Four amazing months into caring for her newborn son Milo, Natasha Fogarty loved nothing more than breastfeeding.
“The connection that we had – anytime I could, I would just grab him and hold him,” Fogarty, 29, tells PEOPLE. “We would look at each other and it would be such a connection of love and joy. It was our time, it was no one else’s.”
That was partly why Fogarty resisted telling her doctor about a hard lump on her breast.
“I thought it was just my milk coming in,” she says. “Your boobs change, they can get lumpy, so I thought it was nothing. I wasn’t going to worry. I had a beautiful baby boy, and I got to spend 12 weeks with him, loving him. And then I realized after a few months that this particular lump wouldn’t go away even when all the other ones would. I would push it and move it around and it just stayed.”
Finally Fogarty went to the doctor. On June 10 she learned she has breast cancer and would need a mastectomy, bringing an early end to her nursing relationship with Milo.
“I was just sad and devastated that I couldn’t breastfeed him anymore,” she says. “I had two weeks of breastfeeding my son after knowing I would have the surgery, so we cherished and relished every second of those moments we had together.”
Doctors advised swift treatment, and Fogarty was set to have her right breast removed on June 27. Then she had a realization.
“I was taking a shower and looking down and thinking, ‘I’m never going to have this breast again. This breast that nourished my son,’ ” she recalls.
With little time to spare, Fogarty put a message on Facebook looking for a photographer who could take nursing photos of her and Milo the next day, just one day before her surgery. A friend from high school, Kari Dallas, offered to shoot them for free.
A week later, Fogarty shared the photos in the Breastfeeding Mama Talk Facebook group, and it quickly gained 5,200 likes.
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“It was so unbelievably humbling,” she says. “There are so many people who said they are inspired by me, and I’m so amazed at the world, and the outpouring of love and support I’ve received. It’s just amazing. You feel like all you see are these terrible stories and these people on the news, and to know that there are so many more good people in this world is overwhelming. It brings so much joy.”
The pictures also got an extra oomph from Fogarty’s hot pink hair.
“Pink has always been my favorite color, and the moment I realized that I would have to have chemo and my hair would fall out, it was a no brainer. I said, ‘I’m totally doing it!’ ”
Fogarty says she’s healing nicely from her mastectomy now, and will soon start 24 weeks of chemotherapy in the hopes of becoming cancer-free. And Milo will still be on a steady diet of breast milk, thanks to the generosity of others.
“Milo won’t take formula, so my really close friends donated their breastmilk to me,” she says. “It’s really amazing, the love and support they gave me. I couldn’t do it without my friends and family.”