Shakti and Laila Dalal today. (Photo: ABC 10)

As for what she tells Laila about her role in her remarkable bounceback, she says the little girl knows that her mom was sick, “and as she gets older and can understand more, we’ll tell her more about what a wonderful thing she has done for me.”

(Top photo: ABC 10)


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