Healed to Heal
An Interview with Natalie Wilson, Creator of High Heal Diaries
When Natalie Wilson’s life was thrown a curveball she fought back. Determined not to let Cancer have the final say she pulled herself through battle after battle and now encourages others to find themselves in their struggle and make it too. She is a Mother of Three, Partner of One and Strong for All and so much more life to live. Let’s meet her.
When you were first diagnosed your biggest issues were being a wife and mother and handling your business/career endeavors. Had you had your first mammogram at that time? When you look back do you wish you had not done the six month wait after initial results came back inconclusive?
As a Type ‘A’ personality, I am used to having everything in order and running smoothly in my life, including my marriage, running a household, and my work life. I was worried it would all fall by the wayside when I was first diagnosed. My third child was under a year old and my first thought was “how would my family manage without me?”
I only had my first mammogram and breast ultrasound 6 months prior to my diagnosis when the lump I felt in the shower alerted me to something being “off”. I followed my doctor’s advice and waited. To our surprise and dismay, six months later, it was cancer! It was early stage, aggressive growing Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS). Waiting could have turned out to be hazardous, but the Man above was in my corner, and thankfully the cancer was contained. In hindsight, one could always say we were gambling with life and death, but when you are under a
doctor’s care and they are the experts; you trust in them.
You chose to have a double mastectomy. How hard was that decision to make initially?
After my diagnosis, everything happened so fast. I received an appointment for an MRI within 2 days. When that reading came back, it showed some more “suspicious areas” outside the margins of where my lump was removed. II was given two options: have some more tissue removed to rid of the suspicious areas, or have a subcutaneous mastectomy which would leave my nipple intact, but removes about 95% of the rest of my breast and skin. It seemed like a no brainer to me. I get to keep my nipple but I get rid of the tissue that can turn cancerous.
I was 35 years old and wanted to be here for at least another 35 years. I thought let’s just get rid of as much as my breast as possible. Less breast; less chance of reoccurrence right? I was told to go home and talk with my husband. I laughed out loud and said, “No need for that, I know what I want to do”. It was an easy decision for me and mine alone to make. I told the doctors I wanted to have the mastectomy and while they were at it, go ahead and remove the other breast too. I knew I would be the type to forever fear that I will get breast cancer in the other breast simply because I had it in one. I know now that there is no scientific evidence suggesting this fact, but that was my thought process.
I had a classmate whose next bout with cancer began when more cancer was found during her reconstructive surgery and I remember thinking about how relieved she must have been to have completed her treatment and now working on looking as good as she felt only to be hit with another occurrence. You had over a dozen surgeries involved with reconstruction and complications. Is there anything you would do differently now and are you aware of any new procedures that they are doing now to help aid in similar issues?
I do know the feeling of what your friend went through and it surely is a hard pill to swallow. In June 2016, after multiple surgeries due to complications with my reconstruction, I was scheduled for my thirtenth and last reconstructive surgery. I was ecstatic that I was finally at the end chapter of this story and was ready to close the book and move on. When I went in for my post surgical follow up two weeks later, I was blindsided with the horrible news that I had cancer again, this time in the very nipple I fought so hard to keep in order to give me some semblance of feeling like a woman. This cancer was called Paget’s disease and was something that could occur if you have had breast cancer before, or that can show its face if there is an underlying case of undetected breast cancer.
Unfortunately I had never heard of Paget’s disease before, and wasn’t informed of the risks of retaining my nipple eight years prior. I do not blame any of my previous surgeons for anything, but I do wish I had gotten a second opinion or done more research back in 2008 and asked more questions about the differences and risks between a subcutaneous and full mastectomy. I likely would have made a different decision.
The doctor I have currently, depending on the situation, sends her patients for a CAT scan or MRI to ensure everything is clear before surgery. This can detect if there is more work to be done, such as further cancer detected that needs to be removed. She just wants to be sure she knows what she’s working with. Aside from that, regular follow ups with an oncologist or breast surgeon that can palpate the skin and tissue to feel for abnormalities is also good practice. I see one every six months, and it alleviates a lot of worry
Who was your “support circle” during that time and how did you explain it to your children? How did you husband handle watching his wife suffer while balancing his own fears of possibly losing his wife?
I had a great support circle during all of my surgeries (17 to date) and I still do, such as my parents, in-laws, extended family, friends, even people I didn’t know directly. Support comes in comes in various ways and I had to learn that everyone is not the same in how they support you, but to be thankful for each and every one of them, and what they do. Support comes in form of tears, words, actions, and sometimes just pure silence. I had to learn that people grieve for me and what I am enduring, and that everyone grieves in different ways.
