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Your Family Now: Nurse donates breast milk to La Vista mom battling cancer

Posted at 3:24 PM, Jan 19, 2018

A cancer diagnosis can make a person feel helpless. Ashley Chesnut has two children under the age of two. In mid-December she felt a sharp pain that wound up revealing she had a type of non-Hodgkin Lymphoma called primary mediastinal B-cell lymphoma.

Chesnut was breastfeeding her infant son when she felt that pain. "All of a sudden a sharp pain in my shoulder and chest, it was like hitting a freight train. It was so sharp. I couldn't move, I couldn't breathe, couldn't talk." 

She almost immediately started treatment at the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center at Nebraska Medicine. She worried how the treatment would affect her life. "I couldn't breastfeed anymore. I'd be tired all the time, sick all the time, I felt like his first year was going to be robbed from me."

She was in the specialty care unit and having to pump and throw away her breast milk. A nurse on the floor named Jaclyn Kenney heard what she was going through. Kenney's daughter Halle is one day older than Chesnut's son Easton.

Kenney instantly realized she could help. "I didn't really think twice, I had a freezer full of breast milk, and I just went in there and asked if she'd be interested in having it." 

Easton has a milk soy protein intolerance. Kenney did lab work and her milk is safe for Easton. (Chesnut appreciates willing donors, but she is not interested in any other donations at this time.) 

Kenney has donated about 1,000 ounces to Chesnut which should last about a month. She's willing to give more too if she continues to have extra. 

Chesnut had this to say about the giving nurse, "it just instantly felt like, God had heard my prayers, and he had sent her."

The support doesn't end there. Chesnut didn't want chemotherapy treatment to take her hair so she decided to shave it on her own terms. Her oldest sister, Theresa Hops, did it with her. 

"And at that moment I thought, at least she doesn't have to do that alone. I can do the hair with her," Hops said. 

Chesnut's prognosis is good with treatment. She also credits these amazing women and others including her church community for organizing meals for her husband and children and her family for always being able to watch the kids. 

Chesnut said, "I'm strong because of them, because I have such a strong support system."

You can read Nebraska Medicine's story on these three women. It includes resources for cancer patients at Nebraska Medicine to receive free wigs and more information on breast milk donation and lactation services.