After Her Daughter’s Second Birthday Party, This Mother’s Worst Fear Came True

Ashley Chesnut and her husband Tim had just thrown a birthday party for their daughter Gracie. But shortly after the joyful celebration, tragedy struck. And a devastating realization was about to change the mom-of-two’s life forever.

Chesnut is 30 years old and lives in Nebraska with her family. She married Tim and they welcomed a daughter named Gracie. Less than two years later, she gave birth to a son and called him Easton.

When Easton was a few months old, Gracie turned two. The family hosted a party to celebrate her second birthday and it was a very happy event. But the following day, something terrible happened.

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Chesnut was breastfeeding her youngest child Easton when she felt a shooting pain in her chest and shoulder. “It was like hitting a freight train, it was so sharp,” she told Nebraska’s KMTV 3 News. “I couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t talk.” She feared the worst when she sought medical help and was devastated when she received her diagnosis.

A mass was discovered in Chesnut’s chest that was the size of a baseball. She was told that she was suffering from a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a cancer which establishes itself in the white blood cells. The cancer was aggressive and required intensive treatment that meant that Chesnut would need to stop breastfeeding.

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“Breastfeeding to me is a privilege because for one reason or another, not all women can do it,” Chesnut told People magazine. “I loved this special time with each of my kids and I felt like it was being stolen from me and there was nothing that I could do to stop it.” Chesnut wanted to wait until her son was older before she started chemotherapy.

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However, doctors advised against it and explained that she should begin treatment as soon as possible. Chesnut had to have half a dozen rounds of the chemotherapy and it meant that many of her days would be spent in hospital. She needed to be at Nebraska Medicine every three weeks for five days at a time.

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Being apart from her family was difficult enough for Chesnut. But having to stop breastfeeding left her feeling despondent. “While I was in the hospital for my first treatment I was having to pump and then discard my milk; it was very discouraging and it made my morale pretty low,” she said.

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Chesnut added, “I was away from my kids, and for Easton it was the first time that I was away from him for more than a couple of hours, so you can imagine how down I was feeling.” Although it was a tough time for the 30-year-old, she soon received some unexpected news. And the kindness of a stranger left her stunned.

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Jaclyn Kenney is a nurse who was working at the medical facility at the time. She has a daughter named Halle who is only a day older than Easton. And when she spotted the young boy at the hospital, she heard about Chesnut’s story and felt compelled to help out.

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Kenney was also breastfeeding but she was producing too much milk and had an excess of it stored in her freezer. As she didn’t need it for her daughter, she had thought about giving it to a milk bank. But when the 23-year-old learned of Chesnut’s situation, she knew exactly what to do.

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Kenney didn’t hesitate to make Chesnut an incredible offer. “I stopped in her room and asked if she would be interested in the breast milk and she immediately broke into tears stating that I absolutely made her day after getting the news that she could no longer breastfeed,” she told People magazine. After having lab tests done for safety, Kenney decided to give the cancer patient 1,000 ounces of her breast milk.

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The breast milk would last for approximately one month and Kenney offered to give Chesnut even more if she has it to spare. While the nurse says she “didn’t even really think twice” about the incredible donation, Chesnut was completely astonished by the gesture. “She’s an angel and an answered prayer,” she said. “I just couldn’t believe [what] she was offering.”

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What’s more, both Kenney and Chesnut’s young children each had a dairy intolerance. And this meant that the moms had both been following a dairy-free diet while nursing. Kenney’s offer was exactly what Chesnut needed to lift her spirits during this difficult time.

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“It felt like I was getting some control back. Like cancer wasn’t going to take this from me after all,” Chesnut said. “It completely helped change my attitude.”

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With Kenney’s help, the mom was thrilled that she could continue giving her little boy breast milk. Although not all mothers nurse, many experts believe breast milk is the healthiest option for babies. It naturally contains antibodies that help to fight infections and babies that are breastfed only for the first six months can have less health problems than those that aren’t.

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Not worrying about breastfeeding meant that Chesnut could focus all her efforts on battling cancer. “I knew I was going to fight this tooth and nail but the affect on my kids was really hard for me to get past,” she said. “With this burden lifted I was able to get my mind right to prepare for this fight.”

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Chesnut’s family were hugely relieved and grateful for Kenney’s generosity. While the breastfeeding issue was not something that they were able to help with directly, they wanted to support Chesnut however they could. So when she started her chemotherapy, her family showed their solidarity in a very special way.

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As cancer treatment can cause hair loss, Chesnut decided to get her head shaved herself so that she didn’t have to go through that. And her older sister, Theresa Hops, shaved her head in solidarity and donated her hair to Locks of Love, a charity that makes wigs for child cancer patients. “In that moment I said, ‘Well, at least she doesn’t have to go through that alone, because I can do the hair with her,’” Hops told Omaha’s KMTV 3 News.

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Fortunately for the whole family, things are looking up for Chesnut. Her lymphoma is at stage one and doctors have given her a good prognosis. And she says that the support from her family and Kenney is helping her to get through it. “I’m strong because of them, because I have such a strong support system,” she told KMTV 3 News.

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