“Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength” -Mahatma Gandhi “The journey you are on is purposeful; easy or difficult. It’s a journey created for you by God so don’t fight it, simply trust in His will” -Natalie Wilson
Natalie Wilson was diagnosed with Ductal Carcinoma in Situ in breast in July 2008. She has successfully defeated her disease. She is Creator of “High Heal Diaries”.
“I was diagnosed with Ductal Carcinoma In Situ in breast in July 2008. Then in June 2016 I was diagnosed with Nipple Cancer, aka Paget’s disease of the nipple. Then only a month later, in July 2016, I was diagnosed again with two lumps of Ductal Carcinoma in Situ. To date I have had 19 surgeries.
My first cancer diagnosis came only after I insisted the lump be removed. Initially, I had a mammogram and an ultrasound which both came back saying that it was blocked milk ducts from breast-feeding. Upon my persistence, my family doctor referred me to a breast surgeon who then removed the lump to find that it was cancerous.
The other two diagnoses were found by my current breast surgeon during or after reconstructive surgeries. I had brought concerns to her attention, such as a lump or irritated looking nipple. She removed and did pathology on it. This is how the other cases were diagnosed.”
“My Story: Strength, Courage, and a Little Bit of Lipstick
Throughout my nine year journey, I’ve learned that I wasn’t born with such qualities as strength, courage, perseverance, and resilience. I was put on this path in order for these qualities to be learned, and ultimately relied upon in order to get to the place I am at today. Most importantly, I was meant to share my story with others to educate, inform, encourage and inspire those dealing with breast or any other cancer.
My story began just about five months after my son was born on September 11, 2007. Nursing the greedy little guy on what seemed to be one breast most of the time (the left side was his favourite) posed to be too much for me. With two other children needing my attention, Christmas fast approaching, work still needing my expertise, recovering from my third caesarean, and a husband and house to look after; I was at my wits end. I decided to pack in the nursing after four months. I figured my son had enough of the good stuff to give him the healthy start he needed.
In February of 2008, I was lathering up in the shower and came across an unusual lump in my right breast. I could literally grasp it under my skin and slightly move it from side to side. I didn’t think much of it but perhaps it being a clogged milk duct still trying to drain. I made an appointment with my family doctor who sent me for an ultrasound and mammogram. They both came back inconclusive, but perhaps a calcification of a milk duct from my nursing days.
Something told me it was more, and I got a referral to see a reconstructive surgeon who specialized in patients with cancer. So this doctor did her check up and said let’s wait and see if it changes in the next six months. Six months later we just decided to remove the lump. I went back two weeks later to get the stitches removed and then I received the dreaded news. I had Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS).
It’s considered a “pre-cancer” of the breast’s milk ducts that can turn into cancer if not treated as such. She also found a spot of invasive breast cancer that was high grade and aggressive growing. I wanted it out immediately. My heart sank, I cried and the doctor was sad for me as she too didn’t expect these results. I mean, there’s no family history of breast cancer and I was a very healthy young woman.
Why did this happen and how? An MRI showed more spots in the surrounding marginal area of where the lump was removed and the recommendations were to remove more tissue and go through radiation or do a nipple sparing mastectomy and remove most of my breast tissue, then go on this mediation called Tamoxifen for five years which lowers the rate of cancer coming back. Of course I chose the most radical route of the two as I didn’t want to ever deal with this again. I chose to remove both my breasts and do the reconstruction. I had so much longer to live, and my three babies to watch grow up. I didn’t want to worry about this horrible disease the rest of my life.
Within the next one and a half years I had ten surgeries to try to reconstruct my breast. I had many complications from excessive scar tissue build up, multiple hematomas (a collection of blood outside the blood vessels causing blood to leak out into surrounding tissue causing swelling and pain), excessive loss of blood causing me to need two blood transfusions, and thinning out of my chest (pectoral) muscles making it hard to hold the implants, just to name a few.
I persevered and made it through all of these surgeries with the help and support and all my family and friends. It was emotionally taxing on my family and me, but I learnt that I was stronger than I thought and that God was on my side. After all, the reconstruction part was just cosmetic; albeit a very important part of my healing process.
I knew that seeing myself in the mirror with my clothes off and still resembling a woman that way was half the battle with my recovery. I ignored those who at times made me feel like I was being vain by reconstructing my breasts and putting in implants.
I jumped head first into projects that helped me to heal and give back as I now felt and understood what some women were dealing with. I volunteered with the Look Good Feel Better chapter in Scarborough. It was comforting and rewarding as we helped other women dealing with cancer learn simple skin care, makeup application and wig care so that they can look good on the outside.
I firmly believe that if you look good on the outside, you feel better on the inside. And this too was helping me. I also assisted my nine year old daughter, at her urging, to make pink beaded bracelets to sell and donate all the proceeds to the Breast Cancer Research of the Rouge Valley Health System. She donated $1085.00.
Eventually years had passed and my doctor was at odds with what to do next. After years of research, she decided to refer me to a doctor at St. Michael’s teaching hospital in Toronto who did a certain procedure using human cadaver tissue called Alloderm, and my own body fat to create more normal looking/feeling breasts. The new surgical saga started in 2013. All was going well, and I was so looking forward to closing this chapter of my life.
