Breastfeeding. The benefits are enormous to both mother and child and we’re learning more about those benefits with each passing year. One claim that really interested me was how human milk interacts with cancer cells. In recent studies, a substance called Human Alpha-lactalbumin Made LEthal to Tumour cells (HAMLET) has been proven to kill cancer cells. You can read more about that here. The idea of that is incredibly exciting…even chilling to think about. But, just a few weeks ago, I had more than a scientific study. I had a story from a mom…a mom with a little boy fighting cancer.
Alayna is my cousin and her baby boy, Clay, was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of just 15 months. I asked Alayna to share a bit about this journey, so we can spread the word to whomever it might help.
“There are many people that say they loved everything about breastfeeding. However, I was not one of those people. I have a medical background, so I was always fully aware of the health benefits of nursing. Plus, my pro-breastfeeding sister constantly encouraged me to not use formula; and I didn’t. I had a beautiful, little boy that we named Clay. He loved his mommy milk; and when I returned to work, I had to pump several times a day. It was a lot of work, but I was more than happy to do whatever was best for my baby boy. I set a goal of one year, and I actually went past it! The older Clay got, the easier it was. When he finally weaned himself off at 14 months, I actually missed it a little.
Clay was always a happy and healthy boy who was full of energy. He definitely stole our hearts. When he was 15 months old, a little bruise popped up on Clay’s forehead. He had fallen the previous day, so we assumed the bruise was from that. However, we took him to several doctors and had a few tests run. No one was concerned (at first). What they said was a “hematoma” had began to grow rapidly and we had decided to see a specialist in St.Louis. After five weeks of seeing about eight different doctors and running every test, they decided to do an incisional biopsy.
Ten long days later, we got the call that changed our lives forever. “Your baby has leukemia.” So we packed up and headed to St. Jude Children’s Hospital. We soon found out that Clay had a MLL chromosomal rearrangement (Mixed-Lineage Leukemia), which makes his cancer more aggressive and harder to treat.
Clay has an awesome team working with him. His doctors told us that we are going to fight it and fight it hard, and that is what we have been doing. Clay has steroids and chemotherapy, via port, spinal injections, bone marrow procedures, or by mouth. All these things kill the cancer, but they are so hard on his little body. Clay’s immune system was practically nonexistent. His doctors are constantly looking at his absolute neutrophil count (ANC), which is the type of white blood cell that fights infection, and Clay’s was zero. Every fever or virus not only sets Clay’s treatment schedule back, but it could be life-threatening.
My sister, who is a breastfeeding advocate, helped me get some donated breast milk from a friend of ours. Within a few weeks, Clay’s ANC went from 0 to 1800 (normal is 1500-8500) and things were going pretty well for Clay. However, I began to worry about flu and virus season, so I tried to ration the breast milk and gave him less. A week later, Clay had caught two viruses and croup. It was at that point that I realized just how important this breast milk is to Clay. So I give Clay a couple of ounces nearly every day, and it has made a huge difference in Clay’s levels. His ANC has actually gotten up to 4300, which is almost unheard of for a chemotherapy patient!
I now have two very sweet mommies help to keep me stocked up, and I am so very thankful! I wish I could go back in time…I would breast feed Clay till he was 5 if it would help. Although I do regret stopping when I did, I am happy I made it so far. Clay was born with this chromosomal rearrangement. I do not think we could have prevented him getting cancer. (The doctor said he was predisposed to the leukemia.) However, I cannot help but wonder why Clay’s tumors didn’t pop up until after I had stopped breastfeeding. It may have prolonged his diagnosis; and with MLL, prognosis for an infant is worse than someone who is over one year old. So, with a lot of prayer and a little bit of donated breast milk, we are hoping to get Clay through this tough time. I do know that I will always encourage new moms to give breastfeeding a try. The benefits may be more than you know.”
Clay’s family and friends are all SO thankful for the prayers, the generosity of these donor moms, and the out-of-the-box thinking of Alayna (and her sister)! I am so grateful that Alayna and her family were willing to share this remarkable story. We want it to reach others, who have considered using human milk along with their treatments, but maybe weren’t sure. We also want to encourage moms to breastfeed and donate milk if they can. There are so many babies, healthy and sick, who need it. There is much we have yet to discover about nature’s most powerful superfood!
We’re just beginning!
You can read more inspiring stories from mothers in When You’re DONE Expecting: A Collection of Heartfelt Stories from Mothers All Across the Globe!
Click HERE or the image below to purchase from Amazon, through my site!
When You’re DONE Expecting
If you’re considering breastfeeding or having issues with breastfeeding, there are many resources available!
KellyMom, La Leche League, and Breastfeeding USA just to name a few! You can also get support on Facebook from these same groups, as well as mother-to-mother support.