Maltese Woman Opens Up About Long Battle Against Cancer

Natasha’s story starts in December 2021 when she felt a lump in her breast. She soon confided in a dear friend who booked her mammogram and ultrasound as a “Christmas gift”.

During this check-up, the doctor did a routine examination and eased her mind with the results, explaining that she just had a 2.5cm cyst.

“If it bothers you, we can do a biopsy but it definitely is not cancer,” the doctor told Natasha.

From there, her concerns were muted and her mind was at rest.

As the days and months progressed, Natasha began noticing some changes in her breast as well as pain, however, her loved ones would calm her down by reminding her about the previous diagnosis.

“But then, my breast changed shape. I had this big lump and my nipple inverted so I rushed to my doctor who made me a referral to be checked at Mater Dei. Luckily, I was given an appointment after a few days.”

The doctor, who she described as “unbelievably kind”, immediately didn’t like what he saw, so he made urgent appointments for an ultrasound and biopsy.

More appointments, ultrasounds, and biopsies followed, and the urgency in her team of doctors was a clear indication to Natasha that something was wrong.

During this stressful period, Natasha was not alone. Her “wonderful” partner made it a point to be there right beside her.

“Being Italian, he asked if I wanted a second opinion in Italy, but seeing the great help I got from Mater Dei, I opted to remain under their great care.”

Eventually, her results came out.

“It was a Saturday morning, I walked into my doctor’s office and he gave me the news; cancer in both breasts.”

In the left, the tumour was 6cm while in the right it was 3cm but classified as aggressive.

Upon hearing the news, Natasha immediately asked for the next step to which the doctor advised to remove the left breast and a portion of the right.

“Remove everything,” Natasha replied.

“I looked at my partner and he just hugged me. He said that it [the breast removal] is for the best and that he will be there all the way.”

“You’re a fighter,” her partner told her. “You can fight this like you did all your hard battles.”

Then, it hit her: her mind began racing with anxiety about how to tell her daughters and her mum this life-altering news.

“That was so difficult, it was nearly harder than the bad news. I tried to give the news slowly but unfortunately, it was too difficult to lie.”

“I know I hurt my daughters and made them cry – that broke my heart because, since the day they were born, they were my only priority. But I couldn’t hide the truth,” she explained.

In the meantime, Natasha endured more tests and had a date set for her operation. When 1st September came around, she arrived at the hospital at 7am “very positive” and just wanting it to be over.

“I couldn’t stop talking to the people around me that were also prepared to be operated… always with a smile.”

When Natasha woke up from her operation, she was met with a close friend of hers who’s a doctor and whom she referred to as her “treasure”. She assured Natasha that all went well and called her partner so that she could share the news.

When on the phone, Natasha decided to make light of the situation, joking about her now flat chest.

“‘There once was a lady with big boobies’ I told him and I laughed, he burst into tears, it was a very emotional moment.”

She was then taken to the ward where her family was eagerly awaiting her return.

“I signed to them ‘bye bye boobies’,” she explained, once again easing the tension of such a difficult moment, “I went into the operation smiling and came out laughing.”

To her surprise, Natasha had no pain. “My chest was just numb and flat”, she recalled. However, they soon discovered that she was “filled” with blood clots. She had to go back into surgery the next day.

“But it was all okay, except for the hunger because I couldn’t eat before the operation.”

Natasha went home after her surgery, where the support and encouragement from her partner and daughters kept her going. Later, she went back to the hospital because the doctor wanted to see her before removing her lymph nodes and when she entered the room, she could tell that the news wasn’t good.

“By that time, I knew my doctor – I got used to his personality, so the look on his face told me everything I needed to know.”

The cancer had spread to her lymph nodes, so she had to brace herself to remove not only her lymph nodes but her ovaries too as prevention.

“That was a bit painful, to be honest. When they operated to remove my ovaries they had to fill me with air and by the time I had gotten home after the operation, the pain from the air had spread to my shoulders.”

The following week, she had to go back to the hospital to get her results, and that’s when she heard the word she “hates” most: chemotherapy.

“There, I cried. I wanted to refuse the treatment but I didn’t want to risk my life. They gave me time to decide… their kindness was inexplicable but it really was a difficult time.”

As someone who always took care of her appearance, the thought of the side effects weighed heavily on her mind. She also had to go through the ordeal of having to deliver bad news to her family once again.

This, in tandem with the confusion of what to do, made that period an extremely difficult one and despite her usual high spirits, Natasha admitted to being very low.

Soon, Natasha began her next journey: treatment.

“Chemo is cruel,” she said. “While the staff at oncology was brilliant and their kindness eased the pain, the switch to a stronger treatment was horrible.”

During her chemotherapy, Natasha was on another treatment to reduce the side effects as well as steroids which presented implications of their own.

Meanwhile, her switch to the stronger treatment just magnified the mental and physical pain. Her bones ached, she suffered hallucinations at night, she was left with nerve damage, and her thumb always felt and still feels like its fractured. But still, she found her own ways to deal with it.

“That’s the trick really – to learn alone. If the pain is strong I try to ease it in my own way.”

“I took herbal remedies to sleep better and in general, I just got used to it. And as I got used to it I became more comfortable with my body.”

Nonetheless, the hair loss proved to bring about a different challenge, one that impacted her self-esteem.

For most of the first round of treatment, she held out hope and refrained from cutting her hair, just in case it didn’t fall out.

“But one morning, as I was nearing my second session, I ran my fingers through my hair and a chunk of hair fell into my hands, it was awful.”

So eventually, until she couldn’t hold on anymore. Natasha decided to shave her head.

However, she explained that during such emotionally and physically turbulent moments, positivity was key. This is not to say that she never had bad moments, but despite what was going on, Natasha and her family always tried to maintain a light and humorous air.

“Seeing my daughters bright and right beside me is what made me happy. They joked about me always wanting to try a shorter hairstyle and we laughed about the fact that my hair would’ve fallen out anyway because of all the bleaching that I’ve done.”

Ultimately, having a strong support system is what got Natasha through her darkest days, be it by seeing the innocent smile of her young grandson, being taken out by her partner when she wouldn’t leave her bed, or her daughters’ constant reminders of Natasha’s unconditional beauty; the people around her gave her the inspiration to fight.

It’s been a few months since Natasha finished her chemotherapy, she’s currently on letrozole tablets and has to take a drip every few months. She explained that she wanted to share her story because when she was going through her hardest moments, she took to the internet to read more about it.

So, by being so open, Natasha hopes to encourage people to reach out and ask all the questions they need.

If you have gone through a similar experience and would like to share your story, feel free to send an email to [email protected]

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