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Lisa Cataldi: Breast Cancer Survivor, Thriver & Advocate

Hi my name is Lisa Cataldi. I am a breast cancer advocate and survivor. This January, I’ll be a year cancer free! I share my experiences as a breast cancer survivor hoping to help you feel less alone.

Breast cancer effects your life in so many ways. It can take your confidence, relationships and sense of purpose. However, as much as it can take, it also forces you to see what’s important in your life. During my journey I developed a resolve to eliminate any toxicity from my life, in all its forms. Eventually I was able to focus only on my health and well-being, but it took a while for me to get to that mindset. As a breast cancer patient, the importance of prioritizing your self care needs to be on a completely different level than you may have realized in the past.

My breast cancer diagnosis forced me to redirect my energy and focus only on my health and well-being and do what I needed to do to survive. Women are conditioned to be self-sacrificing and I was no exception. Pretty quickly, and for the first time in my life, I felt no guilt over focusing only on me and my healing. I needed my family to support me in every way possible and force myself not to feel bad about it. Although I had decided to cut away my invasive cancer with a double mastectomy, I was not prepared for the aftermath of breast cancer. It can be just as hard or even harder as the fight itself.

I was proud that for most of my life I had been healthy enough, lucky enough and smart enough to be able to take care of not only myself, but anyone who needed my help. Not only was it hard to let go of that pride but I felt a bit ashamed, like somehow I had failed and was to blame for my breast cancer. It doesn’t make sense but that was my initial reaction and I didn’t see how I could ever again be the person I was. I had to force myself to let go of those concerns and allow others to now take care of me. After all, I was facing the fight of my life. Life taught me that pride does not make you invincible.

Breast cancer effects one and eight women in their lifetime. Think about that for a minute. Between your family and your friends, you know at least eight women. So the likelihood of the realities of breast cancer effecting you or someone you love is very real.

Initially my reactions to my diagnosis were angry and fearful. I felt cheated, I felt unfairly chosen. But that’s just life isn’t it? Life is not fair! So I turned my anger into resolve. I decided I would reach deep inside myself, to places I never thought I would go or could go. I never thought I’d be brave enough to do what is the most radical thing I’ve ever done in my life. I was surprised by the speed of this disease, and my decision to completely remove my breasts to save my life. A life I worked so hard to build. It cut deeply into a confidence I’d had about my physical appearance, my health, my relationships and my sense of purpose. I had always been proud of being the go to person in my family and for the first time in my life I had to draw solid and deep boundaries. It was me and my healing and then everyone else. That may sound selfish but if there’s ever a time in your life to be selfish women, having breast cancer is the time! F*ck feeling guilty! Do your best to kick cancer right in the ass.

I knew I was not alone or the only woman to have ever faced making the grave decision of having a double mastectomy, but at the time I did feel very alone. I had no idea what I would be like after the surgery. Would I be healthy? Would I be able to put back the shattered pieces of my soul and embrace my scarred, deformed breasts? I hoped my reconstruction would help me restore most of what breast cancer stole from me, but would I ever feel like myself again? At the time I couldn’t think about what my breast cancer would add to my life. All I could think of was cutting it out completely.

My breast surgeon was very matter-of-fact. An approach I was grateful for. It kept me grounded because the surreal, almost out of body experience I was having, could’ve definitely carried me away on a cloud of self pity, doubt and despair. Doctor gave me all the statistics. She told me that having a Bilateral Mastectomy wouldn’t necessarily increase my chances of survival. I remember observing the irony, while thinking “giving up my breasts wouldn’t be enough?” That’s when I decided to fight and that I would do anything to survive this, to continue my life and get back to living my best life. After that, I embraced every new challenge that I faced. It may seem strange but I felt more awake and alive than ever. I knew there was a purpose in all of it and every day thereafter was truly a gift.

I’m feeling more confident these days and closer to being me. I still have some days that I don’t feel well, but thankfully they are becoming less frequent. As an advocate for Breast Cancer patients, survivors and their families, I openly share my story as just one of the ways I’m giving back to the breast cancer community. During my treatment many in the community, those warrior women, strangers at the time, gave me loving support, a knowing ear, a shoulder to cry on. I am paying those gifts forward.

DM me @strengthwithinlisa anytime you need someone who can truly relate to your experiences as a breast cancer survivor. If you have questions you’re afraid to ask, want to know what to expect, need to know about products, therapies, I’m your girl!

I feel facing the facts are important, especially about early detection. I feel it’s vital to advocate and inform even the youngest of women about the importance of monthly self breast exams and mammography's. Women, they are your friends!! Start your self exams early, get to know this special unique area of your body. It is a roadmap of your Gynecological health. As a Latina, I’ve always had cystic breasts. So I had to know my lumps, their size and their shape so that I could let my doctor know as soon as there was any change. Early detection is key to your survival. I had many bumps on my road map which lead me to start getting my Mammography’s in my late 30s. By the time of my last mammogram, my breasts had been aspirated, biopsied and benign lumps tagged many times. That mammography, my last, I had in my 50s and it saved my life. It detected a cancer I couldn’t feel upon self examination. This is why both self exams and mammograms are vital! 

Before becoming a member of the breast cancer community, I was unaware of how common Breast cancer is in younger women, starting even in their twenties. Young women should have easy access to mammography‘s. Mammograms should be part of routine gynecological care and covered by insurance regardless of age. Women's lives are more commonly disrupted by breast cancer, so why shouldn’t we have access to diagnostic screening for it at any age? Images of the inside of your breast are a health roadmap for the rest of your life.

Knowledge is power and early detection about your own breasts’ health can help you save your own life. I wish you good health, love and joy. Have a wonderful holiday season and a successful New Year!

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