Nathan Baltz is a 17 year old senior at Catholic High School in Little Rock. Like most high school seniors, he is looking forward to graduation and college. However, unlike many of his classmates, high school has not been the carefree experience of football games and movies with friends.
I first met Nathan at a brain cancer awareness event, and his outgoing personality really stood out to me. He was joking about his seizures and other symptoms, and I was surprised how “happy” he could be after 1.5 years of cancer treatment. When I sat down with Nathan a few weeks ago to learn more about his story, I learned that although he can laugh about some aspects of cancer, there’s also a darker side to his experience, and he will never be the same happy-go-lucky kid that he was before all of this happened.
In November of 2014, Nathan’s family went to Memphis to his little brother’s soccer tournament. Nathan hadn’t been feeling well that week, sleeping away his afternoons and waking up early to finish homework before school. Like most of us, he didn’t think much of feeling under the weather, and he continued life as normal. That weekend was anything but normal when Nathan stood up in a busy restaurant to tell his mother he didn’t feel well and immediately fell to the floor. Nathan’s family took him to Arkansas Children’s Hospital to see what could possibly be wrong with their son and were shocked to find out that he had a brain tumor.
Nathan remembered the details of that day so vividly, but when it comes to the following year, everything begins to blur together. He had a port inserted and received two rounds of chemo to attack the tumor. He remembers thinking the first treatment was “not so bad” but as they upped the dose, it became “like a monster” attacking his body.
Nathan’s steroids caused him to gain a ton of weight, topping out at about 200 lbs. He also lost all of his hair, even his “really good eyelashes.” At any age, I imagine losing control of your physical appearance that way would be traumatic, but as a teenager it must have been unbearable. Of course, Nathan said he didn’t like it, but he tried not to worry too much because his real friends knew he was sick but still stayed around.
Nathan spent a lot of his winter isolated from friends and family to protect his immune system and had surgery to remove the tumor on February 9th, 2015. This was followed by more chemo and radiation, leaving him so fatigued that he often slept 20 hours a day.
I knew sitting down to hear this story that it would be sad. It’s sad to think that a sweet and respectful kid like Nathan had to go through such physical torture to fight for his life. What made me more sad in the end was how it changed him emotionally. He said the experience has made him feel disconnected from his peers and forced him to be more mature. He does, however, feel more connected to older people who have experienced loss. He explained, “You can see in people’s eyes when they’ve had something tough. I feel like I can see that in the mirror.”
It’s not all bad though. As time goes on, Nathan is getting healthier and stronger. He took summer classes to stay caught up in school, and he looks forward to graduation and moving on to college. He is considering Lyon and Hendrix colleges among others and even thinks that medical school could be in his future. When I asked what he would like to be when he grew up, of all things, he said—“a pediatric oncologist.”
If it’s true that there is a silver lining to every dark cloud, that could be his. Nathan Baltz has had an unbelievable teenage experience that has molded him into a mature young man that could potentially save lives. This year, we are raising funds in honor of Nathan Baltz to support the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke University to help advance the study and treatment of brain cancer. Thank you Nathan for sharing your story and helping other brain cancer patients and their families.
If you would like to contribute to our donation page in honor of Nathan and Team #NotToday, please click the link "Donate to Team #NotToday" below Nathan's photo.
Team #NotToday is co-chaired by Charlee Hinton in honor of her husband, Jeremy Hinton and Jill Matthews in memory of her husband, James Matthews.
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