Cancer survivor now focused on nursing school

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – It’s been almost a year since we shared the story of an Ardmore teenager who was fighting cancer. We thought we’d revisit her to see how she’s doing.

Five days after Natalee Emerson turned 16, she wasn’t feeling well. Pam Emerson, Natalee’s mom remembered, “We were going that morning to get her driver’s license and she had volleyball practice. And we had a full day planned.”

Natalee went to the emergency room instead. “I remember the look on the doctor’s face when he came in the room,” Natalee’s dad, Mike, recalled.

“He came in and shut the door and said I don’t have good news,” Natalee added.

She had acute lymphoblastic leukemia, blood cancer. They immediately went to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. Natalee focused on beating her cancer. “I had to because I really didn’t have another choice,” she said.

It really didn’t hit her until she got back home. “That’s when my 120 weeks started and after I realized how much longer I had to go with then it was okay, this is a big deal,” she said.

Natalee took her last chemo treatment at St. Jude in March of 2020. The staff there did a round of testing on her and then called the family while they were out shopping. “My bone marrow showed no signs of leukemia still and that’s what we wanted,” she told me with a smile, “what we prayed for.”

They came home to Ardmore where she’d kept up her studies and was ready to graduate on time with her senior classmates when COVID hit. “So, I never went back to school,” she told me, “but I did have an in-person graduation.” That was in June. “It rained the entire time during graduation but that just kind of made it more memorable because it wasn’t as formal once it started raining,” she said with a laugh.

We caught up with Natalee where she hoped she’d be now, in her dorm room. “College is great so far,” she said smiling, “I’m at Samford University.” She’s majoring in nursing. “I passed Chemistry last semester and that was huge,” she said proudly.

She really didn’t have an interest in a health care career until she was diagnosed with leukemia. That was a life changer. “Probably half-way through treatment and I was like, I need to use this for a good reason,” she said, “and I think the best way to do that is be a nurse.”

She misses her family but is enjoying her new journey. “I am,” she said with a grin, “I think too, just being in the middle of all that during high school, I didn’t get to spend time with my friends like I would have liked to and now that I have new friends and these developing friendships, I’m really enjoying it.”

And speaking of those new friendships, she invited a few to say hello during our zoom interview. They waved and said hi before Natalee introduce each of them. “This is Taylor and Abby, and these are my suite mates and then this is Kat and she’s my roommate,” Natalee said.

No doubt, those friendships will last a lifetime.

Natalee will start her actual nursing classes next spring. She says she’s looking forward to clinicals and figuring out just which direction she’s wants to go in nursing. But she’s leaning toward oncology.

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