A former National Guardswoman was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer during the pandemic; what made the dreadful news more devastating was that she was 10 weeks pregnant at the time.
But in the course of intensive chemotherapy, Constance McDaniel, 30, gave birth to a healthy baby boy. It was proof enough to herself, and anyone else, that she would not be defeated by any hurdle.
The former Soldier, of Appleton, Wisconsin, first noticed the lump in her breast early May 2020, about five weeks into her pregnancy.
“I honestly thought it was just a clogged duct, because with my first baby I had a lot when I was breastfeeding,” she told CNBC. “I didn’t think anything of it and thought, well, it’s probably going to go away.”
Five weeks later, McDaniel and her husband, Matt, who share a 2-year-old daughter, Isla, got the crushing news. She had stage 2 triple-negative invasive ductal carcinoma breast cancer.
The expectant mom was scheduled for four cycles of intense A/C (adriamycin cyclophosphamide) chemotherapy, “also known as the red devil,” she said. “There aren’t many studies when you’re pregnant with cancer. So, that was one of the few chemos that you could actually have.”
Dealt more hardship, McDaniel lost her hair, then she underwent a mastectomy at 28 weeks.
Despite the ordeal, though, McDaniel’s unborn son grew healthy and strong. The family welcomed their “little miracle” six weeks early, naming him Declan.
But the celebration was short-lived.
“While I was actually in the delivery room, I had a few more lumps on my [mastectomy] scar,” McDaniel explained. “They moved me to stage 3 in December due to my aggressive cancer recurring after only three months, and being on chemotherapy that wasn’t working.”
After genetic testing, McDaniel learned she has a mutation, BRCA1, which puts her at higher risk for breast and ovarian cancers. Doctors recommend that BRCA1 carriers have their ovaries removed by the age of 40.
McDaniel had been part of the Wisconsin Army National Guard for nine years, deploying to Iraq in 2010, where she met her husband. Risking her life overseas to serve her country was one thing. “To possibly die when your kids are two and a newborn, it’s hard,” she said. “It’s definitely really hard.”
McDaniel’s supportive family started a crowdfunding campaign, hoping to ease the burden on their loved ones. They raised over $10,000.
Now, there’s hope for her recovery.
“Connie will be done with chemotherapy March 26,” the family shared. “It’s been very hard on her body that they had to cut two cycles. After 3–4 weeks post chemo she will start radiation if her scans are clean (no evidence of cancer).”
A second mastectomy with a breast reconstruction and possibly removal of her ovaries may follow, however. But the former Soldier is facing the challenges with fortitude. “Cancer is not going to defeat me. It’s just one small bump in the road,” McDaniel said. “It’s just made me think differently about life. For that, I’m grateful.”
The now-mom of two, who happens to have a passion for coffee, still dreams of opening her own café.
Of her resiliency, she stoically shared , “Women are so strong. I’ve never known it until I had cancer.”