PURVIS, MS (WDAM) - A Purvis mom credits pregnancy with the life-saving early detection of her breast cancer, despite being diagnosed only one day after giving birth.
"You don't think at 37 you're going to have breast cancer or especially while you're pregnant."
Whitney Bills said she found a lump in her breast when she was about 36-weeks pregnant.
"When they say follow your gut and your instincts, that's the honest truth because I knew something was not right," she said. "I think I knew it was breast cancer."
Bills said she's always been proactive about her health, so breast self-exams were something she did regularly.
"When it did happen to me, a lot of my friends came to me and said that they had never done that," Bills said. "Never had mammograms and don't do self breast exams. They asked me, 'how did you know to do that?' And I was like, 'it's something I've always done.'"
After finding the lump, she said she pushed to have an ultrasound done on her breast when she checked into the hospital to have her daughter, Charlie.
"She was born on May 20, and they came in the hospital May 21 and told me that I had breast cancer," Bills said. "It was literally the happiest day of my life to the worst day of my life."
Bills' cancer was estrogen positive, so pregnancy accelerated the tumor growth. While that growth wouldn't normally be seen positively, Bills said it was key to her early detection.
"Being pregnant, my doctor said, saved my life because the estrogen made the cancer grow so that I could find it," Bills said. "Because, you know, I wouldn't get a mammogram until I was 40, so it would've been three more years. Early detection is…that's a matter of life or death."
Already in the hospital, Bills said she moved quickly to schedule doctor's appointments to figure out her next steps.
"The first two weeks of her life I think I was at the doctor every single day," Bills said. "Whether surgeon, plastic surgeon, oncologist, I mean everyone. It was nonstop."
13 days after giving birth, she had a double mastectomy.
"I had had a double mastectomy. She was a newborn, and it was pretty crazy at my house for a little while."
Bills has had to learn how to be a first-time parent while having chemotherapy treatments.
"She does keep me distracted and keep me busy and keep me smiling," Bills said about almost 6-month-old daughter Charlie. "That is the key during chemo is staying positive, and it's hard some days because you don't want to get out of bed some days. It keeps me going. It makes me have to get up because she's getting up regardless."
Bills said the cancer and treatments do make it difficult to feel like a normal parent.
"I feel like I'll get there," she said. "Right now it's, you know, the cancer is always there. I try to have days of 'today's going to be no cancer day. I'm not going to think about it. I'm just going to focus on my family and go about my business, but it's hard to do. I mean, I walk by a mirror, and I notice that I'm bald. It's hard to forget."
Bills has her last chemo treatment this month.
"Hopefully after this Thursday, get my last treatment down, I can get back to normal."