For months before my third and last surgery with this doctor (thirteenth altogether), I had noticed my right nipple looking very irritated; as if I had been nursing. It was sore, cracked and bleeding. I brought it to her attention and sure enough, when she did a biopsy, it came back as Paget’s disease which is cancer of the nipple. This was the same breast that had the DCIS in 2008.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I was now going to lose my nipple? So another surgery was soon booked, and my nipple and areola were removed. Now I was “nipple-less” on one side but I still had my reconstructed breasts, which I have to say were looking pretty good. Oh well I thought! It could be worse.
Complications ensued. I formed a hematoma again, and my previous incisions had started to burst open due to the pressure the implant caused. I now had less skin to stretch out over the implant as a good amount was removed with the nipple and areola. My skin was ultimately thinned out and pressure ulcers were bursting open literally causing holes in my breast skin. I was not healing well and was in a lot of pain.
I had an emergency surgery to remove the implant, fix the open wounds, and put a smaller spacer in until I healed. At that time the doctor decided to remove some more tissue to test just as a precautionary measure. At the follow up appointment, she sat down to talk about my pathology: the DCIS I had in 2008 had resurfaced in two more spots in my breast.
The same right breast! I was devastated. All I could think of how did this come back? I thought that because I had chosen to go so radical and do the mastectomies, I would never have to worry about this dreaded disease again. I was second guessing my choices and wondered if I had chosen to just take out more tissue and do radiation back in 2008 then maybe this would never have come back.
Second guessing wasn’t helping me though, and I had to regroup and take the next step toward getting of this cancer. I had to get through this. One thing I learned that that all women should know is that a mastectomy never removes 100% of your breast tissue; therefore there is always a small chance of reoccurrence.
My sixteenth surgery was booked to remove the implant altogether, and remove more of my breast to check for further cancer. I was on my way back to square one. Everything was removed, fat and implant. I was now left with no breast. The chances were slim that I’d ever get an implant back in. I was upset of course, but once again, how could I complain. Women lose their lives on a regular basis from this disease so I was grateful to even be here to have these multiple surgeries.
Three weeks later the pathology report came back negative. There was no more DCIS or invasive cancer found and I would not need radiation. I finally was hearing good news after all the bad news I head. I was thankful that everyone’s prayers had worked.
At the moment, I am undergoing reconstruction all over again, using my latissimus dorsi muscle from my back to reconstruct a breast. I am on surgery number 19 and have two more to go to complete the process. I have been learning to live with one breast over the last two years, and the prosthetic has been good to me, but realize that I would be more content with a fully reconstructed breast.
It’s hard to see myself in the mirror at times, but I’ve learned to just ignore it. Having my breasts are no doubt a physical reflection of my womanhood, but it’s not a reflection of my core being as a woman. I’ve learned a lot more this time around. I’ve re-evaluated everything in my life, again, such as my relationships, my goals, my stressors, my spirituality, my health.
I am still beautiful, inside and out. It’s been a physical and emotional journey, and I am still recovering, and all the while I’ve done it with the help of God, my family, friends, inner strength, courage, and…… A little bit of lipstick.
Natalie Therese Wilson”
Motivation to fight cancer
“My main motivation to fight cancer was the fact that I have a husband and three children to be here for. I wanted to show my children that you never give up and you fight to the very end. I also wanted to show them that no matter what hurdles you come across in life you have the willpower to get through it.
Also, not that I ever compared my situation to anybody else’s because what I have gone through is relative to me and what I know, however I do see what is going on in the world and that people are dying from this horrible disease and living very difficult lives, so therefore I am fortunate to be healthy and have life.”
“My biggest hindrances in my journey were the fact that some people look at reconstructive surgery as a type of vanity and that I’m putting myself through undue stress and pain with all the surgeries. But they are not in my shoes and they have not had any of their female body parts mutilated.
They don’t see what I see when I remove my clothes. I have long since come to terms with my scarred breasts…my half of breast….my one nipple, and having to put on a prosthetic daily. I know people mean well, but sometimes they say things they don’t realize, or even the lack of comment for that matter. If I wasn’t a strong person I would let them get to me, but I have grown past that, as I know my reasons for reconstructing. And that’s all that matters!”
Message to other cancer patients
“My message to other cancer patients, breast or other, is to be well with the journey God has put them on. Once you are content with your life‘s journey, be it easy or difficult, you will get to the end of that journey and be at a better place to help yourself and others. No matter how hard your days may be, the pain will not last forever. I am a firm believer that God only gives you as much as you can handle.
I urge people that are going through treatment or recovery, to get involved with other patients that are going through the same thing so that they know that they are not alone.
I also believe in giving back, as so many people have given their time and to me. Currently I have a cause where I help women that are going through breast cancer treatment and that are suffering a slight financial hardship, by offering them financial support with utilities, medical expenses, transportation to treatment, children’s activities, or just simply a day at the spa to take their mind off of what they were dealing with even just for a day.”