Postpartum breast cancer: how to spot the signs while pregnant or breastfeeding
As a young mother with a two-year-old son and brand-new baby twin girls, Kelly Owchar’s sole focus has been her kids — so when the 30-year-old began experiencing symptoms of cancer, she initially brushed them aside.
“She was really tired and she noticed that she had a lot of nausea,” Owchar’s sister, Rachel Orbanski said. “She was attributing that to the pregnancy and postpartum [recovery] and just being a mom of three children under the age of two.”
Owchar shared her experiences leading up to her diagnosis on a blog, where she wrote that, “About two weeks after being home [with the twins], I felt a lump in my left breast. The odd thing was, there was no pain.”
Dr. May Lynn Quan, the medical director of the Calgary Breast Health Program said its normal for women to find new lumps in their breasts while breast-feeding.
“You can get ducts that are blocked and that results in some swelling, you can get infections and that can cause masses and redness and pain, you can get collections of milk that build up and make a mass as well.”
Quan said it’s normal for these lumps to be painful — when there is no pain, women should be concerned.
“Typically when you do have lumps related to blocked ducts or an infection, they are painful. They also tend to fluctuate — so they will get bigger or smaller depending on whether or not you’ve just breast fed,” Quan said.
“Cancer, in general is not painful. It doesn’t tend to change in the sense that it doesn’t fluctuate or come and go. It tends to be persistent and if anything, it might get larger.”
Breast cancer among women under 40 is relatively uncommon — young women account for less than five per cent of all women diagnosed. Unfortunately, Quan said that means diagnoses are often made later for younger women, and their chances of survival are lower.
By the time Owchar was diagnosed, her cancer was already stage four and it had spread.
“Her official diagnosis happened on a Monday,” Owchar’s sister Renee Wright said. “Then on the following Monday, she passed.”
Her loss has been devastating. At just 11 weeks old, her daughters Lauren and Leah will have to learn about their mother’s love from their aunties, other family and big brother Eric.
But her children will be Owchar’s legacy, along with her warning to other young women — that cancer doesn’t discriminate, and although rare, it can happen during pregnancy or shortly after, so it’s important to know the signs.
“If you suspect anything, make sure you get checked out,” Wright said. “Don’t make assumptions that its just because of pregnancy, that was really Kelly’s message.”
Since Owchar’s diagnosis, the community has been rallying around her family. More than $100,000 has been raised through a go fund me page.
A benefit concert and silent auction is also planned for June 21. The event will be held at Ranchman’s Cookhouse and Dance Hall in Calgary, tickets can be purchased online.
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