APPLETON — She is a veteran. A mother. An inspiration. Constance McDaniel of Appleton is fighting breast cancer and had to undergo chemotherapy while pregnant, during a pandemic.
She has found a strength inside she never knew she had.
"It's scary. It's definitely very scary," McDaniel said.
"To possibly die when your kids are two and a newborn. It's hard. It's definitely really hard," McDaniel said.
McDaniel first felt a lump in one of her breasts when she was about five weeks pregnant with her second baby.
"I honestly thought it was just a clogged duct because with my first baby, I had a lot when I was breastfeeding and I didn't think anything of it and thought well it's probably going to go away," she said.
It didn't. On June 22, 2020, the 30-year-old got a dreaded diagnosis: breast cancer. She was now 10 weeks along in her pregnancy.
It was Stage 2 triple-negative invasive ductal carcinoma breast cancer.
"Being pregnant itself is hard but then when you lose all of your hair, it's definitely a hard time," she said.
Rounds and rounds of chemo appointments came next.
"I had 4 cycles of A/C (Adriamycin cyclophosphamide) 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," she explained.
Then she had a mastectomy. One bright spot: A healthy baby boy, born six weeks early.
"He's a little miracle," she said of her baby boy named Declan.
A celebration cut short with yet another setback.
"While I was actually in the delivery room, I had a few more lumps on my scar," she said.
McDaniel had three more lumps under the scar from her mastectomy.
"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," she explained.
"I have an extremely aggressive cancer," she said.
McDaniel has somehow embraced what scares her throughout this entire journey.
"Women are so strong and I've never known it until I had cancer," McDaniel said.
"It makes it so that you really need to find that self-love," she said.
Her bravery and grit are apparent to so many who know the young mom.
As a war veteran -- a member of the Wisconsin Army National Guard for nine years, McDaniel was deployed to Iraq in 2010. She met her husband on deployment.
Now, she's known as mom.
"It's just made me think differently about life. For that, I'm grateful," she said.
"I am going to live and pursue my dreams. I am going to open a business. I am going to do all of these things in my life," McDaniel said.
McDaniel has a passion for coffee and wants to open her own cafe.
She's expected to be finished with chemotherapy on March 26.
She will then have five weeks of radiation and may have a second mastectomy with reconstruction.
McDaniel also underwent genetic testing and learned she has a mutation called BRCA 1.
"It means I'm at a higher risk for breast cancer and ovarian cancer and it's recommended to get my ovaries removed by the time I'm 40," she said.
The darkest days are no match for her courage.
"Cancer is not going to defeat me. It's just one small bump in the road."