Photo: Abigail Valletta
Abigail Valletta, of Clayton, North Carolina, was 9 weeks pregnant in April when she found a small lump on her right breast. Immediately, the 32-year-old lactation consultant suspected something was wrong.
"I thought I'd mention it to my doctors and see what they think. But the first doctor told me it was just pregnancy changes and not to worry about it," Valletta tells People. "But I couldn't let it go. I kept thinking about it and it wasn't getting better. It was hurting." (Related: Breast Cancer Changed My Entire Body Forever—But I'm Finally OK with It)
Valletta went to another doctor for a "second opinion," but she was told the same thing, that the lump was simply the result of "pregnancy changes." Valletta says her primary care physician assured her that she did not have breast cancer because of her young age. The doctor instructed her to apply a warm compress to the lump.
"She was about to walk out and I was like, 'Could we just do an ultrasound to make me feel better? Just to put my mind at ease,' " she recalls. So that's what they did.
Photo: Bella Baby Photography
Valletta's suspicions were confirmed. Just two weeks after she first found the lump, doctors diagnosed her with triple-negative breast cancer. (Related: 5 Simple Ways to Reduce Your Breast Cancer Risk)
"I immediately started crying uncontrollably. I just wanted to know if my baby was going to be okay," Valletta recalls. "I didn't know what to do. I was just pacing in my driveway. It took me a few minutes to process that the conversation happened."
Valletta was desperate for answers. And she was relieved when doctors reassured her that she could undergo chemotherapy treatment without harming her baby.
"I feared that she would be affected the same way I was from the chemo and that I wouldn't be here for her," she says. "Even if she was born healthy, I may not be here."
Photo: Melissa Hayes Photography
Valletta underwent a mastectomy and continued chemotherapy, taking a brief break from the treatment to give birth to Madelyn Faith Valletta on Sept. 29. (Related: Women Are Turning to Exercise to Help Them Reclaim Their Bodies After Cancer)
"The birth was amazing. She was just so perfect. I didn't have an epidural so I was in a lot of pain. But as soon as I saw her and they put her on my chest, I was completely fine. I didn't feel any more pain," she says through tears.
"I felt so much better. There was a lot less worry about her going through the chemo with me if she was going to come early if something was going to happen to her. But now that I have her here it's such a relief."
Photo: Melissa Hayes Photography
Now, Valletta will continue chemotherapy, with her last treatment scheduled for December, and she will undergo a second mastectomy and have her ovaries removed in the coming months. And although her health journey will be difficult, she says she's happy to have her baby home.
"Adding her to our family and all the support we've received is just overwhelming. She's just the calmest baby," Valletta says, adding that her other two children, Kennedy, 12, and 8-year-old Carter "are in love" with Madelyn. "[Madelyn] is so happy."
This story originally appears on People.com by Char Adams.