It can be said that the spirit rises in times of crisis. That’s especially true for Natalie Kytle Donatelli.
“I believe in God. I believe in miracles,” she said.
Diagnosed in July with Stage 3 breast cancer, the disease has since spread to her spine and doctors now consider it Stage 4. That means a cure is not possible, only remission.
“So that was a little tough to hear,” Donatelli, 36, said. “If I didn’t have my faith, I don’t think I would be where I’m at in this journey.”
She’s also leaning on her family, which she describes as a “rock.”
Her husband attends school but remains engaged on every level, Donatelli said.
“This has made us grow closer together,” she added.
She knows her parents are there to take care of her, too.
And her three elementary-age children, two boys and a girl, remain involved in football and gymnastics, but are also constant companions and reminders of her inner strength.
“Cancer has picked the wrong person,” Donatelli said her family told her when she was first diagnosed. “I think having children and having other things like working, has been a good distraction.”
Donatelli has continued to keep her schedule as a home hospice nurse, often working on-call. Serving others in her own time of need has proved rewarding and healthy. She said it helps to keep her from dwelling negatively on her own condition.
She also keeps an eye out for opportunities to serve others in need, like when she was at a restaurant and overheard a family from Florida who had evacuated as Hurricane Irma approached last month. She paid for their meal.
Donatelli has also discovered just how much she enjoys her alone time. It’s a chance for self-reflection that she may have previously taken
She said she recently attended a “dueling pianos” live music show at 37 Main in downtown Gainesville all by herself.
“I really kind of enjoy that,” she said. “I normally would not do that by myself.”
The community has stepped up, too, and in return Donatelli hopes sharing her story can benefit other women in some way.
“It’s been an opportunity to share the strength that I’ve gained from this journey,” she said.
So despite the side effects of chemotherapy, such as mouth sores, fatigue and decreased appetite, Donatelli remains hopeful.
“I have a peace about it,” she said. “I’m pretty stubborn.”
The doctors have given her great advice, too.
“Your journey is your own journey,” Donatelli said she was told.
So while a “textbook” prognosis might give her two to five years to live, Donatelli said, “Who knows?”
“Live each day and make each day special,” she added. “That’s probably the best piece of advice (the doctor) gave me.”
There are tough days, for sure. It’s more emotional than physical, Donatelli said. And it’s hard for her being on the other side when she’s so used to caring for the ill.
First getting the diagnosis made her a little frustrated that she hadn’t been more proactive.
“I kind of beat myself up,” she said, adding that she hadn’t been regularly performing self-examinations.
But with no family history of breast cancer, Donatelli could be forgiven for thinking she wasn’t a likely candidate.
She said she has to be careful and mindful to set limits on her activities and commitments, but she wants to remain engaged in her children’s lives and her own work.
Donatelli will conclude the first rounds of an aggressive form of chemotherapy in December. Then her bones will be rescanned to check progress.
No changes and no new lesions would be a good sign. Radiation would come next.
And she’ll keep planning her future without hesitation in the meantime.
“I realize I have the strength, and I’m going to keep fighting and nothing is going to get me down,” she said. “Honestly, I feel like it’s a God thing.”