It was a shock; I couldn’t breathe. I sat there watching people talk, but I couldn’t hear them. It all felt like a dream, and I felt numb. This couldn’t be happening; I was with her only a few days ago, shopping on my birthday, something we did every year. Now, she was gone... I had just turned 15, and my mom suddenly passed away. She left me, and I was mad! My dad and I were never close. I was a mommy’s girl, and to me, my dad was a grouch. My dad loved my mom with all his heart, and never let me forget that he loved me too, but we never saw eye to eye. Now, at the point in my life when I needed my mom the most, the only parent I had left was my dad. The man I had always stayed clear of, was suddenly the only person I could lean on. As time went on, my relationship with my dad went from nothing, to everything. It didn’t happen overnight; it took time, but he was all I had. There was one thing, the only thing really, that dad and I ever did together before mom died, and that was shooting. My dad, a gun lover to the core, and in his younger years a competitive marksmen, took me to shoot guns for the first time when I was 9. I was nervous, excited, and to my surprise, a natural. I remember seeing the pride in my dad’s face, which made me love the sport even more. Before mom died, shooting was the only thing we had, and after she died, it become our thing. He taught me everything I needed to know about guns, and I was sure to remember it all. I knew that as boys would come in and out of his teenage daughter’s life, he felt a sense of security in knowing I knew how to handle a gun, and he was sure to remind them that he did too.
“One day, a man is going to come into your life, and he'll be much more important than I am,” my dad always said to me. I thought he was crazy, because over the years we had become closer than I ever thought possible. In a sense, after mom died, we saved each other. I needed him, and he needed me. One thing is for sure though, my dad is a very wise man. I was 18 when I married my husband, Brett! I was young, but I was in love, and my dad was, in a way, right. Brett was now my number one man, as he should be, but I stayed close to my dad, and the shooting didn’t stop. In fact, Brett was raised a hunter, and he was more than a little intrigued by his new “Annie Oakley” of a wife.
With the new adventure of marriage also came the new adventure of hunting, something I always wanted to do. Brett’s family members were all hunters, and not just rifle hunters…bow hunters too. I took on archery like I did any other challenge in my life-with a smile, confidence, and determination. I was eager to start hunting, with both weapons.
After marriage we had one adventure after another. We welcomed our first daughter in 2009, our second daughter just 13 months later in 2011, our third daughter another 14 months later in 2012, and our fourth and final daughter only 15 months later in 2013. That’s right, four girls in three and a half years. Our hands were full, but we were on cloud nine about having 4 perfect, healthy, and happy daughters. Life was crazy, and we had times when we wanted to pull our hair out, but even then, we loved it. The adjustment of going from 3 to 4 kids wasn’t something I was nervous about, but after having our last baby, I wasn’t myself.
Postpartum depression? No, that wasn’t it, but I couldn’t really tell you what it was. Something wasn’t right, I knew it in my gut, but figured it couldn’t be anything major. Six weeks after having our last daughter I went to the doctor, looking six months pregnant. My stomach was hard and the cramping was unbearable. I remember the ultrasound tech saying, “Well, you’re not crazy. Something is in there.” My husband, who was at home with the kids at the time, told me to call him after the appointment, and let him know how things went. I suddenly found myself wishing he was there with me instead. The doctor came in and said, “There is a large mass in your abdomen. We don’t know what it’s attached to, but we need you to go get a CT scan right away.” I sat in the car, alone, with such a scared feeling of the unknown. I hate the unknown, but I had one thought...“It can’t be cancer. Cancer is unheard of on both sides of my family.” I just wanted to go home...just go home and pretend like none of this was happening. Instead, I had to call Brett, and as he answered, my fears turned into tears. He did what he could to calm me down, but I could hear the worry in his voice. I hung up to phone, wiped away my tears, and started to drive...
