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Natalie Hahn

Their World at Wofford: Natalie Hahn

Cancer-free and carrying a Wofford degree – Natalie Hahn ’15 on surviving ovarian cancer, the Wofford community and her journey of faith, not fear

“I knew from the start that the hardest part was not going to be the chemo or losing my hair, it was knowing that I wouldn’t be at Wofford for all of the things that seemed like such a big deal at the time.” —Natalie Hahn ’15

On Sunday, May 17, Wofford College will confer diplomas on 394 members of the Class of 2015. Among those will be Natalie Hahn ’15, who has extra cause to celebrate. Hahn walks across the stage not only as a graduate of Wofford, but also as a survivor of ovarian cancer.

“I had a regular checkup scheduled for July 18, 2012,” says Hahn. “I remember that I was busy and tried to reschedule, but my mom was insistent, so I went. … Within the week I was diagnosed with dysgerminoma, a particularly aggressive tumor.”

After doctors removed the tumor, Hahn missed the fall of her sophomore year to undergo a regimen of inpatient chemotherapy at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. Hahn says that her mom helped her shave her head following the first treatment and served as a source of strength throughout the entire process.

“Wofford was unbelievable. It felt like home from the time I walked on the campus, but I really knew it after this happened. When I needed family and friends the most, Wofford was there,” says Hahn.

Hahn says that Wofford people were always visiting, sending flowers, preparing meals for the family and volunteering to sit with her during treatments. Her boyfriend, Rags Coxe ’15, coined the term “Nattitude” to describe Hahn’s spirit of determination, and the college’s Greek life organizations, led by Hahn’s Zeta Tau Alpha sisters, took the phrase and ran with it—showing solidarity by wearing the Nattitude “Headbands of Hope” created by Katie Wiebusch ’13 and holding support rallies for Hahn.

“I was set to go to a big university, but changed my mind at the last minute. This is why I chose a private, liberal arts college,” says Hahn. “Nothing can compare to the Wofford community.”

When Hahn returned to campus for Interim after missing the semester, her hair was starting to grow back and she was 24 pounds lighter. To ease back into the routine of college, she took an independent Interim with Dr. Carol Wilson ’81, professor of English and coordinator of academic advising. Wilson guided Hahn as she spent the month of January writing a book about her experience.

“When I first met Natalie, I was so impressed with her approach to her project. She knew that her very-individual voice would make a positive difference for others fighting ovarian cancer. She also knew that revisiting her experiences would be difficult,” says Wilson. “Natalie faced that challenge—and the responsibility of organizing her thoughts and writing—with the same determination and hope that she drew upon while undergoing treatment. She inspired me as she has hundreds of others.”

According to Hahn, the current literature does not cover what it’s like to be diagnosed and treated for ovarian cancer at the age of 19.

“I had to write my own playbook,” says Hahn, who has turned the book into a road map for other young women facing a similar diagnosis. She spent the past Interim working in Washington, D.C., with the director of field engagement for the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, helping the organization develop a guidebook for women between the ages of 15 and 34 who are diagnosed with the disease.

“I loved what I did in D.C.,” says Hahn. “I’ve learned that my passion for giving back is greater than I thought, and I’m definitely keeping my options open in this field.”

Along those lines Hahn and her brother, Baxter, one of her greatest supporters during her battle with cancer, have their own foundation called the Rainbow Fund, which provides seed money for individuals in times of need. Hahn also shares her experiences with civic groups, schools and those currently facing cancer treatments. She’s open about the toll that cancer has taken on her both physically and emotionally, as well as about her spiritual growth during the journey from diagnosis to cure.

“The speaking engagements started as therapy,” says Hahn. “As my dad says, it’s about faith, not fear. I was given these terrible cards, but I never worried. I always believed that something good would come out of this.”

Although Hahn celebrates her life and health each day, she knows that she is not out of the woods yet.

“For the first year I had to go back to my oncologist every three months. The next year it was every four months. I now see the doctor every five months and will continue that until I’m cancer-free for five years. After that the survival rate really goes up,” says Hahn.

Hahn also says she received lots of love and support from people in her hometown of Florence, S.C. The Wofford alumni network in Florence is one of the reasons she chose Wofford, and Hahn feels a special connection to both the alumni and the high school students considering Wofford.

“Students I know in Florence are starting to get their Wofford acceptance letters,” says Hahn. “I’m giddy when I see some of the photos they’ve posted. It’s as if I just got my letter. My Wofford journey here has been remarkable. I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

by Jo Ann Mitchell Brasington ’89