Natalie Cutten tells us how after facing breast cancer treatment, she likes herself more and is happy where she is in life.
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Natalie Cutten (39) lives in Johannesburg, Gauteng with her fur baby.
In 2021 I had barely turned 37 and had recently moved back to SA with a broken heart, following a breakup with my ex fiancé, a Norwegian. I was struggling to adjust to being back in SA, never mind a pandemic on top of it.
When I thought I couldn’t feel any lower, I felt a lump in my breast. Being a physiotherapist, I knew straight away that it wasn’t good. I was diagnosed the following week: 5cm triple-positive breast cancer, 11cm ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). The good news? No nodes.
I went through the standard 16 chemotherapy cycles, including doxorubicin, paclitaxel, trastuzumab, and pertuzumab. I then had 28 sessions of radiation.
The biopsy of the surrounding tissue revealed a few mm of residual so my oncologist advised a new treatment: trastuzumab emtansine. This is a targeted therapy that seeks out cancer cells and explodes the chemo into them. Another 14 rounds, every three weeks. This stretched my total time on chemotherapy to one year and five months.
I reached out to my friends of many years, however, given my age, many of them found it overwhelming to deal with. I had to make new friends so I connected with Dominique Swart, a breast cancer survivor in her thirties from Cape Town. She embraced me without hesitation, and acted as my guide, older sister, and confidant. We share our stories because we are mourning and want others to grieve with us. She grieved with me and cheered me on through the milestones and reminded me there is life after cancer: a new better one.
My parents have been my anchor throughout. My mom begged me to be compliant with treatment. She did her best ensuring I ate well and tried to be emotionally supportive, although it’s not always easy to understand chemo tantrums. My dad tireless drove me to and from all my appointments. My parents helped fund half of the last treatment; it was tough enduring a physical battle and a financial one at the same time.
Oncologist was an inspiration
As patients we lean heavily on our oncologists, spending so much time together. Sometimes I wanted to dive across the table and wrestle her as if she was the cancer. Other times I became co-dependent on her. I would message her with the strangest of concerns and she kindly obliged me.
Her career path and stature as a single woman inspired me. I asked what the key to her success was. She said she had made her dreams come true, and I thought perhaps I could do the same in time.
Finding a new purpose in life
My psychologist helped me grapple with the variety of complicated emotions ranging from: why me? Why at this age? I didn’t have a husband or children to use as a reason to keep going. I relied on the joy found in kite surfing to remember how beautiful life can be, and that it was worth fighting for. Sometimes you have to surf over the barrels to get out to the flat water.
She encouraged me to start my own practice and kindly allowed me to start off at her rooms, and sometime later I started my own rooms at a clinic. I found healing in treating patients that have been through significant trauma, despite having been in the midst of it myself. It helped me heal. I kite surfed for the first time two years later in Langebaan. It was glorious, I hadn’t forgotten any of my skills. I found it more magical than I had ever before.
Given the drastic changes in my appearance, I found myself repulsive and thought no one would ever date me again, never mind love me. How very wrong I was! Given my new short hair and slender appearance, I surprisingly found myself the subject of various suitors. I caught the attention of someone whilst at the oncology unit and had the thrill of driving his beautiful Italian sports car. He lifted my spirits and my self-esteem. I soaked up as much knowledge about how to live from him. His wise words were: do good work and the patients will follow. He has had a significant impact on my life.
Life after cancer
I thought that once I met certain milestones in my treatment, that breast cancer would go away. I was wrong. It’s always with me. But with time, it’s slowly fading away. I’m currently starting my third practice and attending a lymphoedema course. I have a boyfriend, and don’t hesitate with decisions and have decided to live. A few weeks ago I got a Chihuahua puppy. I like myself more after breast cancer because I have more self-respect having endured such a brutal treatment regime. Life is turning to what I imagined it would be years ago. It just came to me in a very different way and is far more brilliant than it was before.
This article is brought to you by Five Roses in the interest of education, awareness and support. The content and opinions expressed are entirely the patient’s own work and not influenced by Five Roses in any way.
Header image supplied. Caption: Natalie with a work colleague, Dorcus.
MEET OUR EDITOR – Laurelle Williams
Laurelle Williams is the editor at Word for Word Media. She graduated from AFDA with a Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in Live Performance. She has a love for storytelling and sharing emotions through the power of words.