She turned breast cancer treatment into a proud mom moment

Michael Natter and his mom, Ellen Natter, outside the cancer center at NYU Langone Medical Center

Two years ago, I got the call from my mother that every son dreads.

"They found a lump in my breast," she told me over the phone from New York, her usual light voice sounding heavy with fear.

My mother, Ellen Natter, was thrown into treatment, which included surgery and medication. She was a wreck. My family was a wreck. I was a wreck.

And as a second-year medical student in Philadelphia, my worlds were colliding.

The hours spent listening to Pathoma, a cancer pathology review video series, became critically important. I combed my lectures and textbooks seeking answers and hope. Survival rates, once only percentages to memorize, now were keeping me up all night.

My mother went to New York University Langone Medical Center, near our home, to have a radiologic procedure before her breast surgery. She was scared, but as always, interested in everyone she meets – in this case the young radiologist taking care of her. "What’s your name?" she asked. “Michael," he said. Good Jewish mother that she is, she saw this as an invitation to boast about her own Michael, her son the future doctor.

"Where does he go to med school?" Michael the radiologist asked. When my mother told him Jefferson, he almost dropped the syringe. "I went to Jefferson!"

She later told me that at that moment, she felt as though I was there with her, that I was somehow watching over her – and even that everything would work out.

After the procedure, Michael Savino, my mother’s radiologist, wrote me an email to say what a pleasure it was to take care of my mom. I can’t say I was feeling as calm as my mother was at that point, but I was touched to know that she had such a caring physician.

Both the radiologic procedure and the surgery went beautifully.

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Susie Savino and her son Michael show off the illustration Mike Natter made. 

A short time after, I received an email request from Susie Savino, Michael’s mother. Apparently, my mother shared not only the fact that I was in medical school, but also that I am an artist. I had been illustrating my medical school notes to reinforce what I was learning, and creating whimsical cartoons to break down the more complicated medical concepts.

Mrs. Savino commissioned me to create a radiologic piece for her son’s birthday, an idea she came up with after her son told her that he had looked up my work online.

Her request deeply moved me. I so wanted to thank the people who cared for my mother, and this was a perfect opportunity. Never before have I drawn something so meaningful to me. With Michael taking care of my mother, and now his mother reaching out to me, it felt as though the circle were being completed.

The coincidences seemed to continue, as well, when I found out on Match Day that I would be going to NYU for my residency.

Today, I am happy to report that my wonderful mother is currently cancer free. I can say with confidence that she is healthy because of vigilant screening mammograms, dedicated surgeons and oncologists, technicians, and nurses, and people such as Michael Savino, who treated my mother as if  she were his own. I am so grateful to everyone who played a role in my mother’s treatment, but to him, I say, thank you for being the kind of doctor I aim to be. Thank you for helping my mother. And to Susie Savino, my mother, and all the other moms: Happy Mother's Day!

Michael Natter, an illustrator and recent graduate of Thomas Jefferson University’s Sidney Kimmel Medical College, will be starting an internal medicine residency at New York University in July. His artwork is available at www.portraitsforgood.com; a portion of each sale goes to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Instagram: @mike.natter