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Laurie Ulster
Contributing Writer

PSA From a Mom Whose 'Clogged Duct' Turned Out to Be Cancer

“I don't know if I would've discovered it if I wasn't nursing,” Beth O'Brien says.
PUBLISHED ON 07/11/2018

Beth O'Brien of Bennington, Nebraska, says her baby may have saved her life.

Last year while she was feeding her 9-month-old daughter Annabelle, O'Brien experienced what she thought was a clogged duct. If you've ever had one, you know how uncomfortable (and then painful) they can be, so she asked lactation experts for tips on how to clear it. When none of those worked, she went to see her doctor—and found out her condition was actually much more serious than she expected.

An ultrasound and then a biopsy revealed she had stage 2 triple-negative breast cancer, a particularly aggressive form of the disease. With the support of her husband, her two young sons and baby Annabelle, the 38-year-old mom went through chemotherapy, 28 doses of radiation and a double mastectomy, and shows no more signs of cancer. And she's grateful to her baby girl for making her realize she had a lump in her breast that needed medical attention.

“She was a blessing,” O’Brien tells Live Well Nebraska.

Now that she's well, she's hoping to use her experience to help others, urging women—especially those under 40 who might not be on a regular mammogram schedule—to do regular self-checks.

"I did breast exams every other month... not extensively," O'Brien tells Good Morning America. "It's a blessing that I had my daughter and she was nursing at the time. I don't know if I would've discovered it if I wasn't nursing."

She suggests all women do self-checks regularly and keep an eye out for hard, fixed lumps that don’t hurt. Be sure to flag any inconsistencies with your doctor.

But don’t immediately panic if you find something unusual. Your breasts undergo a lot of changes when you’re breastfeeding, and a clogged milk duct isn’t uncommon. It typically feels like a hard ball that’s painful to the touch. Learn more about how to spot the symptoms—and find relief— here.