My husband taught me the biggest lesson with this. He had to pick up the slack where I couldn’t. He had to rear children, work, housekeep, take care of me emotionally and physically, yet still deal the very real reality was that this ugly disease could take me away from him permanently one day. He never shed a tear in my presence until at the doctor’s office when I was told I had the nipple cancer. He lost control and let all the years of pent of fear and sadness out; sad that I and he would have to deal with this all over again. Later on, he revealed to me that he has had many sad and tearful nights alone and away from me when I thought he was just relaxing downstairs after a hard day’s work. He just didn’t want me to worry, so he cried in silence.
When my kids were younger, we just explained it to them that mommy has to have surgery to make her feel better but I will be just fine. After the cancer returned twice in 2016, and my kids were older (10, 13 and 18) I owed it to them to tell the truth about what was really going on. I thought, I’m optimistic, but what if one day things don’t look so good for me, how would I feel that I wasn’t forthright with them? I also wanted to be sure to start teaching my girls how to be diligent with their bodies and things to look for. I sat with them one day and laid it all out. They were strong, asked a lot of questions and are now informed and very involved with my recovery. Our last child, my son, had the most questions and certainly plays an active role in making sure mommy is OK and pain free after surgery. My second daughter is the philanthropist type, and even made pink beaded breast cancer bracelets to sell and raise money to donate to breast cancer research. My eldest daughter is the strong, stoic type and makes sure to always check in when I’m home recovering or be sure to have someone check on me in her stead. I’ve learned from all of their teachers that mommy is their hero and they often use me as an example in their school work. They depend on me and I depend on them!
Tell us about your Law and Life Coach work.
Law was always my first love as far as education and career was concerned. I always related things back to rules and order, and fairness and equality, even in my personal life. When I started dating my now husband, I had only been working in the law field for a short period of time, when I chose to travel abroad with him. This put a halt in my law career, but I had no regrets as I was travelling around the world, which to me, was priceless education in itself. Then came marriage and children, and once again law took a backseat. However, I learned to use the creative side of my brain and was trained in décor and design; running my own business for 10 years. In 2013, at the age of 40 I decided to go back to school to become a licensed paralegal, showing my children that you can achieve anything once you put your mind to it. Currently I work in the field of fighting Provincial offences.
I started on my intentional journey of self healing after my third cancer diagnosis in 2016, when it dawned on me how I’ve been blessed with life and a chance to still be here. I thought what am I going to do with this opportunity I’ve been afforded? Unbeknownst to me, for years I was going through the stages of emotional healing, starting with a broken home growing up, shooting death of my younger sister, miscarriage, depression, and cancer to name a few. These were all part of my journey and tests of my will, faith and strength. I made it through these tests and I am now better for it. One day after talking with a friend, I began to feel an overwhelming feeling of wanting to give back; a feeling of philanthropy if you will. I knew I had to talk about my story, and my struggles and triumphs so others can know that they are not alone, and they too can get past anything they put their mind to; with their will and faith.
I enrolled in a life coach program and I am now a Certified Coach Practitioner under the Certified Coaches Federation. I am armed with my own real life experiences and the technical background to help others get to a more positive place in the their life through positive changes, seeing new possibilities, and defining steps to be taken to achieve both short and long term goals.
Interior Designer. Paralegal. Beauty Consultant. Life Coach. That list keeps you busy. How does Natalie spend her free time and how you balance saying “No”, when needed to practice self-care?
I have learned only in the last few years that it’s ok to say “No”, and that there is only one Natalie so I need to do what’s in the best interest of my health and well being. I even will tell my kids “no” at times when I need to rest and that there is always another day, God willing. I also put aside some of the many hats that I was wearing to focus on the ones that were more beneficial to my self-healing and to that of others. I realized I am not superwoman, even though I have that t-shirt and it’s a nickname my friends have bestowed upon me.
I think I was a Flamingo Dancer in my past life as it’s certainly one of my favorite past times. Listening to some soul pumping old school jams or the latest hits, gets my hips moving at the first note. I love spending time with my girlfriends, travelling and acting like “Thelma and Louise” just to escape the realities of everyday life. Family time is no doubt my best past time, whether it’s just a quiet movie or dinner night with the hubby, goofy time with the kids, or family vacations; I love every minute I have with them. And sometimes I just want to be left alone to reflect, and that’s ok too.
