To communicate what Nati meant to me, I have to first reveal some personal background. About nine years ago, I was diagnosed with a fast-growing prostate cancer. At the time, I was devastated but determined to work through it, and told no one except my boss. I didn’t want my coworkers to know until I left on medical leave for surgery – after that, I didn’t care if everyone knew; I just didn’t want their sympathy while working.
As anyone who’s had cancer knows, it’s never really over, but in my case, surgery was successful for its primary intention – the tumor was removed before it metastasized. So as soon as my oncologist grants his approval, I eagerly go back to work, but I’m a mess. My body isn’t functioning the way it’s supposed to. I’m determined, though, trying to hold it together for my wife, and even though work is a struggle, it takes my mind off my health.
My colleagues know what I’m dealing with, but understandably don’t go there. I’m trying to get on with my life without much success.
Then one night, Nati approaches me, and she asks if she can talk to me. We didn’t really know each other well, and I’m not sure what this is about, but she’s the NCC, so I say, “of course.” She invites me to stop by the nursing office at the end of my shift.
So that’s what I do. It’s 11:30 at night, and she’s alone. Motioning me to sit down next to her desk, she looks me in the eye and says, “I know what you’re going through, and I want to help you.“
I feel the tears start to well up – I haven’t cried once since my diagnosis. She reaches over and takes my hand and doesn’t say a word; she just lets me release all of this emotion that’s built up, all of the fear and grief that I didn’t know how to deal with, didn’t even know was there.
After I was done, even before she started talking in her soft, measured voice, I was bonded to her forever. No one saw what I was going through except her, and she wasn’t afraid to reach out to a fellow nurse she didn’t really know and offer her love and support.
Nati went on to tell me about her experience with cancer, and from that moment on, we often talked about everything that mattered to us. We supported each other through the ups and downs of our shared experience with trying to recover what this disease took from us.
She made me a better person, and over the years, things began to normalize for both of us. Nati was so full of life and joy, but to me, she stood out as one of the strongest people I’ve ever known.
Some people make you a better person by showing you what real strength and compassion are. Nati was not afraid to reach out and help others, and she was not afraid to show her vulnerability. She was a powerful role model for everyone she came in contact with.
My life is immeasurably better for having known her, and she lives on in my memory.
In my mind, I don’t really think of her as being gone, because to me, she’s not. She will always be with me because she’s a part of who I am.
If you’re lucky in life, you meet the right person you need at the right moment, and they change you forever.
Nati was that person to me, and I’m grateful and privileged to have known her.