Stories of Survival
Terri and Natalie Seale: In Their Own Words
June 29, 2012
When Terri Seale’s daughter was diagnosed with leukemia last year, Terri decided to share all the successes and setbacks along Natalie’s road to healing in an online journal. Natalie’s first year of progress, documented in the following entries, reprinted with their permission, is being shared in hopes that it will help others better understand what to expect when a loved one receives a cancer diagnosis.
My 17-year-old daughter, Natalie, was leading a very active life. With only 5 weeks left of her senior year at Christ Presbyterian Academy, she didn’t slow down between activities because she wanted to take advantage of every moment with all her friends. Only because Nashville had a big rain storm on Monday (4/4/11) and tennis practice was canceled did she take time off to see her doctor about swollen lymph nodes that showed up in her neck in January but dismissed the idea of anything being wrong since the mono test came back negative. On April 6, two days after multiple tests and biopsies, she was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma. Five days later, a bone marrow biopsy confirmed her diagnosis had changed from lymphoma to leukemia (acute lymphocytic leukemia, or ALL).
Saturday, April 9, 2011
Devastation doesn’t begin to describe our emotional pain about this week’s chain of events. We began Monday like any typical day and five days later we feel like we’re balancing high on a tightwire.
Monday, April 11, 2011
Her oncologist confirmed they found 40 percent abnormal cells in her bone marrow which means her diagnosis has changed from lymphoma to leukemia. I didn’t even know how to spell these words a few days ago, so it’s going to be quite an education.
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Today has been a day of encouragement! Natalie had her first chemo last night, but except for a headache coming and going today, has felt generally well. The day began around 9 a.m. with our first visitors and has been non-stop all day – literally!!!
Friday, April 15, 2011
Natalie was released from the hospital and came home this afternoon. She will return as an outpatient to the Cancer Clinic and have her treatments only twice a week for the next 3 weeks, which will carry her through the induction phase of this 2 1/2 year journey.
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Yesterday was an all-day event as an outpatient at Vanderbilt. Natalie’s team of doctors, nurses and social workers are great and they patiently walked us through protocol and answer the zillion questions we had. Many of our questions don’t have clear answers since so much depends on how her body reacts to her treatment.
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
I am so thankful Natalie’s school year is so near the end and CPA has released her with the necessary course credits to graduate. I am so proud of her for doing all she can to keep as much normalcy in her life and equally proud of her for saying no when she doesn’t have the stamina to do those things teenagers do best – just hang out.
Friday, April 22, 2011
Yesterday Natalie…rallied in the afternoon to support the tennis match at Lipscomb. Just being with the team again was just what she needed to lift her spirits and she plans to follow them all the way to the State Championship again this year.
Monday, April 25, 2011
The most important test she had today was the bone marrow biopsy which will show how fast the chemo drugs are killing the cancer cells. The results from last week’s biopsy showed the cancer cells were down from 40 percent to 30 percent, so we’re hoping for a much more significant decrease in today’s biopsy.
Thursday, April 28, 2011
I just heard this morning from Nat’s doctor that the cancer cells in her bone marrow have decreased from 40 percent when she was diagnosed down to 30 percent on Day 8 and now are at 14 percent as of this past Monday (Day 15).
Friday, April 29, 2011
Natalie’s spirit continues to be strong and upbeat. We’ve been warned we might see changes in her personality due to the meds, but so far she’s been nothing but an inspiration to us. We’ve heard rumor this journey will change our family. We’re already seeing our priorities shifting to make time for what’s most important and to never take life too seriously that we forget to laugh.
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
Natalie hopes to make it to school tomorrow to participate in the tradition planned for the seniors’ last day of school where the students run through the hallways slamming shut all the lockers.
Thursday May 5, 2011
Tomorrow is the day Natalie has decided to buzz her hair. It’s hard for her to wash or run her hand through her hair without big clumps coming out. So instead of letting the cancer get the best of her, she’s going to beat it and get her hair all shaved off. Her grandmother bought her a wig that is amazingly the same color with all the highlights as her real hair, only shoulder length. So the next time you see Natalie, she’ll be sporting a new summer cut.
Sunday, May 8, 2011
This is the special day of the year we choose to honor our mothers. And never before have I felt so blessed to be a mother. Natalie’s sweet spirit with a child-like heart planned a family dinner yesterday. She cut out letters for a homemade card to give me and fought hard to stay awake through dinner and a movie. It’s humbling to see how much she loves life and wants to make others happy even when she doesn’t feel her best.
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
We just heard the preliminary bone marrow report showed all the cancer cells have been destroyed. Praise God! Natalie’s doctor reiterated that this report should be taken with a grain of salt since the final report will not be back until later in the week. Today’s call from the doctor was very encouraging news.
Friday, May 13, 2011
Just as Natalie’s doctor told us this week to take the preliminary bone marrow report with a grain of salt, the final report showed she still has 1.5 percent cancer cells in her bone marrow. Because these leukemia cells are still present at the end of the induction therapy stage, she will enter the next stage of treatment, called consolidation, in the high risk group beginning on Monday. We were discouraged to hear all the abnormal cells aren’t gone, but we are also encouraged to know her course of treatment is very aggressive and, hopefully, will deliver a “knock-out punch” to any remaining leukemia cells.
Monday, May 30, 2011
Yesterday was Natalie’s graduation day and she was surrounded by family and friends that love her deeply.
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Natalie just learned her bone marrow biopsy results from Monday showed she is cancer free!!! That’s not to say she doesn’t have a long way to go to keep her cancer free, but it’s still good to know that Natalie is winning this battle.
