By Felicia Kitzmiller
Published: Sunday, January 13, 2013
PHOTO: Natalie Hahn, a 19 year-old Wofford sophomore student from Florence, is writing a book about her experience of being diagnosed with ovarian cancer, going through treatment and being declared cured by her doctor. JOHN BYRUMfirstname.lastname@example.org
Having a fighter's attitude is what 19-year-old Natalie Hahn thinks saved her from being overcome by cancer, and now she's trying to give other cancer patients her swagger.
Hahn was diagnosed with stage three ovarian cancer July 24, 2012. The Wofford College sophomore was having a routine check-up when her doctor detected a lump in her abdomen.
When she was diagnosed, Hahn said she was totally calm for the first few minutes. Then she burst into a flood of tears.
“After that, I decided no, that's not how we're going to play this game. I had two paths I could go with this. I could let it defeat me mentally, physically, spiritually, or I could take it and run with it.”
Six days after she was diagnosed, a tumor the size of two grapefruits was removed from her left ovary.
She underwent four rounds of potent chemotherapy. Between the first and second treatment, the former homecoming queen shaved her head in an attempt to keep one step ahead of cancer.
“I didn't want to wait for my hair to fall out,” she said.
She never wore a wig and sported her bald head proudly. Many people, especially among young women, obsess over their image, Hahn said. Cancer showed her how fleeting and unimportant physical appearances are, she said.
The treatments, which she now calls poison, made her violently ill and very weak.
On days she couldn't be strong, she said she leaned on her boyfriend and fellow Wofford student, Rags Coxe, and her brother, Baxter Hahn, to get her through. They would come to her room and watch YouTube videos with her and play games.
“It was tough because Natalie is just strong and the one among us to laugh things off. She was looking for people to be normal around her,” said Baxter Hahn, a 21-year-old Wake Forest University junior. “She would get insulted if people came in and acted differently.”
Sometimes Baxter Hahn tried to skip a class or two to spend an extra day with his sister, but he said she never allowed it.
“I guess that was my way of keeping things normal,” he said.
Coxe coined the phrase “Natittude” for Hahn's resolute refusal to allow cancer to beat her. Her sorority sisters in Zeta Tau Alpha made “Got Natittude” bumper stickers that spread across campus. Family and friends wore “Got Natittude” bracelets.
“Natittude is a whole way of thinking about difficult tasks,” said Baxter Hahn. “It's like reminding yourself to do what Natalie would do, be strong.”
On Nov. 16, Natalie Hahn was pronounced cancer-free and cured.
“I was a Christian before, but I consider myself a strong believer now. I felt like I was God's instrument to show people when you are handed bad cards, you've got to scribble over them and write Aces,” she said.
After a semester away and less than two months after beating cancer, Hahn is back on Wofford's campus for the January interim. She is transitioning back into “normal” college life by starting to write a book about her experience. She said she wants to inspire others to not just treat their cancer, but fight it.
“I would never change what I went through because it made me into the person I am and I'm so proud of that,” she said.
The book is also a form of therapy for Hahn. She spends hours at a time scribbling thoughts about her battle with cancer on notecards. It's a way reflect on what she went through and get her emotions out. At the end of the interim, she hopes to put the cards in a box and put them out of sight and out of mind for a while.
“I would like to go into the spring semester and not think about cancer,” she said.
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