Old adages ring true for local cancer survivor

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 3, 2008


Editor and Publisher

LAPLACE – Natalie Tatje didn’t want to be the latest person to learn about the truth in an old adage.

“In a single day you can be reminded how quickly things can happen to change your life,” she said.

Tatje, well known in St. John Parish as the longtime owner of Tatje Insurance and Financial Services, found that out less than a year ago when her sciatic nerve pain down her leg got unbearable.

“I’ve had the problem for years, but in November of ’07 the pain got just terrible,” she said.

Her doctor ordered an MRI, and after she finished the test, as she was getting off the stretcher, she almost threw up from pain medication she had been taking.

“I was hit with the worst pain I could ever imagine,” she said. “All I remember was grabbing hold of my husband Kurt to hold me up, and wanting to get rid of the pain.”

She was taken to the hospital and quickly found out that she had fractured her L-3 vertebrae, all part of what would turn out to be a diagnosis of Multiple Myeloma cancer, which was surrounding her L-3 and L-4 vertebrae with a massive tumor. It was the tumor, which had eaten into her bone, that caused her back to be so fragile that it actually fractured with little more than a sneeze.

Since then, Tatje has gone to treatment at the Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy in Little Rock, Ark., where she had surgery to remove the tumor, and now has ongoing chemotherapy to rid her body of several other tumors.

As of her last MRI, she was pronounced cancer free, even though she will continue chemo treatments until the end of the year.

Tatje, only 44, said she has seen her faith become even stronger in the past year, and learned how important it is to live every day to the fullest.

“I’ve done well due to the power of prayer, I know that without a doubt,” she said. “I’ve always had strong faith, but this entire situation has made my faith even stronger. I just know I wouldn’t have gotten through this without so many prayers. I could honestly feel the prayers when I got to Arkansas to begin treatment.”

With two children, Kelsey, age 17,and Blaine, age 14, she and her husband decided not to tell them about the cancer when she found out just before the Thanksgiving weekend.

When the time came to tell them, “it was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” Tatje said, wiping away tears.

Married in 1986, she and her husband moved to LaPlace at that time, although she continued working her insurance business both in New Orleans, and through her own agency begun here.

Tatje said her life was about as normal as it could get for so many years, until the unexpected turn of events in November, ’07.

Even when she was told positively by her doctor on the Monday after Thanksgiving that she had cancer, Tatje said she never doubted she would beat it.

“I think my positive attitude about things came from my mother and father. I never thought I would be beat by the cancer, not at all,” she added.

She immediately got the help of a friend to be accepted by a renowned New Orleans oncologist, Dr. Jayne Gurtlier, who also looked at the pathology report and proclaimed, “we can beat this.”

She also was surprised to learn that there are world-renowned cancer doctors working at the center in Arkansas, where she has been going on a regular basis since the cancer was diagnosed.

“But in the end, I know the prayers from so many people have made a difference for me,” Tatje said. “I asked a friend recently, who had suffered a stroke, if she could actually feel the prayers working on her, and she said she could. I believe it since I could feel them from the time we got word out about my cancer.”

With husband Kurt having a construction company, she said the burden financially has been handled since she—naturally—had very good disability and health insurance, while both companies have gotten great help from their staffs.

“I couldn’t have handled this so well if I hadn’t gotten so much help from my staff,” she remarked. “And even as hard as it has been on the kids, I keep telling them to give me one year to fight this, so I can have 40 more years with them.”

Tatje is well known around town for being involved in many civic organizations, as well as recreational sports and clubs with her kids. Missing some of that in the past year, as she has gone to Little Rock for three week stints at a time, has been the hardest part.

“I get home from work, and I try to do as much with my kids as I can,” she noted. “So that has been the toughest part of this—just missing time with them.”

But as for now, she said she has fatigue following the chemo treatments, and nausea from medicine she takes. Otherwise, she noted, she “feels great, as good as I ever did.”

And the good thing, she added, is that her old sciatic nerve problem is gone thanks to two metal rods put into her back to fix the shattered L-3.

“I just know that you have to live for today. You really can’t sweat the small stuff,” she said, adding a couple more well-known adages that she probably could have gone without learning about so personally.