Stubbornness may not always be a good quality in a person, but it’s served Gainesville resident Natalie Donatelli quite well.
“Cancer has picked the wrong person,” she told The Times one year ago, just after receiving a breast cancer diagnosis. The cancer then spread to her spine and was considered Stage 4.
Her prognosis was not good. Doctors told her a cure was unlikely — only remission.
But that appears to be the path she’s headed toward today.
“When I first heard the words, I thought it was a death sentence,” Donatelli, 37, said recently.
But her perseverance has shined just as she knew it would.
She underwent surgery, and she continues to receive chemotherapy every three weeks as “maintenance.”
“Some days I’ll even get chemo in the morning and go to work afterward,” said Donatelli, who has continued to work in hospice care.
She also receives bone scans every three to four months.
But she did not have to undergo radiation and no residual cancer has been detected recently.
“I think being stubborn and strong-willed has helped,” Donatelli said. “I’m not going to let it consume me.”
She has a lot to live for, after all, which has been humbling despite her fierce attitude.
“I’m humbled pretty daily,” Donatelli said, adding that working with cancer patients who need to be admitted to hospice reminds her of the blessings and support she has from family, friends and God.
And she’s also encouraged when she meets some individuals who have fought off cancer for 15 or 20 years.
“Each person’s journey is their own,” Donatelli said.
Her journey includes supporting a husband who attends nursing school at the University of North Georgia and will graduate in May.
It also includes love for her parents, who have been champions for her needs, helping pay off medical bills, for example.
“I don’t know if God’s got (the bills) somewhere out there trapped or what,” Donatelli joked.
She has also witnessed so much love from the local community. The football team her two sons play for had T-shirts made honoring Donatelli and she was tapped as an honorary captain for a game.
“Really, honestly, this is a phenomenal community,” she said.
And her young daughter, who Donatelli said is very open about discussing cancer because she attends school with a young girl fighting the disease, has been a source of inspiration and motivation.
“She tells me, ‘I’m thankful I still have you,’” Donatelli said. “We’ve made it through.”
This has made me realize I am worth something and I’m not focusing on what others think. I am valuable. I am important.Natalie Donatelli
Donatelli said her faith, which others might turn away from in times of mortal crisis, has actually drawn her closer to God during this medical ordeal.
“I think I actually intentionally spend more time with God,” she added. “When that day comes, and my battle is over, truly my battle is not done because I’ll be going to my heavenly home.”
And she’s learned a lot about herself in living with cancer.
“I’ve always dealt with insecurities my whole life,” Donatelli said. “This has made me realize I am worth something and I’m not focusing on what others think. I am valuable. I am important.”
Of course, the hardest part remains the impact her illness has or will have on her children and the prospect of making her husband a widower.
“But I know God will take care of them as he has done with me,” Donatelli said.
However, she has big plans in the works for a family vacation to Disney World in Florida.
“I would like to make that a reality,” she said. “I still feel I will win the battle, whether it’s three years from now or 10 years from now.”