Blogs > Breast cancer didn’t care I had young kids

Breast cancer didn’t care I had young kids

The Valenti family at sunset

As soon as the holidays were over, I called my OB-GYN for an appointment. I had just seen her in November, and she had done a breast exam with no concerns. She had written me a prescription for an annual mammogram which was scheduled a few months away. So, I assumed I was overreacting. But, within a week, I was scheduled for a biopsy. That January, as most months, was busy. My boys had busy schedules with school and sports, and my daughter was in half-day preschool. We had recently moved to a new house, and my husband was running a full-time business. We had a trip to Disney planned for February. After the biopsy appointment I went home to make dinner and help with homework. I was determined to be there for them.

I went by myself to the doctor's office to learn the results of the biopsy. When the doctor told me it was breast cancer, I expected tears, but instead I found anger. I was mad that someone at 43, in great shape, who had never smoked, nor had any health problems had cancer. But, most importantly, I was mad that my children would have to suffer along with me. I didn’t think it was fair to steal these precious years from them with this diagnosis. Why now? Why couldn’t cancer come for me when my children were grown and on their own? My three-year-old was so attached to me. The fear that she could lose her mom shattered me.

Being diagnosed with HER2-negative, hormone receptor-positive breast cancer was overwhelming and confusing. I felt like I was caught in a wind tunnel and couldn’t hold on to anything. I didn’t know what to do next: how to find the right doctors; how to tell the kids; how to be a mom of three with cancer. I found it hard to even say, “I have breast cancer.” My family had no history of cancer. We were, however, very familiar with breast cancer as my husband’s mom was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer in 2008 and had experienced recurrence and progression in her brain. She is still fighting 15 years later, but this disease stole a lot from her, and I was terrified of what it would take from us.

Building a support team

Building a support team is the best advice I would give someone. I spoke to a lot of people during the first few weeks. I found reaching out and talking about it made me feel better. One person I spoke with was several years into recovery and had been diagnosed during her third pregnancy. She said that the beginning was the hardest. Facing the unknown is more terrifying than fighting the actual battle. This statement gave me hope and empowered me.

Once I picked my team of doctors, we made a plan which involved chemotherapy followed by a double mastectomy. The tumor was estimated to be 5 cm, and it was growing fast. It wasn’t easy to hear all this. I was lucky to have my husband to support me and promise we would get through it all together. I had friends in the medical community that helped me translate the complicated stuff. My good friend even came with me to appointments to take notes. Another helped read all my test results. I had just moved to be closer to my sister and her family. She is my best friend and was so helpful during this journey.

The Valenti family at Disney
Dana Valenti and her daughter
The Valenti family all together on deck

Telling the kids

Telling the kids was our biggest worry. We had a trip to Disney world that my doctors said I needed to cancel to start chemotherapy. I struggled with this decision. Canceling a trip to Disney world for three kids is hard enough but telling them it’s because their mom has cancer felt impossible. I could not do it. We decided to push the trip up by a few weeks and start chemo as soon as we returned.

We asked school counselors how to tell our boys, who were in fourth grade and second grade. We sat down with them and said the Disney trip needed to change because I had to start treatment for cancer. They asked questions, and we answered honestly. My nine-year-old asked me if the cancer would ever come back. I said the chances are very good that it will not. My daughter was three, so it was different for her. I had some children’s books on the topic, but she didn’t really understand why I was tired or in bed some days. She only wanted my love and attention. She wouldn’t let her dad put her to bed or drive her to school. I knew she was scared, so I did my best. When my hair fell out, she worried hers would too. I wore stylish hair wraps in all different colors, and she liked seeing me match them with clothes.

I had four rounds of chemotherapy with the drugs cyclophosphamide and doxorubicin, which they call the red devil. After a severe allergic reaction to my original prescription of paclitaxel, I switched to one that had fewer side effects for 12 rounds. I lost all my hair, hardly ate, and ached all over. My family was amazing during all those months, and many friends supported me.

On my worst days, knowing my kids needed me helped me rise. I did my very best to make dinner at night, show up to the baseball games and school functions, and be at preschool pick up every day. My husband was so strong and helped in every way, but it all took a toll on him. He was worried about me and also dealing with my anger. We both saw therapists to help us. We continued to update the kids when they asked questions but didn’t overwhelm them with information that wasn’t age appropriate. And we promised that, even with this diagnosis, we were still going to make the good days great.

After chemo I had a double mastectomy with expanders, and the recovery was very hard. My aunt stayed with us to care for me round the clock, and my mom helped keep the kids fed. My sister drove my kids to parties and school events. It took a village, but their lives stayed consistent, and that was my priority.

Immediately after surgery I was told the cancer hadn’t spread to the lymph nodes so I would not need radiation. Unfortunately, the pathology report had a different result; the had spread to some of the lymph nodes. I needed 25 radiation treatments.

Healing from surgery while doing daily radiation for five weeks was exhausting. I would drop my kids off at school, head to radiation, and return in time to get my daughter from preschool at noon. She would beg me to play with her, and I would try my hardest to keep my eyes open. After the radiation I started a monthly injection to suppress estrogen and daily hormone therapy pills for the next five years. I was prematurely thrown into menopause with hot flashes and mood swings. I again felt angry at the timing of cancer.

Dana Valenti and her daughter in stylish head wraps

Why now? At 44, I needed my energy for my kids. It felt like cancer had fast forwarded my life by decades.

Dana Valenti


I did keep my promise to make the good days great for my family. We took vacations, had the birthday parties, and celebrated as many things as possible. I’m forever grateful for the support of my family and especially for my kids because I fought the hardest for them. My husband and I often say, "When you must, you can.” And I believe that my “must” came from my desire to be present with my family. I’m still angry at cancer, but I’m also grateful that I’m on the other side of treatment and that my prognosis is good. Cancer didn’t care I was a mom, and it didn’t care that my kids were young. It came anyway, and I fought like hell to make sure it didn’t win.



The views and opinions of our bloggers represent the views and opinions of the bloggers alone and not those of Living Beyond Breast Cancer. Also understand that Living Beyond Breast Cancer does not medically review any information or content contained on, or distributed through, its blog and therefore does not endorse the accuracy or reliability of any such information or content. Through our blog, we merely seek to give individuals creative freedom to tell their stories. It is not a substitute for professional counseling or medical advice.


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