Ask a mom who's breastfed a baby what it was like to stop nursing, and they'll likely tell you it involved tears. But perhaps no mother's tears were as painful as those of Ashley Kostiuk, who had a close friend, photographer Jaclyn Briggs, document her very last time nursing her infant.
"It wasn't because Ashley or her 9-month-old son were ready to be done," Briggs told POPSUGAR. "It was because she had just been diagnosed with breast cancer and couldn't waste any time before starting chemotherapy. "
Ashley — who discovered a lump while nursing her baby back in June 2016 — did her best not to focus on the hardships the diagnosis would cause her, Briggs noted. She was "most concerned" about how it would affect her children.
"Cancer meant time spent away from her children. Cancer also meant prematurely weaning her son from breastfeeding," Briggs said. "So the morning prior to starting treatment and doctors appointments, I grabbed my camera, some coffees, and hot chocolates and headed over to Ashley's. Her husband was close by to offer support and play with their 3-year-old daughter who was busily moving around the house in her jammies, unaware of how life-changing the coming days were. Her innocence was such a blessing that day."
As she often did, Ashley sat rocking her baby in a chair, holding him close and enjoying these last moments of normalcy.
"She started to feed him and as he began reaching for her face and pulling away to smile at her, the tears started to roll," Briggs said. "As mothers, these are the moments we live for. These were the moments she was having to say good-bye to."
This month, Ashley finished chemotherapy and had a double mastectomy, but her recovery isn't over. According to a GoFundMe page set up to help the family with hospital expenses, she still has a number of surgeries and six weeks of radiation ahead.
Although Briggs believes these photos are a symbol of a mother's selflessness, they are also a reminder that cancer does not discriminate.
"I hope that she can look at these images and feel happiness that she provided for her children — not only in feeding them, but also in getting the medical help she needed to be with them for many, many years to come."