Interview with Dr. Alexea Gaffney

Our mothers are heroes. Our mothers epitomize strength and love and abundance just by nature of the weight they carry bringing our lives into the world. Every mother deserves the utmost celebration not only on Mother’s Day, but every day after. In continuation of our Mother’s Day tribute, we wanted to continue giving special recognition to mothers in the breast cancer community. 

Enduring, let alone surviving, breast cancer is a feat in and of itself. Surviving breast cancer and experiencing motherhood – no matter what the chronology - is an unimaginable and remarkable journey which often goes overlooked. We spoke to some survivor moms about the dual reality of motherhood and breast cancer; the lessons they’ve learned, the graces they’ve gained, and all of the love and hardship in between. This week, we spoke to physician, motivator, and breast cancer survivor-thriver Dr. Alexea Gaffney.

We continue to wish a Happy Mother’s Day every day to women like Dr. Alexea, who’ve braved breast cancer and motherhood.

Dr. Alexea Gaffney

Age: 40

Location: Long Island, NY 

Occupation/ Interests: Infectious Disease Physician, Breast Cancer Advocate and Cancer Wellness Coach 

Amour Caché: Tell us a bit about your story and background.

Dr. Alexea: Hello Amour Cache Community! My name is Dr. Alexea. I’m a Mom, Infectious Disease Physician, speaker, author, cancer Wellness coach and a three-year, Stage 3 Breast Cancer Survivor thriver. I create healing pathways so that women with breast cancer can experience total health and wellness; mind, body and spirit. I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer at the age of 37. My diagnosis was two years in the making. I’d found a lump in my left breast on a routine self-breast exam at the age of 35. This led to a biopsy that revealed cells that informed my doctors that I was at high risk for breast cancer. Over the next two years I would undergo multiple screenings, biopsies, surgeries, and numerous doctors' visits for my breast health.  

I did everything I could at the time to advocate for myself to prevent cancer, including request to have my breasts removed. But what I didn’t know hurt me. I now use my story to educate and empower women experiencing breast cancer. 

AC: What’s been the biggest lesson you’ve learned from experiencing both motherhood and breast cancer?

Dr. Alexea: My daughter was one of my biggest supporters and cheerleaders during my cancer diagnosis. She was six at the time and I was very candid with her about the disease, the surgeries and treatments I was facing and how they would impact our lives. I’ve learned that children are far more resilient than we believe them to be. They also just “get it”! They understand in their own way and at their own level. I’m so happy I did not hide my diagnosis from her.

AC: How has breast cancer impacted your experience with motherhood (or vice versa)?

Dr. Alexea: I have always felt that being a Mother was my greatest accomplishment. It is the most rewarding and most challenging thing I’ve ever done. Mothering with cancer certainly leveled up those challenges, risks and rewards even more.

Being sick with cancer and unable to work gave me so many wonderful experiences with my daughter that I had not previously enjoyed. For the first time I didn’t miss field day. I was able to go to class, parties, book fairs, and other events I previously skipped out on. Breast cancer changed my perspective and because of it, I am even more intentional and attentive as a mother.

I used to think that providing for my daughter, being a great role model and a career woman was the most important way to show up in my daughters my life. Now, nothing trumps the time I get to spend with her. Instead of revolving my home life around my career and patient care, I revolve my career around my daughter, my health, and the kind of mother I want to be... fully engaged, present, connected on her terms and growing and evolving together. My daughter is a kind and compassionate child, a true empath in fact. Those gifts only blossomed over the course of my treatment.

AC: What’s been the biggest lesson you’ve learned from experiencing both motherhood and breast cancer?

Dr. Alexea: The biggest lesson I learned from Breast Cancer is to be Vulnerable. What a super power!! Being able to ask and receive help when offered, allowing others to care for me and being able to share fully and authentically with the Breast Cancer community have come out of my ability and willingness to be vulnerable. This super power serves us in every aspect of our lives.... from parenting, relationships, and friendships to career. I’m grateful for this gift/ takeaway from Cancer. 

AC: What advice would you give to survivor soon-to-be moms or moms who have just received a diagnosis?

Dr. Alexea: The Best advice I could give a Mom newly diagnosed with Breast Cancer is to feel all the Feels!! Yes, you will be mad, sad, angry. You will grieve the changes to your body, the loss of your health and the life you thought you were going to have. But in all of the sadness and grief, there is still plenty of room for joy, gratitude, happiness and to an opportunity to create wonderful and lasting memories with your children and family. Do not hide your diagnosis from your children. They see and understand more than we can ever imagine. Be vulnerable and allow them to see what you are going through. They will be better for it. You will be better for it. It is an opportunity to grow through what you all are going through.

AC: Describe the most rewarding aspect of being a “survivor - thriver mom” in 15 words or less.

Dr. Alexea: Being a Survivor mom means helping women/moms navigate parenting with breast cancer.

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