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Natalie’s doctor was correct when he said she would probably hit a low point around day 60 of this 77-day consolidation stage of her treatment. Natalie’s spirits continue to be high even though she’s being tested at every turn. She finds comfort in the smallest things and is teaching us to just enjoy the moment we’re in.
Thursday, August 4, 2011
Natalie is also feeling the emotional pain of knowing her friends are leaving for college. Since she’s not been feeling well lately, it’s not been possible to see them and hard to stay connected with texting because she’s lost the dexterity in her fingers. The heartache of saying goodbye is especially tough for the one being left behind.
Monday, August 15, 2011
Our prayers were answered when we received the second lab results today confirming Natalie is indeed cancer free! And the second piece of good news is now that Natalie has begun the interim maintenance phase of her treatment, she has an end date when her treatments will be finished: August 11, 2013. This end date will not be changed regardless if she has any more setbacks on her therapy road map. It’s the light at the end of the tunnel, and it seems closer and more attainable just knowing the actual date.
Wednesday, September 7, 2011
Since the stroke of midnight, she’s had a host of doctors, nurses, family and friends come by her room to wish her a happy 18th birthday. As her family watched the numerous celebrations unfold today, we are humbled at how many people Natalie has touched with her amazing spirit and what a blessing and inspiration she’s been to us.
Friday, September 16, 2011
Natalie’s actually complaining of being bored around the house. She’s taking advantage of these good days to visit some of her friends at UT Knoxville this weekend before being readmitted to the hospital next Tuesday for her final dose of methotrexate chemotherapy.
Saturday, October 1, 2011
This marks the end of the interim maintenance phase of Natalie’s treatment. Whohoooo!!!
Monday, October 10, 2011
Natalie is feeling her best ever, and it may be due in part to running on some good ol’ fashioned adrenaline. She was busy all weekend with family and friends celebrating the wedding of her brother, Austin, and his new bride, Ashley. We ask for your prayers as Natalie begins the delayed intensification phase of her treatment tomorrow. She will go to the Cancer Clinic every Tuesday for this 9-week phase for different chemo.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
With the promise to wash her hands often, her doctor has given her clearance to attend Thursday’s Predator’s hockey game as a guest of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and to ride the Zamboni after the first period.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Natalie’s cute, Emma Watson-look short haircut is gone, but she is constantly being reminded everything she’s dealing with is temporary.
Monday, December 5, 2011
Natalie is so excited that she has been chosen to be Nashville Chapter’s 2012 LLS (Leukemia and Lymphoma Society) Girl of the Year.
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Natalie’s 8th and final day of radiation therapy is tomorrow. From today’s clinic visit she learned her blood counts have doubled since last week which means she has a 50/50 chance of reaching the levels required to start the long-awaited maintenance phase of her therapy next Tuesday, December 20th. She is planning a “Maintenance Party” in the clinic to celebrate with her team of doctors and nurses. It will also be a well-remembered Christmas gift and the answer to a lot of prayers.
Thursday, December 29, 2011
By God’s grace, she made it! On Tuesday, 12-27-11, Natalie’s blood counts were high enough for her to move on to the final phase of her chemo treatment. Tuesday was bittersweet as she said goodbye at the end of the day to her health care team who have become a big part of her life each week. Natalie has always wanted to be a nurse, but she knows now she is being called to walk alongside other pediatric oncology patients. Beginning Monday, she will start a new chapter as she begins taking a couple of classes at Belmont University to fulfill her dream.
Tuesday, January 10, 2012
What a thrill to hear the laughter in Natalie’s voice last week as she talked about registering for her two classes – Biology and Spanish. Her biggest challenge so far has been finding a parking place, but the long hikes across campus aren’t all bad since the exercise is building her strength.
Friday, February 10, 2012
Natalie is thankful for how far she has come in her therapy and that she’s able to go to class each day, though it’s a physical challenge. Academically she’s doing great – she made a 100 percent on her biology test this week – her professor smiled when she told Natalie she ruined the grading curve for the rest of the class. :)
Tuesday, March 6, 2012
The one-year anniversary of Natalie’s diagnosis is next month which is amazing to reflect on how different things were just one short year ago. Someone once said cancer changes your life but it can change you for the better. And now we know how true that is.
Saturday, April 7, 2012
You have followed my story through the most encouraging highs and the most devastating lows, but now the time has come to close this monumental chapter of my life and look ahead to what’s to come.
Exactly one year ago to the date I received a phone call that changed my life.
To be honest, most of this past year is merely a collection of faded memories (pretty powerful drugs). I remember emotions more so than the experiences themselves.
I can’t look back and recount my year without recognizing the significant role my parents played…Out of those who surrounded me the most, my mother saw the darkest days of my sickness. I must thank my mother for the time she dedicated to making sure I never felt alone, isolated, or alien to the world and to making sure I knew was loved.
I must also thank my father for the long nights of listening to my endless theories of how to fix the problems of the world (while I was extremely medicated of course.) He provided a listening ear when I felt I couldn’t be heard, and like any concerned father, he made sure to breathe down the neck of the entire medical staff when administering chemo!
To the rest of my sweet family, to the well-trained medical staff, and to all the other individuals in the community who have stood by my family through this incredible journey – a heartfelt thank you.
This past week on two separate occasions a woman asked if I had just cut my hair to be trendy! This was the FIRST time in one year that I was no longer viewed as a cancer patient. This brought tears to my eyes. I’m moving away from the stigmas associated with having cancer. I have matured in ways that I never imagined and my perspective on life has broadened further than ever before.
From insecurities to a newfound confidence, from times of depression to now outstanding joy, and from naivetés to a strong sense of maturity, cancer has helped me to transform into the young woman I am today.
Look how far we’ve come. Praise GOD!
Lead photo by Joe Howell
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