Breast cancer is more than a diagnosis. It’s a life-altering event for the patient and their loved ones. For many women, finding joy and comfort in the small things while clinging to hope often helps them through hard circumstances. NBCF is honored to provide funding for breast cancer patients to receive the services of trained patient navigators who support women throughout their journey.
One such woman is Natalie, who learned to find joy in the everyday beauty of her life—her daughter, her friends, and other supporters along the way. Here Natalie shares her story of resilience and renewal.
“On February 3, 2022, my life was forever changed with the call informing me that I had cancer. My 17-year-old daughter, Cori, was driving us home. I will never forget the intersection we were at. Since that day, I can’t drive through it without thinking of that exact moment.
Life moved very slowly that day. I promised my daughter I would do whatever it took to give me the best outcome, and when I was done, we were going to enjoy her senior year of high school together. Today, she’s getting ready to graduate.
Cori was the first person to know about my cancer diagnosis; when the battle is hard, she is the first one that enters my mind. I have to be here with her. Not for her, but with her. Cancer doesn’t just affect the person fighting—it affects all the people in and around that person.
I was diagnosed at age 39—before many insurance programs will even cover a mammogram—with triple negative breast cancer. I knew two people who had it before: One of them died, and the other is dealing with a recurrence.
To say I was scared is an understatement.
I found the lump in the shower. I wasn’t a regular self-exam gal, and being self-employed, my insurance was inadequate. It’s also that whole, “That couldn’t happen because I’m not old enough.” I decided to wait for changes – and changes happened fast! By the time I got my diagnosis, I was Stage 2 Grade 3. My oncologist said I was extremely lucky, and now I know I am very lucky.
“I stopped chasing the dopamine hits”
It’s hard for me to articulate the big picture I have learned through this cancer odyssey, but the best way to describe it is I stopped chasing the dopamine hits. I stopped attempting to create happiness with social media likes, buying new shoes, going on trips, or getting that funny t-shirt.
During chemo, I learned my real priorities right away. My real priorities lit up for me. I knew exactly who I wanted to be and what I wanted to do. It’s not the running shoes. It’s not the sunglasses that are going to bring me the most joy. My inner circle, my friends that are family, is everything to me. Everything. That’s what gives me joy, to have the friends, my daughter, my dogs.
Don’t get me wrong, buying new shoes and relaxing by the ocean are wonderful things, but if we spend our lives chasing the next dopamine hit, we never actually create happiness. It’s when you can find joy in the most mundane things that you know you are completely happy.
Navigating treatment with a powerful support system
The chemo treatment room is a room where you can sit in and learn so much. There is no wrong answer on how you feel throughout chemo.
Angry? That’s right!
Every emotion is correct for both the patient and the caretaker.
Emotions are endless and hard. This is where an Oncology Nurse Navigator is so necessary! I had the absolute pleasure of connecting with my nurse navigator, Jennifer, during my first chemo treatment. The energy she brought was reassuring and genuine. I felt connected and completely comfortable discussing anything.
With this long journey, I didn’t feel human anymore and felt like I was being passed around on an assembly line. Jennifer reminded me that I am a human being who has emotions. I deserve to be respected, I deserve to have a voice, and I absolutely deserve to have my questions answered. I was encouraged to be my curious self. Information is powerful, and feeling like I was part of my treatment plan as opposed to a petri dish has gifted me more strength to move forward.
Jennifer was able to take my overactive brain and settle it. She was honest with what I was about to embark on, but was able to lead me into taking control of what I could. I have been described as a person who ‘dances to the beat of her own drum.’ Jennifer was an outstanding advocate for me owning what I could.
Throughout my treatment, Jennifer kept my mind and spirit fed. Without her encouragement and visits, I wouldn’t feel so optimistic about my future. She was crucial and will continue to be crucial for me to stand a little stronger. Every patient deserves the high quality of care Jennifer supplied. I hope all cancer warriors obtain the support I have through an Oncology Navigator Program.
The raw beauty of resilience
When I was going through my first regimen with Taxol, Thursday was the day I was low. My daughter would see me then, and then she would also see me come back. Saturday and Sunday, I was pretty on it. I think her seeing my strength also brought back her confidence. I involved her as much as she wanted to be. She always had an open invite to come with me to appointments, to meet my doctors and the care team. Sometimes she chose not to come, and that was okay.
When my hair began to fall out, Cori inspired me to take control. I put the call out to my favorite strong female friends. They each took turns, led by my fearless daughter, cutting my hair in weird and wacky ways before shaving it off. It wasn’t sad. I had no regrets. I look back on that memory, and I am filled with love and adoration. I think it’s about knowing yourself, too, and knowing what you love.
The raw beauty this odyssey has shown me is incredibly eye-opening. I have been calling this my rebirth because nothing will ever be the same again. I say this with optimism, and I am glad to have a new lease on life with my hope renewed. I have a new opportunity to be the person I was always meant to be, and I am grateful to realize this.”
National Breast Cancer Foundation is here for you and your loved ones. Whether you need support, education, or help during treatment, we have a team dedicated to getting you the help you deserve.