Worship benefit Saturday for Natalie McMillian fighting rare cancer

Published 7:26 pm Thursday, February 21, 2019

The family and friends of Natalie McMillian are helping her fight a rare and potentially deadly and inoperable cancer with a powerful ally.

“We believe in God’s higher healing, and we believe God has got Nat in this,” said Debbie Titone, her maternal grandmother.

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Saturday, family members will hold a worship benefit, “#FIGHTLIKENAT,” from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the activities building at Immanuel Baptist Church, 6949 U.S. 61 South. Admission is $10, which includes a barbeque plate, and admission to all activities at the event.

Natalie is presently at St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, her aunt, Tanya Creswell, said.

Creswell has been involved in planning the benefit.

“We just wanted to do something for her to help support her and her family through this journey, and we wanted to do some type of worship benefit,” she said. “Natalie loves K-Love and she loves the Lord and we just wanted to incorporate that into the benefit.”

Natalie was diagnosed in December with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, or DIPG, a rare, highly aggressive and difficult to treat brain tumor found at the base of the brain.

According to information from the Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Hospital Cancer and Blood Disorder Center website, these tumors are found in an area of the brainstem, the lowest, stem-like part of the brain called the pons, which controls many of the body’s most vital functions such as breathing, blood pressure and heart rate.

Approximately 300 children in the U.S. are diagnosed with DIPG each year, according to the website.

The events that led to the diagnosis, Titone said, began Nov. 27, Natalie’s 15th birthday.

“She got sick on her birthday, and started spiraling down. She couldn’t walk, and she was having trouble communicating,” Titone said, adding her parents, Amanda and John McMillian, took her to the emergency room at Merit Health River Region, where doctors made a preliminary diagnosis of meningitis.

Natalie was then taken to Blair E. Batson Children’s Hospital in Jackson, where doctors there initially thought she had meningitis and encephalitis. Within a short time of getting there, Titone said, Natalie was put on a ventilator.

“It went from her being on a vent to a mass on her brain where in the middle of the night they had to put in a temporary drain and told us it was DIPG.”

And the strain on the family is hard, Titone said.

“Neither parent is able to work right now,” she said.

“This is very difficult, because the doctors have said a lot of negative things to us; it is very hard to listen to more than one doctor tell you over and over that she has a 1 percent chance of making it.”

Titone said she at one point told the doctors, “We hear what you are saying, but our faith in God is stronger. You have a lot of book sense, but you are only God’s instrument. He is in a mighty position and I believe that.

“God has carried her. They didn’t think she’d come off the vent; they didn’t think she’d be able to move her left side. She came off the vent on Christmas Eve, our Christmas miracle. She is able to move her left leg and her left arm some; it is the weaker side,” Titone said.

“Yes, she is in a wheelchair, but she’s a fighter and has God on her side.”

Creswell said the benefit will include performances of gospel and contemporary Christian music, all with encouraging and worship themes, and several speakers. There will also be face painting, a silent auction, door prizes and printed T-shirts and sweatshirts for sale.

Pending the results of an MRI, Natalie may be able to attend the event, Creswell said. For more information on the benefit and Natalie’s story, people can go to the “Prayers are Moving Mountains for Natalie” page on Facebook.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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