LAURINBURG — In what should have been some of the greatest years of her life, Natalie Hahn of Florence, South Carolina instead started some of the hardest in July 2012.
She shared her battle with stage three C dysgerminoma with a room full of women at the 13th annual Women’s Health Event at First United Methodist Church on Saturday. The Women’s Health Event was sponsored by Scotland Memorial Foundation supports with help from Charlotte Radiology.
Dysgerminoma is so rare that only one out of 100 patients diagnosed with ovarian cancer have it. Being only 19 years old, Hahn’s was among the only one percent under the age of 20 with it.
“My parents always did tell me I was one in a million,” she said.
Hahn had gone for a routine check-up when her doctor found a mass in her abdomen.
“Sure I thought I’d gain some weight, possibly the freshman 15. I had some tenderness but I just assumed that it was just maybe from the morning crunches I’d done from my spin class,” she said. Her parents didn’t talk about the obvious change in her body because they didn’t want to bring attention to her weight gain.
Hahn said her doctor was able to cup the mass with her hands as if she were scooping sand, all while asking Hahn questions.
She told Hahn, “I would suggest that you not push this off. Do not delay this.”
An ultra sound was scheduled. When she received the phone call giving the results she was advised to get her parents in the room and put the phone on speaker. She remembers the day and time, 11:18 a.m., Thursday, July 18.
“What we believe Natalie to have after looking at the ultrasound results is a type of ovarian tumor called dysgerminoma. It is growing out of her left ovary and I’m sorry but these tumors are often malignant,” is what she was told.
After surgery to remove her left ovary, that suspicion was confirmed.
So instead of starting the fall semester of her sophomore year, she started one of the strongest chemotherapy administered to chemo patients. Her doctors told her the medicines in her chemo therapy was once used in gas chambers in the Holocaust and used in Agent Orange in WWII.
Hahn decided to handle this speed bump as she calls it differently. She was going to take control. She shared with the group her four principles.
They are: have “a Nattitude,” surround yourself with a positive posse, faith not fear and don’t forget to live. She says four is her lucky number.
She met her best friend, Kendra, in the hospital. Kendra was 18 with a different type of ovarian cancer but they had similar symptoms.
“We had matching scars, ones that we are very proud of,” said Hahn. “I lost my friend Kendra in September of last year. She fought a long and hard battle. She taught me to be the survivor I am today and I carry on because of Kendra.”
After being declared cancer free Hahn returned to Wofford College, where she graduated on time with a degree in business economics. She took advantage of an internship in Washington, DC, working directly with the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance.
She believes it is her duty to spread awareness and is writing a book of course called Nattitude.
“Although ovarian cancer is known as the disease that whispers there are signs and symptoms I want to encourage you all to be aware of and share these with the women that you love,” she told the ladies. “Yes we as women at some time or another experience these everyday aches and pains. These pains don’t always indicate cancer but they are a warning sign that something might not be right.”
Despite what she has gone through, Hahn says that she would not change anything that has happened. She says it helped to shape who she is, but it didn’t define her. She travels sharing her story in hopes of helping someone.
“You can never control the hand you are dealt but you can always control the cards that you hold. Do not live life scared or intimidated. Everyday, remember don’t forget to live.”
Hahn’s talk came as part of a day-long workshop on a variety of women’s health issues led by local medical providers and other professionals
Participant could choose topics in accordance with their individual health interests: from presentations on cancer, diabetes, hot flashes and weight gain to Zumba, self-defense, and cooking demonstrations. Cholesterol, A1C, body fat, flexibility, blood pressure, and other health screenings were also offered.
Participants are asked to wear an article of red clothing for the “Go Red for Women” effort, the American Heart Association’s campaign to raise awareness that heart disease is the number one killer of women.
Maria D. Grandy can be reached at 910-506-3171.