Maryland moms on surviving cancer: Julie Lanahan

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Cancer brought end to breastfeeding

"It kept eating at me. It was just really troubling," says Lanahan, who was 39 years old when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in March of 2011. Her youngest baby, Maggie Mae, was 6 months old and nursing was a special bonding time. Lanahan loved the feel of holding Maggie Mae so close as her baby tugged at her hair or patted her arm.

"I just cherished that time with her," Lanahan says.

As the day of her double mastectomy neared, Lanahan vowed to make each nursing session long and meaningful.

"I tried to make it a precious time I would cherish forever," says Lanahan.
But Maggie Mae wasn't having it. She refused to nurse. The baby who had been a champion nurser decided she was done.

"It was as if she knew," Lanahan says. "It was almost like she was like 'Mom, just forget it. It's really not that important.'"

Then, a friend who had gone through a similar situation with breast cancer shared some profound advice. Mothering is like a juggling act and most of the time you can successfully juggle everything, her friend told her. When you are diagnosed with a serious illness, you have to place the most important aspects of life in glass balls: marriage, children, and health. Then, the rest of your duties and responsibilities should be placed in plastic balls: laundry, cleaning the house, volunteering at school and even breastfeeding.

"Be that juggling act and when you do it, all the plastic balls will drop and it will be ok. Focus on the glass balls because you can't drop them," Lanahan says. "It's like 'oh my why haven't I been living my life like this all along?' "

This realization took some of the pressure off Lanahan as she ventured on her journey with cancer—a double mastectomy, six rounds of chemotherapy and 40 rounds of radiation. There was exhaustion, trips to the emergency room and complications with the reconstructive surgeries. But, Lanahan and her family remained positive. When she started losing her hair, she had a hair yanking party with her kids.

"I didn't want my kids to freak out about it so we had fun with it," Lanahan says. "I would have them yank my hair out. It didn't hurt and they thought it was the coolest thing ever."

From the beginning, Lanahan was honest with her children. Before she had her first surgery, she and John sat down at the kitchen table with the children and told them they had to talk to them.

"We said 'Have you noticed that Mommy has been going to the doctor a lot lately?'" Lanahan says. Her son Brady wondered whether she was pregnant. Lanahan looked longingly at her husband, wishing that was the truth. Her oldest son Jack asked her matter-of-factly, "Do you have cancer?" There was complete silence for a moment, and then Lanahan opened up about her diagnosis.

"I said 'I have breast cancer, but everything is going to be ok. We're going to get through this together," Lanahan says.

And they did.

After 10 surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation, Lanahan is in remission.

Read the next story in the series on Maryland moms on surviving cancer: Suzanne Ludicke

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