Breast Cancer and the Coronavirus: Natalie R

Coping Through Crisis: Breast Cancer and the Coronavirus

Natalie R.

Photos by Rathkopf Photography

When the Coronavirus outbreak reached New York, Natalie was just finishing up with radiation. Since then, they have started Tamoxifen, which they will be on for the next 10 years.

Many young adults who have been diagnosed with breast cancer are put on Tamoxifen, a long-term hormonal treatment. Because of the medication’s side-effects, young adults have to pause treatment if they are planning to get pregnant. This requires a lot of planning for all young adults but even more so for queer folk, like Natalie.

If we were not in the middle of a global pandemic, Natalie could have banked their eggs before starting Tamoxifen for later use during a pause in treatment in their late thirties. But unfortunately, IVF is not considered a medically essential service during this time.

“I’ve started my Tamoxifen and I’ve started grieving. And that’s what’s been probably the most rough about coronavirus and cancer intersecting for me personally. And no, this isn’t something where we could even try at home and then stop Tamoxifen because I’m queer. I’m a clear non-binary femme. I’m married to a butch non-binary person who’s assigned female at birth. So we had to go the artificial route from the get go, if it was ever going to happen and it’s not.”

Along with processing their grief, Natalie is choosing to look for some silver linings. They are hoping that the coronavirus forces housing prices down, allowing Natalie and their partner to move to a two-bedroom home. In the future, this could mean fostering queer kids in the system and becoming a found family for someone.

Being queer in the breast cancer world, Natalie at times finds it difficult to connect with other young adults in the community. Breast cancer is so often seen as a “woman’s” cancer, but as the YSC community knows too well, breast cancer doesn’t discriminate by gender just like it doesn’t by age.

Natalie’s queer community has been integral to their mental health as they navigate cancer treatment and coronavirus. Social distancing has even been helpful because friends near and far are less busy and schedules are easier to coordinate.

A majority of Natalie and their partner’s income comes from art they create and sell at conventions, like comic con. With events getting canceled, they have had to pivot to online sales. Natalie is finding it difficult to be as productive with this as they aspire to be, in part because of the exhaustion from cancer and coronavirus.

Being quarantined with their spouse has also been a huge source of comfort for Natalie.

“Spending time with my wife where we’re just talking about anything. She’s been working really hard to do little things, to make things easier for me to pick up my slack. And so having her here is a really big help.”

YSC and Rathkopf Photography have partnered for Mental Health Awareness Month to draw attention to the fear, anxiety, and isolation that COVID-19 triggers in young adults affected by breast cancer. Media often focuses on those in active treatment, but the consequences of cancer can last years after diagnosis. As the world grapples with its ‘new normal,’ these 5 survivors and thrivers navigate an already permanently altered life after cancer now compounded by COVID-19. Follow their stories all May.

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Coping Through Crisis: Breast Cancer and the Coronavirus

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