As women, we’re all overcoming something. Unfortunately for many of us, it's breast cancer.
Meet Natalie. Strong woman, sister, mother, beloved ABLE jeweler, and breast cancer survivor. In her own words, she shares her journey with breast cancer.
I was 40 years old when I was diagnosed with Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. Prior to my first mammogram, I had no symptoms, no risk-factors and no family history. I ate a healthy diet and exercised. So for 9 months, I put off the routine mammogram that every doctor recommends women at age 40 get – just to establish a baseline.
When I finally went in, they found granular calcifications – what looked like tiny grains of sand, no lump. The radiologist told me he was 98 percent sure it was benign calcifications, but also said, “If it were my wife, I’d have her do a biopsy.” With just a two percent chance it might be cancer, I felt pretty confident about my odds and decided against the biopsy.
Natalie (right) and sister (left) in Costa Rica
After a few months, though, my husband at the time and a dear friend of mine talked me into it. I marched into the biopsy alone because you never think you’re going to be the one who gets diagnosed. A few days later, I received a call from my doctor’s office asking me to come in. Doctors’ offices don’t ask you to come in if it’s nothing, so my heart sank. My doctor and the radiologist were in shock. Right after receiving the news, I fell onto my bed and sobbed. Unfortunately, my kids were home for my meltdown, so they immediately knew about my diagnosis. It was a Friday, a detail I remember to this day.
After several more appointments, biopsies, and second opinions, I decided to undergo a bilateral mastectomy. Two reconstructive surgeries would follow in the months to come. I can still recall being rolled out of the initial surgery and hearing my husband whisper, “Your lymph nodes are clear,” and groggily thinking, “Oh, thank God!” All of the cancer was removed, and I didn’t have to go through chemo or radiation. I’m thankful for that every day.
Throughout my breast cancer journey, my family and friends were a huge support for me. They would drive me to appointments, cook meals, and clean my house. They were always a source of encouragement and strength. Even my hairdresser, whom I’d known for years, would wash and style my hair at no charge until I could lift my arms high enough to do it myself.
Natalie with daughter and son
My son, who was 15 at the time, later told me that he always knew deep down that I was going to be okay. He was always very positive throughout the ordeal. I think it was more difficult for my daughter, who was 11 years old at the time. I remember one night we were lying in bed together chatting and she asked me, “Mom, are you going to die?” I replied, “I’m trying my best not to, Sis.” To which she answered, “Good. Because you know it’d be all bad if you died and left me with the boys. Dad would get rid of all the pets and this house would be a mess! You can’t leave me with the boys, mom.” The conversation ended with a combination of tears and laughter.
Being a breast cancer survivor, about to celebrate the momentous 10-year mark, I liken the connection with other women who have survived to that of the connection between moms. When you know someone else has children, you immediately relate to them as you share birth stories, the challenges of raising teenagers and everything in between. It’s amazing that you can sit down with another breast cancer survivor, even if it’s someone you’ve just recently met, and engage in an intimate conversation. Even if you’ve had different journeys or treatment plans, you’ve felt the same emotions. The hardships we’ve gone through connect us. You feel like you’re part of a community and sisterhood.
"The hardships we’ve gone through connect us. You feel like you’re part of a community and sisterhood."
Recently, I lost a dear friend to breast cancer. A friend who had been a source of support and great encouragement to me, especially as I went through another major reconstructive surgery this past spring. Losing her hit me very hard. I know I am so blessed and fortunate. I don’t ever take it for granted that I’m still here for my family, and I’m thankful to God for each new day.
ABLE will be donating 10% of all purchases between October 28 and 31 to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. Fifty dollars funds one hour of research, and we’re hoping to fund one month of research with your help!