This week’s Friday Focus is local woman Natalie Cairns.  Originally from the Liscloon Drive area of the Community, Natalie attended Steelstown Primary School followed by Templemore Secondary School.  The full time mum is 30, a trained counsellor and currently still lives in Shantallow with her 2 children and partner.    

For Natalie, her children are what life is all about.  Immensely proud of her daughter Sarah, Natalie was elated to learn she was expecting her second child.  Although it didn’t worry her too much at the time, it was during this pregnancy that Natalie was made aware that doctors had found a growth during a routine scan, which was likely pregnancy related and would clear after her child’s birth.  Unfortunately for Natalie this wasn’t the case, and after welcoming her son Adam the growth continued to increase in size, against what doctors originally expected.  At the age of 28, Doctors took the decision to operate and removed what they found to be a Stage A1 cancerous tumour which sadly also meant the removal of one of Natalie’s ovaries.   With the news that her cancer had not been aggressive and unlikely it would have spread, Natalie recovered well by focusing on her good outlook, and finally was able to get on with being a new mum, celebrating her son’s birthday when she was back on her feet. 

After experiencing cancer, Natalie routinely had follow up care with her Oncologist and at one of these appointments mentioned that she felt the same symptoms slowly returning, but hopefully these were as a result of her ovary removal.  A week of tests ensued, and Natalie received the news that turned her world upside down, the cancer had returned and she had her second cancer diagnosis in as many years.   Numb with shock, Natalie was faced with the ultimate ultimatum of either a full hysterectomy which gave her a future free from Ovarian Cancer, or surgeons could try a different surgery that would preserve enough of Natalie’s womb to allow her to conceive but unfortunately came with the chance that the cancer would return.  This was an earth shattering blow for the doting mum who had high hopes for expanding her family, and she was devastated by the prospect of early menopause at 29.  None the less, Natalie felt that she needed to focus on being there for the children she had, instead of focusing on the children she now wouldn’t have and she made the decision to undergo a full hysterectomy.

Full recovery for major surgery was required, of which she felt the impacts physically and mentally.  Simple things like lifting a car seat became impossible and Natalie relied a lot on her support network of 9 brothers and sisters for help, a shift in role for the eldest of the brood, as previous to her diagnosis she was the self-confessed ‘go-to’ of the family and carer for her mother. 

Natalie’s surgery was successful and now at the age of 30 she is focusing on recovering and rebuilding her physical strength and remaining positive about her future, despite this not being the one she imagined for herself as little as 3 years ago.   Natalie says ‘my counsellor training taught me that we are insignificant in the scale of the entire universe, and during my illness I knew that this wasn’t going to allow this to be a chapter in my life, it was a page. I knew I could overcome it for my children, I try not to let it get to me because I am here with them now and I will be eternally grateful for that’.    

Natalie first test of her physical strength will be in June when she will participate in the huge fundraising event ‘LegenDerry Relay for Life’ with her team of herself and 15 friends and family.  Almost a year to the day of her second diagnosis, Natalie will complete the ‘Survivor’ lap with hundreds of other survivors of cancer in what will be a highly emotional day. You can support Natalie on the day or leave her messages of support via her team name ‘Sparkly Go-Getters’.  

How would you describe yourself?  Determined, Ambitious and shy sometimes.  I always give 100%, I’m really dedicated.  

Looking back over life what’s your favourite funny story about yourself?  I remember once when I was younger I was filling in my Christmas cards for my friends, one after another.  I had been at it for ages and my younger sister asked me for one for her teacher.  Not even thinking, I did it.  She came back from school so embarrassed and said her teacher asked her who Natalie was. Turns out I had signed the card to the teacher (who shall remain anonymous for his own sake) ‘Wishing you a very Merry Christmas, lots of love Natalie xxx’  Thank God he seen the funny side. 

What’s your favourite way to relax? That’s easy, with 2 young children my favourite way to relax is with a hot cup of tea in front of the TV when they are in bed and my mammy duties are done for the day.  It’s simple but its bliss.

Tell me something about yourself that people don’t know? I am a fully trained counsellor, not a lot of people know that.  And also I love 50’s music.  

What makes you laugh? Apart from my children who make me laugh every day, both Paddy McGuiness and Keith Lemon. I’ve a while dry wit, so any comedies that appeal to that too.

What is the best compliment you have ever received? When my children tell me I am the best mammy in the whole world. It means everything to me to hear that.  

What makes you happy? My children and being a child myself with them- messing about being silly with them.  That all means the world to me now.

What makes you angry? Judgemental people and stereotypes.

High point of your life to date? Having my children and graduating as a counsellor.

What has been your low point? Both my ovarian cancer diagnosis.

How would you like people to remember you? As someone who stands up for what they believed in and always put their neck on the line if it was the right thing to do.

What are your treasured possessions? They aren’t possessions but the only things I cherish in that sense are my children, there’s nothing material that means much to me.

What advice do you have for anyone affected by similar challenges to what you experienced or maybe worried about symptoms?  Always trust your gut and listen to your body, you know it best.  I knew but I didn’t listen to myself as soon as I should have so if you have any concerns go to a medical professional and be determined.