18-year-old Naomi Latt has a yearlong battle ahead of her
Just four weeks ago, doctors told 18-year-old Naomi Latt of Hastings that she had cancer. What had started as pain in her hip ended with the sobering diagnosis and the realization that she'd have to drop out of college as she battled what is known as Ewing's sarcoma.
Naomi and her parents, David and Barbara, drove from the doctor's office to her college dorm room at the University of St. Thomas. They packed up her belongings and moved her home.
"It was terrible," Barbara said. "I was like numb. I couldn't believe it. It just happened so fast. We brought her to St. Thomas and we packed her stuff and we brought her home. There wasn't a whole lot we could do."
Doctors had found a tumor the size of a cantaloupe in her pelvis and just a few days later Latt began chemotherapy treatment. Doctors have told Latt the cancer is curable because it was caught early on, before it had spread to her bone marrow. Her treatment is expected to last about a year, if all goes as planned.
Next fall, the 2012 HHS graduate plans to enroll again at St. Thomas.
The setback at school would be hard for anyone, but for Latt it is especially so.
During her high school years here, she had a 4.0 grade point average all four years. She was a commended National Merit Scholar and graduated with highest honors. She took so many advanced classes that when she started at St. Thomas, she was actually deemed a sophomore. She is a math major at the school.
All that, though, is on hold for now.
"I can't do much, obviously," Latt said late last week. "My immune system is very low because of the chemo, so no crowds. I did go to Target on Wednesday. That was great. It was the first time I had driven since I was diagnosed."
Latt basically has one week in the hospital and one week at home. Last week, she was able to attend her church, River of Life, and she said that was the highlight of the week. Following that, she sat at her house with friends and watched the Vikings game.
This turn of events has stunned her family, who saw her excel at everything she had been faced with over the years.
"This isn't supposed to happen to your child," Barbara Latt said. "She's an inspiration to me. She's an exceptional child. Exceptional. She was already doing everything she could at St. Thomas, but God has different plans. We'll find out what they are. Maybe she's not supposed to go into math. Maybe it will be something medical."
At first, Latt said she was upset about the diagnosis.
"I was a little mad at God," she said. "I kept asking why, but I know he has a plan for me. It's just a little hard to find it. I know he'll show it eventually."
All summer long, Latt had a pain in her hip. She started school at St. Thomas and as she began walking a lot more and going up more stairs, the pain got worse.
She went to a chiropractor, who did an X-ray on her. That was on a Monday.
The following day, an MRI was performed as the X-ray didn't look normal.
Two days later, Latt, her parents and their pastor, Steve Schoenwald, heard a doctor say "cancer."
"I was in shock," Latt said. "I'm 18. I shouldn't have cancer."
The tumor had grown quickly and started eating her bones. It ran out of room and began pushing her organs around.
"It's amazing I didn't have symptoms of that before, and different health problems," Latt said.
The disease typically spreads to lungs and bones, and Latt has two spots in her lungs.
Chemotherapy began Monday, Oct. 1.
That day, Latt and her family walked into an elevator and slowly moved up to the fifth floor of the Amplatz Children's Hospital. When they got off the elevator, everyone stopped in their tracks. Frogs were everywhere.
Since she was a little girl, Latt has had an obsession with frogs. She'd chase her brother around the house with them. She'd take photos with them. If you didn't know what to buy her for a holiday, you'd buy her something with a frog on it.
At the hospital, she ended up on the frog-themed floor and images of frogs are on the floor, the walls, the clocks and everywhere you look. Latt took the presence of the frogs to be reassurance from God.
"It was just kind of like, 'Oh. God is here with me,'" she said. "He's not going to desert me or leave me. He's there."
Latt's chemotherapy treatment at Amplatz will conclude just before Christmas. She then expects to endure radiation and some possible surgeries. By next fall, she plans to enroll again at the University of St. Thomas to continue her studies.
Just a few days after the diagnosis, and before chemotherapy started, Latt talked to her boss, Mary (Hoffmann) Fasbender, who owns MDK Design for Hair in Hastings.
Latt wanted to donate her hair to Locks of Love, which turns donated hair into wigs for children who lose their hair for medical reasons.
"It was going to fall out anyway," Latt said. "That was harder than finding out I had cancer. I'm a girl - I like my hair."
Fasbender came in a Sunday, when the salon is typically closed, and cut off 10 inches of Latt's hair to donate.
"I don't really recognize myself," she said.
Latt will lose her hair as she goes through treatment.
For the time being, she's on crutches. The tumor dissolved so much of her pelvis that doctors worry if she puts too much weight on it, it will break and they may not be able to reconstruct it.
As it stands now, reconstructive surgery may have to be done after her chemotherapy concludes.
As word of Latt's diagnosis spread, the family decided to set up a Caring Bridge site. To view the site, go to http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/naomilatt1.
"It's crazy - people I've met one time, they're so encouraging," Latt said. "There's so many people lifting me up. It's amazing how much Hastings comes together when somebody needs them."
Latt's roommates at college designed "Team Naomi" T-shirts. Others have made bracelets.
"I never imagined someone would do that for me," she said. "It's coming from everywhere."
More than 300 cards have arrived in the mail.
"It's really comforting," she said. "It's awesome to know that so many people are out there praying for me and rooting for me to get through this, especially when they don't even know me. It's overwhelming."
An upcoming event is planned for Latt. Naomi's Fantastimagical Night of Worship is planned for 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 9, at the Hastings Middle School auditorium. Entertainment will be provided by local Christian bands. Tickets are available in advance at Biermaier Financial Management, Elm Salon & Spa, Christ's Family Church, River of Life Church and United Methodist Church.
For more information about the benefit, call Corie Biermaier at 651-253-2138.