It was a shock, I couldn’t breathe, but this time, I wasn’t numb, and now I was desperately wishing I was. It was only 45 minutes after getting the CT done that I sat on the phone with my doctor as he said, “Natalie, I wish I wasn’t telling you this over the phone. You have an ovarian tumor. It’s large...about the size of a football. With the size and the speed in which it’s grown, the chances of it being cancer are pretty high, but you’re young, so your age is in you favor. We are sending you to an OBGYN/Oncologist.” My appointment with the oncologist was set for just two days later, but that meant two days of waiting, two days of wondering, two more days of the unknown. In those two days, I kissed my husband a little more, and held my babies a little tighter. I was scared, but couldn’t show it; I had to stay strong for those four little girls that needed me, and for my husband, who stood by my side.
It was July 30th 2013 when we met with my oncologist, who told us that it was most likely a form of ovarian cancer that women get in their teens and early 20’s get. It was rare, and I needed major surgery right away. In fact, the very next day! He gave me a list of instructions, and as I sat there looking at my sweet six week old baby girl, my only question was, “How long will I be in the hospital?” I felt my heart break when he replied, “Five to 10 days.”
I am a lot of things: I am a huntress, a wife, a daughter, and a sister, but the one thing I am the most, is a mother. I didn’t want to do this; I didn’t want to be in the hospital away from my kids, but I knew I had to. I had to find the confidence that I had with every other challenge in my life. I had to get that determination I knew I had deep down, and get ready to face whatever is was I was about to face. For me, losing, or giving up, wasn’t an option.
I went into surgery on Aug 1st 2013, with my husband and my dad by my side. Surgery took four hours, and the doctor had to remove a lot of things, but the main thing was a 5 lb. tumor. Coming out of surgery, I was still groggy, but I asked my husband how things went, and he replied, “95% chance it's cancer, but we will know more in a couple days.” I was still overflowing with fear, but I was so tired that all I could do was sleep, so that’s just what I did. My husband didn’t leave my side that night, and the next day I woke up much more alert. My four beautiful daughters came to visit, and they reminded me that it was my birthday. I was 23, and on that very same day, my pathology came back: I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
Nurses were in and out of my room non-stop, and as one of them lifted my gown, I was taken back to see an incision going vertically from right between my ribs to my pelvic bone. I wasn’t prepared for that, and when they wanted me to walk, it was so much more painful than I expected. My daughters were brought to visit me every day, something that undoubtedly helped my recovery. I needed them with me as much as possible. I was so eager to hold my baby, to feed her, burp her, and let her sleep in my arms, but when my husband laid her in my arms, I was overcome with pain! No matter which way I held her, it was painful. I felt so defeated, and I was angry with my own body.
I had to keep fighting; I walked as much as possible, and I did whatever I could to be able to go home. That’s all I wanted. Four days later, I was released. I came home and laid down in my own bed, with my precious sleeping baby next to me. I could hear my three other daughters playing throughout the house, and for one instant…I wasn’t scared, or in pain. For that moment, everything was ok.
The days came and went...I was in pain, but I was home. I was alive, and that’s what mattered most to me. My little girls could not understand what was going on, or why mommy was so different now. My one year old would stand holding onto my legs, begging to be picked up. Every part of me wanted to pick her up, and the fact that I couldn’t, made us both cry. I strived to get back to being the mom I was before surgery, but I was naïve as to how hard that was going to be. With how young the girls were, nothing could make them understand what was going on, but we tried. I was blessed to have a lot of support and help from family and friends, but I still found myself depressed. I wanted things to go back to the way they were before, but it was taking so much longer than I thought, and it was so much harder than I imagined. This was something that, no matter how hard I tried, I just could not be patient about.
We were very blessed to be told that I was in the clear, and that I just had to go to the doctor every 2 months for checkups. This was great news, and even better since it was August, and that meant the opening of the bow hunting season here in Utah. As fate came to be, I put in for rifle that year, but didn’t draw out. My husband had a tag though, and I didn’t plan on missing out on that.
Things were crazy, though. I ran into complications here and there, and had a few minor surgeries, but I didn’t let that stop me. After all, I had basically spent the four previous hunting seasons pregnant. Just a few weeks after one surgery, I was hiking the Wasatch mountains, on the search for a buck for my husband. I was clearly out of shape, and my abdomen felt as if I had done a million crunches, but I was determined. It paid off, when on our way down the mountain he spotted a buck, drew back his bow, and hit him just right. He filled his tag, and I got to be there for it, despite life’s attempts at keeping me down.
