Until Further Notice
by Natalie Meysembourg
If you’ve ever experienced a catastrophic life event like cancer, death of a loved one, divorce or an accident, it is so important to deal with the emotional trauma that comes along with these events. The way that I've learned to deal with this is through my writing.
At the age of 9 I found myself playing nurse to my mother who was recovering from a unilateral mastectomy and reconstruction surgery after a breast cancer diagnosis. My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer for the first time, when I was just six months old, my mom was just 26.
Due to effects of radiation from her first diagnosis, my mom also had a heart attack and heart problems at a very young age. For having so many health problems at a young age, you would never know it by looking at my mom. If you were fortunate enough to know her well, you knew how resilient she was.
This was my childhood, mom in and out of the hospital every couple of years. This was my “normal” and maybe that is why I don’t have vivid memories of my childhood. Maybe my brain blocks those events out to protect me.
There were several years where my mom was well, and we were just living life. In the Spring of 2005, I had recently graduated college and had my first job as a National Sales Coordinator at the company I still work for. Late that Summer my mom wasn’t feeling well, so she went to the doctor. First, they thought she had pneumonia, then they thought some sort of bacteria. After several tests and scans they found cancer pretty much everywhere in her body: lungs, liver, bones, and lymph nodes. Her breast cancer from years earlier had metastasized. From diagnosis to my mom passing was about 3 months. My mom died November 8th, 2005 due to complications of metastatic breast cancer. I was 23 years old.
Before my mom died, she had genetic testing to see if that was linked to her breast cancer. Sure enough, she carried the BRCA1 gene mutation. After my mom died, my sister and I both had testing done and came back positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation. Over the course of the next several years, I opted to take the recommendation of mammograms and breast MRI’s as surveillance for cancer.
After the death of my mom, I took to writing. I always enjoyed writing growing up and took a Newspaper class in High School. We had a small publication that was distributed within the school. The goal of writing after I lost my mom was to put memories on paper, so I would never forgot. Little did I know it would be a form of therapy. I also sought out professional help over the years to talk through the pain of losing my mom at such a young age.
From 2006 to 2008 when I met my now husband there wasn’t a lot of writing. Nick (my husband) and I met in 2008. He has written for the blog as well. For more details on the story of how we met, check out that blog post.
For the next several years we were living life like any other couple. We married in 2011, we traveled a lot, checked things off our bucket list and we were just having fun as a couple. In 2015 after buying our first home, we decided to start trying for a baby. After suffering 3 miscarriages, we welcomed our baby girl Mila to the world in October of 2017.
Again, we were just living normal life until June of 2018 when I remembered I needed to go in for my annual mammogram. That appointment was like any other. I was always a bit nervous, but the results always came back normal, so I thought it would be the same as in the past. I received a call back the next day asking me to come back for an ultrasound. I went into that ultrasound freaking out, but it just couldn’t be cancer, right? The radiologist decided to do a biopsy because she didn’t like what she saw. All of this happened on a Friday, so the weekend was long waiting for the results of the biopsy.
On Monday, June 18th, 2018, my OBGYN called late in the afternoon. She started with a little chit chat and then said, “I’m really sorry to tell you this, but you have breast cancer”. From that moment on, my world was spinning. A few days later I received the full pathology. I had Stage 1, grade 3, Triple Negative Breast Cancer.
Mila was just 8 months old at the time of my diagnosis, so every negative thought ran through my mind. What if I died and left my baby girl and husband? She would never know or remember her mom and I would leave my husband alone with a baby.
After many appointments with doctors and a surgeon, the plan was this: I would have neoadjuvant chemotherapy (4 rounds of Adriamycin and Cytoxan and 12 rounds of Taxol) followed by a bilateral mastectomy. It was a little over 2 weeks after diagnosis that my chemo treatments started.
I created a Caring Bridge page when I was going through treatment, so I could keep friends and family updated about my health. Typically, I would post on the day of treatment and then maybe a few days after to let people know how I was feeling. It was a very healing process for me to be able to open up to my circle. I finished chemotherapy the day after Thanksgiving, 2018. On December 17th, 2018 I had my bilateral mastectomy.
Since cancer treatment, I’ve had a couple revision surgeries, and at the recommended guidance of my care team a total hysterectomy and bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy. Ovarian cancer can be linked to the BRCA1 gene mutation as well, so I wanted to reduce my risk. I’ve written here and there, sought therapy and had a couple freak out moments where I thought the cancer had returned. I’ve realized over the last two years, this is the way life is going to be from now on. It’s now a matter of how I channel the fear of if or when the cancer returns that is most important.
I’m also active in the breast cancer community. I am a Guide for Firefly Sisterhood. Firefly Sisterhood is a one on one match program with a survivor and a person seeking support (kind of like Jack's Jack-to-Jack program!). I am also an Alumni from the Living Beyond Breast Cancer Young Advocate Program and recently I applied to be an Advocate for GRASP. Guiding Researchers and Advocates to Scientific Partnerships (GRASP) is an organization that connects advocates and cancer researchers to advance breakthroughs in treatment. Volunteering has been a way for me to have a positive impact on the breast cancer community.
Mila is now three and challenges us every day. She has no idea that mommy was sick or that I’m different from any of the other moms out there, but I do look forward to telling her all about my cancer journey when she’s able to understand.
In early October, my sister who also carries the BRCA1 gene mutation was diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer. Her doctors believe they have caught it early, like mine. She’s in the middle of chemotherapy treatment right now. In a weird way, it’s been helpful and healing to be there to support my sister.
As human beings we are resilient and most of us will recover from life changing events; however, it takes time and work. Even as I write this blog post, I find it therapeutic to deal with all the emotions that go along with the trauma I’ve been through.
I will leave you with something a therapist told me along the way, “I am alive, I am well, I am healing, until further notice”.