In honour of Pink October, CARISMA has spoken to very strong breast cancer survivor, Nathalie Cortis. We honour her journey and hope that her story will help countless others who are on their own roads to recovery.
“I felt a lump at the top of my breast but thought nothing of it because sometimes I would feel it and others not,” Nathalie states. “My son Kane urged me to go and get it checked out so after I spent a whole morning cleaning the house from top to bottom, I washed and went to the doctor. I remember that it was a Saturday. The doctor saw me, and I instantly realised something was wrong because he told me that I actually had two lumps: one which was constituted of fat and the other which he couldn’t identify. He told me that we needed to get a biopsy and I made an appointment for the Monday after because I didn’t want to wait.”
Shocked and unprepared, Nathalie received a call from one of her best friends Claire Debono as she was leaving the clinic, it was only when Claire who didn’t know that she had been in for a check-up told her that she had been thinking of her all day that she broke down. Claire offered to come and meet her but Nathalie hadn’t even told her family yet so she went straight home and broke the news to them one by one: “As soon I got home, I told my daughter Naomi who started to cry, then Kane and then my husband. By the end of it, we were all crying. Once we got the biopsy done and they told me I had Stage 2 breast cancer, it was just a waiting game till I had the operation to remove it.”
An only child, the date that Nathalie was given for her surgery was the anniversary of her father’s death. She took this as a sign that her father was looking over her and his grandchildren and it gave her hope that things would go well: “I felt his presence on the day and after the operation, instead of resting, I just started to dust everything in the house. I wanted to feel normal again. When they checked the cells under my arms to see if the cancer had spread, they found nothing, however, despite this, my doctor still wanted me to get chemotherapy and told me to cut my very long hair which I decided not to.”
A former hairdresser, Nathalie’s hair was her pride and joy, it wasn’t till the third chemo session that she realised that she would have no choice in the matter: “My daughter Naomi came with me to every single chemo session I had and refused to let my husband or her brother take her place even when they asked to. She would take days off work to make sure that I was never alone. Before I started chemo, I cut my hair into a bob and as soon as a woman who had already started treatment at the hospital saw it, she gently told me to buy a wig and to be prepared. She also told me that her husband had never seen her without her wig. I decided there and then that should my hair fall out; I wouldn’t cover it up. I was determined to fight for my life for my children. I wanted to see them grow up, I wanted to be a grandmother, I wanted to be with my family, and I was willing to do whatever it took for that to happen.
I remember that I had my first chemo session right before my birthday. I was washing the downstairs floor of my house when my hair started to feel heavy. When I finished cleaning, I went to take a shower with some trepidation and as I started to lather shampoo onto my head, my hair started to fall out in clumps. There was no one at home and I started to scream, I then looked up at the sky and told my dad that I was going to be okay. After that, I wrapped my head in a towel and went to the hairdresser with Claire. When the hairdresser shaved it off, I felt relieved.”
Speaking about what got her through this time, Nathalie is full of love and gratitude for the people she had around her: “I work at St Catherine’s High School in Pembroke and to be honest, I wouldn’t have managed to remain as positive as I did without the support of the headmistress, Ms Sue Midolo, Mr Brian Gauci, Mr Paul Midolo, or Ms Karen Galea. Karen would message every time I had chemo and a few days after to check on my progress. On my birthday, I was sent flowers and a beautiful wish box full of lovely thoughts for Christmas.
My son who was reading for his degree at the time was there for me even though he had to work hard, and I was so, so proud of him when he graduated with honours and my daughter didn’t leave my side. I have so many good friends. I feel really lucky to have been blessed with so many wonderful people.”
Nathalie’s message to the public is a simple one: “It is so important to always think positive and to always hold your head up high. We are all in the same boat together and there is nothing to be ashamed of. Of course, the worry remains even now but it is important to keep strong because you are going to be undergoing the fight of your life for your life. My daughter Naomi tells me that she couldn’t be as strong as I was but when your family is at stake, you will do anything. This experience changed me in some ways but not in others and I believe that it is important to remember that everyone has their own way because we are all different people. We should never forget that everyone is fighting their own battle.”