Teen cancer survivor to lead Mississippi ShuffleJust one year after her last chemotherapy treatment, Natalie Kuehni is nearly back to her old self, according to her mom, Connie Kuehni.
By: Amber Barrios, The Republican Eagle
Just one year after her last chemotherapy treatment, Natalie Kuehni is nearly back to her old self, according to her mom, Connie Kuehni.
"Definitely there are still days that aren't easy, but yet now she's able to be your typical teenage girl and hopefully move on to a more normal life and activities," Natalie's mother said.
A 13-year-old cancer survivor, Natalie has one new activity on her plate this year: the Mississippi Shuffle Relay for Life.
The Red Wing teen will serve as honorary chairperson for the 21st annual event, which raises money for the American Cancer Society. The Shuffle takes place this weekend at Bay Point Park.
As honorary chairperson, Natalie will be introduced during the opening ceremony at 5:45 p.m. Friday and will lead the first half-lap, called the survivor lap.
Then, as part of the 9 p.m. luminary lighting program, Natalie and Connie Kuehni will speak. The walk will conclude at 9 a.m. Saturday with a closing ceremony.
"We'll share her story of what her type of cancer was and what it was like for her to go through," Connie Kuehni said. "It's never real easy to talk about it. I know it's definitely hard for anybody to talk about what they've gone through as a hardship.
"It's obviously something that no one would ever expect to see their child go through or themselves as a child," she continued. "And she's met so many other kids through programs. It's really been an eye opener for her to know everybody goes through different challenges."
After months of stomach pain, Natalie found out May 21, 2008, that she had a tumor. Two days later she underwent surgery and it was confirmed that the tumor was cancerous.
"The type is a mixed germ cell tumor," her mother said. "The germ cell tumor doubles in size every 25 days. It is an extremely fast-growing cancer cell, so from the time of Wednesday to the time of surgery, it went from a grapefruit size to a small volleyball. It was no wonder she was in so much pain."
The tumor, located on Natalie's right ovary, wasn't outwardly visible because the organs had moved to make space for it. Following surgery, Natalie underwent chemotherapy, but after the second round she still had a lot of stomach pain.
The teen had to undergo a second surgery because the scar tissue from the first surgery had wrapped around her intestines.
"That was the worst," Natalie said. "I could still feel a lot of pain, but I felt bad to ask for (painkillers). But once in a while I asked for it and they would give me more, but I could always use more. It was so bad."
Although there were plenty of painful moments during treatment, there were also things that made her smile during her hospital stay.
"There's this little room where you could go into and there's computers there and books," Natalie said. "Every once in a while one of my parents would go in and print out all of the guest book entries from my Caring Bridge page. It would really cheer me up - the memories, jokes."
Support came from everywhere, Connie Kuehni said. "Not only between friends and family, but also with the whole school sending messages on her Caring Bridge site, the softball team, 4-H friends.
"Everybody came out of the woodwork and supported her. It really made her feel wonderful to know she wasn't in it alone."
After missing the end of her sixth-grade year at Twin Bluff Middle School, Natalie returned the following fall and began getting back to some of her regular activities, including playing sports.
"It's very nice to be home," said the teen, who will enter eighth grade this fall. "I'm kind of going back to the normal life again, maybe even a little bit better, too. You have more respect from people and for people - greater respect and appreciation.
As for the possibility the cancer will return, "I'm not worried at all," Natalie said. "But I kind of miss being at the hospital because that was like my other home and I was so used to having everybody there."
Her daughter is making progress with fewer doctor visits, Connie Kuehni said. "Now it's every three months. The next appointment is after the Relay, then hopefully after that we're looking at six-month appointments. Then it's yearly. They say everything's in the normal ranges."
Natalie and her mother and father, Wendell Kuehni, will walk with eight other friends and family members on their team: Kuehni Cancer Kickers.
As of Sunday, the team had raised $2,000.
"Natalie is trying to raise $2,500 as a team," her mother said. "Hopefully we can hit the 2,500 mark by Friday night."