Natalie: A Survivor's Journey
If you saw Natalie around town you would never know she is being treated for stage 4 metastatic breast cancer, yet her cancer journey has been such a catalyst of change in her life that she is now thankful for & humbled by cancer being one of her most impactful life events. Even though each person’s journey is unique, she hopes to inspire others at any stage of their experience to reclaim joy and purpose.
My cancer journey began in 2011 at age 32 when I first felt a small lump in my breast. The radiology at the time was not able to detect the lump and I was sent home to “watch it”. Fast forward two years and the lump grew to be a large ER+, PR+, HER2- tumor with total lymph node involvement. At age 34, a single mother with a son in 4th grade, my treatment was a sprint to the finish line: AC,T chemotherapy first, then a double mastectomy with expanders & full lymph node dissection, next radiation & hormone therapy that really sent my body into a shock, and finally 3 more surgeries for DIEP Flap reconstruction and oophorectomy."
After two years of treatments and a very positive fighter’s attitude, I believed I “beat” cancer. Unknowingly at the time, cancer actually beat me. Cancer left me emotionally wounded inside and detached from my physical body, still fighting alone within long after the treatment was over. I was determined to turn my back on cancer and just move forward; but soon realized the trauma of my cancer experience damped out my beautiful life force and I became disconnected. When I realized this was happening, I started a meditation & mindfulness practice to make it through my day-to-day.
Six years after my initial diagnosis, cancer saved me. In early 2019, I learned the cancer came back and spread into the bone, which meant we were in incurable territory now, attempting to prolong treatment rather than sprinting to the finish line.
Devastated, I threw myself into work as a distraction from my new reality and treatments that really interrupted my life. Shortly after, I threw in the towel of trying to stay in control of something so far out of my control. I began to work on radical acceptance and sought a skilled therapist who helped me work through my unresolved cancer treatment traumas. Within 6 months of slowing down by taking on less responsibility at work, practicing meditation & mindfulness, joining a support group, and using EMDR therapy, I had my Leo fire back. I had hope. I had a plan to see beauty every day. To smile. To help others. And, most importantly, to CHOOSE HAPPINESS every single day.
After the first cancer diagnosis, I lost ME. Not intentionally, it just happened. The metastatic diagnosis forced me to look deep inside myself to regain my deep rooted joy & happiness that got covered up unknowingly by my own expectations of myself for many years after my initial treatment. Joining a cancer support group has been a lifesaver for me. Being with other survivors helps me feel supported and understood as I navigate the impacts of this unique life event. This is how I came to where I am today, a joyful, peaceful, loving, kind, emotionally-free woman walking into the next step & greatest phase of my life as the whole me, despite being treated for MBC until a cure is found- and I am hopeful that will happen in my lifetime!