(L-R) Jaclyn Kenney and her daughter Halle, and Ashley Chesnut and her son Easton
Nebraska Medicine
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January 23, 2018 12:17 PM

A nurse at Nebraska Medical Center made the donation of a lifetime after giving 1,000 oz. of her breast milk to a cancer patient who had to stop nursing her 5-month-old son during chemotherapy.

Jaclyn Kenney noticed a baby around her daughter’s age at the hospital one day, and learned that he belonged to Ashley Chesnut, a mom of two who had just been diagnosed with lymphoma. Chesnut had just learned that she had to stop breastfeeding, and was devastated.

“Breastfeeding to me is a privilege, because for one reason or another, not all women can do it,” Chesnut, 30, tells PEOPLE. “I loved this special time with each of my kids, and I felt like it was being stolen away from me and there was nothing I could do to stop it.”

She asked about putting off treatment until her son Easton was older, but her cancer was too aggressive. So Chesnut started six rounds of treatment, which required her to stay in the hospital for five days every three weeks.

“While I was in the hospital for my first treatment I was having to pump and then discard my milk and it was very discouraging and it made my morale pretty low,” she says. “I was away from my kids, and for Easton it was the first time I was away from him for more than a couple hours, so you can imagine how down I was feeling.”

Ashley Chesnut with her husband Tim, daughter Gracie (2) and son Easton (5 months)
Ashley Chesnut

Meanwhile, Kenney, who has a daughter just one day older than Easton, was overproducing milk. She had been thinking about donating the extra ounces to a milk bank, but hearing about Chesnut during her shift at the hospital changed her mind.

“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 she could no longer breastfeed,” Kenney, 23, tells PEOPLE.

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“She’s an angel and an answered prayer,” Chesnut says. “I just couldn’t believe she was offering.”

And as luck would have it, Kenney was following a dairy-free diet because her daughter had an intolerance, and Easton has the same issue.

Chesnut says that being able to give Easton breast milk was a huge relief.

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

Chesnut says Kenney’s generosity readied her to tackle 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 says. “With this burden lifted I was able to get my mind right to prepare for this fight.”

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