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Advocating for Life-Saving Screenings: Natalie’s Story

Natalie of Avon with her Daughter

Natalie of Avon loves spending time with her two kids, Savannah and Austin, and Doug, her husband of 17 years. Faith has always played an important role in their lives, and so has their love of the great outdoors. "As a family, we decided that camping was going to be something we did together—so we got a camper and we love it. We spend a lot of time relaxing, go on hikes and have a lot of fun."

As a registered nurse, Natalie has a passion for serving and educating others, and she's a firm believer in not letting life's "bumps in the road" stand in her way. One of these bumps came in 2005, when she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. The next bump came in 2016, when Natalie learned she had breast cancer at 39 years old.

Leading by example

In February of 2016, Natalie started as an occupational health nurse at Indianapolis Power & Light Company. As part of her new role, she was in charge of scheduling on-site mobile mammography screenings for the company's employees: "I thought since I was new and that I'm the nurse coordinating it, I should participate."

The recommended age for women to schedule their annual mammogram is 40 and over. Since Natalie was just under the recommended age, she had to get a waiver signed by her doctor before she could participate in the mobile screening. Natalie's annual well woman appointment was coming up—it was the perfect time to get the waiver signed.

During the appointment at Westside Physicians for Women, the Nurse Practitioner found a lump in Natalie's breast. Natalie couldn't believe she didn't discover the lump on her own. "When you get a breast exam, you're lying down. Gravity is different. When I was standing up, I couldn't feel it. But when I was lying down, I started to feel it. That made me feel better about something that seemed so glaring, like how did I miss this?"

It's treatable. It's curable.

A few days later, Natalie had a 3D mammogram and ultrasound at the Center for Breast and Bone Health at Hendricks Regional Health. During the appointment, radiologist Dr. Michael Flood read the results. "I'm really sorry," he said to Natalie and her husband, "but I think this is cancer." That's when the severity of the situation really settled in for Natalie. "At that point on, it was not even a dream, it was a nightmare," she recalls.

Dr. Anne Mattingly, M.D. of Hendricks Breast Center and Natalie

Natalie had a biopsy the same day as her mammogram and ultrasound. Twenty-four hours later, the biopsy results confirmed she had breast cancer. Our Breast Health Nurse Navigator reached out to Natalie right away to help guide her through next steps, provide extra support and answer any questions she had along the way. "She was a godsend," Natalie says.

Natalie and her husband met with breast surgical oncologist Dr. Anne Mattingly at the Hendricks Regional Health Breast Center the day after her cancer diagnosis. In the first few moments of their visit, it was apparent to Natalie that Dr. Mattingly didn't see her as just another patient, but as a unique individual with a unique story. To help put Natalie at ease, Dr. Mattingly drew diagrams to make things easier to understand and told her to continue saying, "It's treatable, it's curable," whenever she felt overwhelmed.

"She was so thorough," Natalie recalls. "She explained everything and made us feel like we were going to get through this. She reassured me and I believed her. I felt totally confident and comfortable."

Overcoming the unexpected

Natalie's chemotherapy started in November of 2016. Her specific type of breast cancer, HER2-positive, was known to be particularly responsive to chemotherapy. During her six months of chemo, Natalie found strength through her support system. Her family and friends took turns staying with her throughout therapy; her husband took off work to be with her; and Natalie even celebrated her 40th birthday party during one of her infusions. As Dr. Mattingly puts it best, "Natalie never let her brightness burn out."

Dr. Rachel Scott, M.D. of Hendricks Regional Health Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery

Once she completed chemotherapy, Natalie underwent a bilateral double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery on April 18, 2017. "Before surgery, Dr. Mattingly said to me, 'I don't want you to look in the mirror in two weeks and feel like this is how you're going to look forever. Because it's not. Give it time to get back in place.'" During the procedure, Dr. Mattingly removed the tumor and breast tissue, while Dr. Rachel Scott of Hendricks Regional Health Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery worked in tandem to perform the reconstruction portion of the procedure.

"Dr. Scott was as amazing as Dr. Mattingly," Natalie adds. "Dr. Scott told me this is an ongoing process, that people think it's just a surgery and done. She said, 'We are going to have an ongoing relationship where we talk everything through. If you don't like how something looks or feels, we will work on it.'"

Starting a new journey

Natalie of Avon and her family

Today, Natalie is happy to be breast cancer-free. "I'm one of those rare people that has one mammogram and no more. I don't feel like having had breast cancer is my center. I consider it a bump in the road," she says. "Now I can reflect and know it's not the hardest road I've been on thus far. I tend to be a positive person and look on the bright side of things, and it's been amazing to me all of the positives I've seen on this journey—relationships with people, support of friends and family—all of the amazing things along the way."

Natalie's experience was eye-opening for the women surrounding her, too. "For a lot of my friends, it was really a wake up call. They would tell me, 'When I turn 40, I'm going!' I had all of these people text me: 'I got my first mammogram today because of you!' It was really humbling to hear."

Natalie of Avon and her friends

Natalie continues to share her story about beating breast cancer and living with MS on her blog, and she encourages others to be proactive about their health. She's simply leading by example and is optimistic about whatever life brings next. "Every woman has a story, and my story did not end with my cancer diagnosis. It was simply the beginning of my story—of a new journey with new blessings and new adventures."

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