Tell us about your charity work with other women who have battled cancer including High Heal Diaries and how you have created a platform to heal others.
When I realized I had a bigger purpose in life after deal surviving breast cancer multiple times, I knew my calling was to be a voice for other women who weren’t strong enough to use their own. I felt compelled to help others as I had been helped, and I knew I had a strong enough personality to turn heads and open ears to hear what I had to say. I created High Heal Diaries (my good friend, Afiya, thought of the play on the word ‘heal”) in November of 2016 as a platform for various avenues to support, inspire and empower women; over half of it being charitable.
My work consists of a lot of keynote speaking engagements, magazine editorials, television appearances, event hosting, story writing, online blogging, makeovers, life coaching, and my biggest success is my YouTube talk show called “High Heal Diaries” where I interview women who have gone through some very difficult struggles and have come out of it with a positive and triumphant attitude. I feature these stories so other women can see that they are not alone and that they too can survive their battles and lead a happy life.
In addition, for 2018 I am proud to be 1 of 12 ambassadors for a not for profit charitable foundation in Toronto called After Breast Cancer. This is a foundation that supports women through their journey after being diagnosed with breast cancer, and offers free braziers, prosthetics, and other support systems. As an ambassador, we attend various community events that focus on supporting breast cancer patients and research, and we talk about our personal experiences having had the disease and surviving it.
How did Natalie learn to love herself and appreciate her value again as the WHOLE woman she is now?
I had some very real “broken moments” I call them, over the course of the last ten years. Even depression to the point when I had to go on antidepressant pills after feeling numerous urges to drive my vehicle into trucks and over bridges. The struggle was real! But it took me having the second and third reoccurances to realize what was happening was actually a blessing, not a course. That my mangled breast was not ugly, but beautiful in its own right because of what it signified: strength. During the course of the reconstruction, sometimes I had one breast, half of a breast, two-thirds of a breast, or no breast at all. I used to hate it, but I realized that breast or not, I am beautiful inside and out, and that’s what truly mattered. And it certainly helped to have a husband that loved and cherished my body any way it was.
How do you advocate about the importance of getting check-ups and following up on anything that may seem odd as soon as possible.
I tell all my female friends and family members that if your doctor hasn’t initiated a regular routine of breast screening, then you need to advocate for yourself and ask for it. The Ontario Breast Screening Program (OBSP) allows for most women between ages 50 to 74 to be screened every year by a mammogram, and women ages 30-69 who have been confirmed to be high risk to have a mammogram and MRI every year. One thing I always tell them is to learn how to be one with your breasts. Know them! Know how they feel at different times of the month so you can be alerted if you feel something abnormal. I found my first lump and my nipple cancer because I was in tune with my body. If it doesn’t feel right, chances are it may not be right.
Some doctors too often tell young women who appear concerned, that “you’re too young… it’s likely just your fibrous breasts concerning you”, or “you don’t have a family history of breast cancer so it’s probably nothing”. I say, press for further testing so you can put your mind at ease. If you have breast cancer in the end, it’s best to catch it in its early phase as I did. This saved me from going through chemotherapy which can damage other healthy cells.
What advice would you give to woman just recently receiving a diagnosis that may change the rest of her life?
My advice to any woman who has received the diagnosis of breast cancer would be to brace yourself for the whirlwind of emotions to come during this journey, because there will be many. Lean on people for help, don’t be afraid to break down and lose yourself, talk about your feelings, let things slide, and be more selfish with you personal time and space.
The biggest take away that I’d like to leave women with is that God has a plan for each of us. He has a journey mapped out for everyone, and the rough part of the road can only last for so long. And remember, He only gives his bravest soldiers the tough burdens to bear, so when it’s all over and the dust has finally settled, see what good you can take away from it all.
Natalie Wilson is the creator of High Heal Diaries. A mother of three, wife, business woman, and a three-time breast cancer survivor. Natalie has created High Heal Diaries where women that are going through or have gone through their own personal struggles, whether it’s emotional or physical, can share their stories (diaries) with other women in a non-judgmental, unbiased forum, where understanding through experience is their main crutch, and their motive is to listen and support others as others have done for them. Natalie believes we are beautiful and powerful, and can conquer anything when our minds, bodies and souls are ready to do so. Let us put on our high heels and walk our way into others’ lives to help them HEAL as well. For her full bio and more information please visit www.highhealdiaries.com.
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