Natalie is Jennifer’s 16 year old daughter. Jennifer and Natalie have had a special relationship all of Natalie’s life. The bond between Jennifer and Natalie is rare and so strong. Throughout Natalie’s childhood they were partners in a world that was very difficult and stressful for them both, at times. When Natalie was a young child they would wear matching outfits, and you could tell they both genuinely enjoying being with each other. Their mother daughter bond has always been beautiful. Even through the rocky early teenage years, no matter what the situation was Natalie and Jennifer were always together, protecting each other, and if they would fight, they would quickly resolve it and move on.
When Jennifer was first the diagnosis, back in Aug of 2016, I was so concerned about how Natalie would be able to handle a situation with this level of stress, uncertainty, and fear. I spent a lot of time talking to Natalie about the situation, making sure she understood what was happening. I did not want Natalie to think she was being left out or we did not want her to know what was happening. Natalie did very well processing her emotions, being honest about her feelings, talking about the situation, and keeping a positive attitude. As things improved with Jennifer, things improved with Natalie.
In April, when we got the news the immunotherapy was not working, we were all obviously upset. I was mindful to pay close attention to any changes in Natalie’s mood, attitude, sleep, and eating habits. I knew disappointing news like this could really take a toll on her. Overall, she seemed to be holding up ok.
When Jennifer was admitted into St. Anthony’s after the seizure i knew it would be difficult for Natalie to understand the situation we were facing. Jennifer slept, constant, for the first 3 full days after the seizure. It was hard for Natalie to understand that she was not in a coma, it seemed very “coma-like.” Natalie did her best to stay strong and focus on the positives. There were many late night conversations when I slowly explained more and more the gravity of the situation. Natalie is one of the strongest people I have ever met. Her ability to take in such hard information and pick herself up and continue to look forward is truly inspiring.
Natalie was 100% against a nursing facility, just like I am. Natalie, and the entire family, desperately wanted Jennifer to come home, and we were willing to do whatever we had to to make that happen!
On Thursday the 23rd, I was at the conference in Tampa. This was Jennifer’s first full day home. Before I left, I gave Jen all of her morning medications, and told her the game plan for the day. I woke Natalie up and gave her specific instructions on what to do, what not to do, why she should and should not do certain things. Jessica was home with Jennifer and she had a few visiting family members throughout the day, but Natalie was home with Jennifer the entire day. I was a little worried about how Natalie would be able to handle the shock, sadness, and reality of the situation with her mom. Jennifer is doing better each day but she came home to weak to walk or stand. She was in bed, unable to get out of bed, for 2 weeks, atrophy and the effects from the tumors in her brain have made her entire body weak, but especially the left side of her body.
The way Natalie was able to handle the situation, with such maturity, love, compassion, strength, and determination was greater than I could ever explain. Natalie helped her mom in every possible way. She spent the day making sure Jennifer had everything she needed, down to making sure her pillow was angled properly. Natalie asked all the right questions, doubt checked to make sure she was moving her legs and arms safely, and was ready with her phone next to her to give an update to any family member that called. Natalie even did physical therapy exercises, in the bed with Jennifer. She motivated and directed Jennifer in stretching her arms, bending her legs, lifting her legs, etc. When Jennifer didn’t want to continue because the muscles were sore, Natalie motivated her to push for a few seconds longer. Natalie made sure she understood what was a safe exercise before she started and was always mindful to make sure she did not push her to hard.
The entire day was a wonderful success and I have never been so proud of anyone in my entire life. Natalie took on a challenge that, I would argue, many adults would not be able to do. Not only did she take on this challenge, she was happy to do it. She told me more than once, “my mom has always taken care of me, it’s my turn to take care of her.” Of course, I wanted to blubber like a little baby when she said that, but I held it together pretty good lol
Natalie truly does have a natural ability to take care of people. I think she could become an amazing nurse, nurse practitioner, or doctor one day! When Jennifer first got her diagnosis in August, Natalie started coming up with great ideas making things for cancer patients and donating them to the Florida Cancer Center, where Jennifer gets her treatment. One idea was to make fancy bath bombs, because we have learned with Jennifer, those little moments of pampering, like a relaxing hot bath, make a world of difference. Once Jennifer started to get better, around Sept and Oct, the excitement of Jennifer getting better became the focus. When Jennifer was in the hospital, this most recent time, Natalie told me she felt bad for not following through on the donation idea because Jennifer started getting better, it didn’t seem important anymore. I explained to her that kind of thing happens, you think of ideas when things are bad and when they get better those idea start to seem no longer important. Natalie does have a renewed determination now, and a lesson learned on follow up on what you start.
Natalie’s donation idea has grown a bit since her first idea. She is currently outlining her ideas, and creating a mission statement to start a non-profit. She would like to set up a beauty and pampering events at various Florida Cancer Centers. She wants to help women feel beautiful during their cancer battle. She wants to do makeup, hair/wig styling, nails/manicures and of course making homemade bath bombs, lotions etc. I think it is a wonderful idea and cancer patients would love it. Right now, its just an idea, we don’t know if this is something she will actually be able to do on the scale she is dreaming of BUT she is an amazing person with a huge heart, I am sure we will be able to set up something. I think spending time with and building a bond with other cancer patients will be just as therapeutic for Natalie, as it is for the women she meets.