Nicole Malato is from Toms River, New Jersey where she works as a HR manager and plays the devoted part of both mother to her two-year-old son and a wife. It seemed she led a pretty normal, happy life until May of this year brought news that completely blindsided her; at age 34, she had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
Naturally, her diagnosis came as an absolute shock—not only is she very young compared to the average age at breast cancer diagnosis, but she also has no family history of the disease. Despite this rude awakening, Nicole confronted her cancer with aggressive perseverance: “It was clear to me pretty early on that there was nothing to do other than just to go at it full steam ahead…I had to be aggressive back.” In June she underwent a double mastectomy surgery, and is now in the midst of chemotherapy treatment.
One of Nicole’s greatest challenges has been balancing her own needs with those of her little boy’s. She struggles to reconcile doing what she must in order to take care of herself, knowing that it takes away from time spent with her son. Treatment has been extremely limiting for her—once a busy, multitasking mom, coming to terms with her new lack of energy and inability to accomplish everything she once could has been difficult. Nicole puts on a brave face for her family and friends nonetheless, anxious to avoid upsetting or scaring them with her own fears.
Thankfully, she is now able to work through many of these struggles with the help of the positive support network she has found at Cancer Support Community of the Jersey Shore (CSC). She first heard of the Cancer Support Community through her oncologist, who in fact—as a strong believer in holistic treatments that encourage healing beyond just the physical body—advises every one of her patients to visit CSC. Quick to heed her oncologist’s advice, Nicole began attending a support group at CSC before she had even begun treatment: “It’s been a bit of a safe haven for me,” she says, “I found it to be a huge comfort to be around people who understood exactly what it’s like to go through it, because unless you really experience it, you just can’t quite comprehend what it’s like.”
Surrounded by those who can truly relate to her, Nicole feels she can let her guard down at these sessions and talk about issues she may not always feel comfortable discussing with her friends and family. Today, she continues to work with an early stage breast cancer support group, but is especially looking forward to a young survivors support group starting in November. In addition to the support groups, Nicole enjoys attending creative writing classes, various seminars, and above all, her guided imagery class—“I can’t live without that one, it’s my favorite,” she laughs.
Nicole believes there are always positives to be taken out of every situation, even cancer. For instance, her own cancer diagnosis has made her appreciate all the good things in her life and helped her to recognize her own strength. Cancer “makes you realize how tough you really are,” she says. It has especially made her want to do more for people. Following her own diagnosis she started a blog, offering her readers both medical and emotional insight throughout her journey. She finds helping and inspiring others very therapeutic. It is no surprise then, that after reading about CSC’s Cancer Survivor Registry: Breast Cancer M.A.P. (Mind Affects the Physical) Project
in a flyer at the Cancer Support Community this July, Nicole jumped at the opportunity to reach out and help others on a broader scale.
She extends two pieces of advice to fellow cancer survivors. The first is to have a sense of humor. She has found that finding things to laugh and joke about has helped her tremendously throughout her process—“My whole thought is that cancer is serious enough on its own, it doesn’t need me to make it more serious!” she quips. As a matter of fact, what first struck Nicole when she joined CSC was that she could enter a room full of people dealing with cancer and every one of them was still able to smile. “As catastrophic as cancer is, it’s life-changing but not necessarily life-ending. You can still smile, you can still have happiness and you can still enjoy life,” she insists.
Her second piece of advice is to find as many survivors as possible and seek support from them. Cancer “is very isolating,” Nicole says, “there are some 2.5 million cancer survivors2 out there, but when you get your diagnosis you feel like you’re the only one. The Cancer Support Community makes you realize you’re not.” Discovering a network of people going through the same thing as her has not only given Nicole hope and comfort, but also a wealth of information—“they will give you pointers you would never have thought of,” she says.
In the meantime, Nicole looks forward to completing her treatment and, as she puts it, “getting on with life.” It’s important for her to remember what she has gone through, and she is determined to continue learning and growing from it. Imparting her final words of wisdom, she would tell others, “you can go through something that’s traumatic and devastating, but it’s up to you to make something positive out of it.”
To view Nicole's blog go to nmalato.blogspot.com
The M.A.P. Project
is an initiative launched by CSC’s Research and Training Institute, designed to discern and address the emotional and social needs that accompany a breast cancer diagnosis. Through joining the registry, women are offered a unique opportunity to help guide and inform research directed at ameliorating the breast cancer experience. The M.A.P Projec
t strives to grasp the full impact of breast cancer, and to propel research forward in ultimately improving the lives of millions touched by cancer. This research initiative is made possible through a generous grant from the National Philanthropic Trust Breast Cancer Fund. For further information or to join the movement, please visit www.BreastCancerRegistry.org.
The Cancer Support Community of the Jersey Shore provides a space for both cancer patients and their families to take sanctuary. Programs are free and include networking and support groups, education workshops, health and lifestyle classes and social activities. Guests will find support, companionship, education, and above all, hope. The CSC urges cancer patients to fight for their recovery through active participation in their treatments. To learn more about their services, visit http://cscjerseyshore.org/.
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