The very next day, I met with my doctor, and shared my excitement with him. He was happy for me, but had to deliver the horrible news that I needed a hysterectomy. Although I was frustrated, I knew things could be worse. I was called crazy, stupid, and insane for having four kids at such a young age, and for having them so fast, but with the news of hearing that the option of having additional children was being taken away from me, I had never been so happy to be crazy enough to have four kids back to back!
Shortly after my hysterectomy, the doctor noticed a small mass on my right ovary, and some fluid around it. Acities, as they called it-which means cancerous fluid. Here we were again, facing another surgery. This will be my 4th. Taking my right ovary meant leaving me with no ovaries to produce my hormones like I need them to, and as petty as it was, I felt as if they were taking all that I had left that made me a women. I had so many people around me, but I had nobody to talk to, nobody that could understand. In a sense, I felt alone.
I went ahead and had the surgery, because I knew that it was necessary in order for me to beat this cancer. but facing surgical menopause at 23 was the hard part. I took it day by day, and always reminded myself how lucky I was. My doctor reminded me that even without ovaries, ovarian cancer can still come back, so my appointments every two months were still set, but that wasn’t a big deal. The worry of reoccurrences never goes away, but I do my best to not think about that. I could tell you that I have been happy and joyful through everything, but I would be lying. I’m human, and I have days when I feel picked on, angry, and felt like giving up, but I know that those are the days when I am just letting life get the best of me.
We are now more than half way through 2014, and I am in remission! My fight wasn’t nearly as difficult as some, and knowing that brought a new adventure into my life, Survivors for Fighters. From the point I was told that I had a tumor, to the time I was waking up from major surgery was a whirlwind, and going through surgery after surgery, even the minor ones, were hard in every way possible. I figured out fast how important support is, no matter where it came from. I knew I wanted to help-I wanted to support everyone, but I knew I couldn’t do that, so instead, I made baskets. Baskets full of things to comfort, support, or even just bring a smile to someone’s face.
I wanted to make a difference. even if it was in the smallest of ways. I make blankets and hair bows for little girls, I bought fuzzy socks and movies, but I quickly learned that I couldn’t make this happen alone. I had mounting medical bills myself, and the baskets I envisioned were going to take more than I could do alone. I asked friends and family for help-some people made things, some people bought things, but so many donated!! Every little bit helped, and I was so grateful for everyone’s willingness to make this happen.
I called anyone and everyone I could think of, and small businesses were almost always willing to help in any way they could. Every donation counted, no matter how big or small, but I wasn’t a nonprofit, so some of them couldn’t help me. Girls with Guns was a brand that I had been wearing since 2010. I loved them, and if I could, I’d own everything they have! So, I went out on whim, and asked them for donations, but first let me explain why: Going into my first major surgery (which was right before my birthday), my husband bought me an awesome new GWG shirt. I wore it walking into the hospital. My dad said he liked my shirt, trying to lighten the mood, and I replied, “Even cancer should know not to mess with a girl with guns!” When I woke up, I put that same shirt back on, and I sent a picture of me and a couple of my sisters in my hospital bed to the GWG Facebook page.
I’ve sent them a few more pictures along the way, keeping them updated. So I went to them with high hopes for donations, but since they aren’t a little company anymore, I figured they wouldn’t be able to help. When I got word back that they were donating, is the exact moment I knew I could make Survivors For Fighters really happen.
It started out as a joke, but in all actuality GWG was my lucky charm, and adding a hat to each women’s basket has more meaning to me than just any old hat. I added each hat as a piece of good luck from one survivor to the next fighter.
My name is Natalie. I am 23...I am a wife, a mother of four, an outdoorswoman, and a very proud Girl with Guns! I am a survivor, and I am out to help other Fighters.
Please go to www.gwgclothing.com to redeem the code FIGHTER15 at checkout!