Natalie Unga is a remarkable woman that has beat the odds in so many ways! When she was starting out her senior year in college Natalie was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had no idea where to go from there or where the journey would take her, but her doctors said her chances were good. So she moved forward, one step at a time, and learned how truly loved she was by all of those around her. We had the distinct opportunity to interview her about her journey and are ecstatic to share that with you. So, read on! I know you will love Natalie as much as we do!
1. You were young when you were diagnosed with breast cancer. Were there any coping mechanisms that made it easier for you to handle what you were going through so young?
I was super determined to not let Cancer change my life. I remember thinking that since I had cancer I would just have to lay in bed all day and that imagery was horrific. So I asked my doctor what I could do and she said anything I felt like doing... So my coping mechanisms were to go out with my boyfriend on dates, go out with friends when the time came. and I got a job so I could work everyday. There were days when I would get up and get dressed and go to work and then an hour later come home because I was so sick or tired from the Chemotherapy. It was getting up everyday and doing something that kept me going.
2. During your first meeting with the doctors they told you that children may not be an option after all of the chemo. Did you continue to worry about that throughout the treatments or was it easier to push it from your mind since you had no control?
Not being able to have children was my biggest fear. I had grown up babysitting and dreaming of the day I would be a mom, I also knew it was so important to my boyfriend at the time, and I felt like I would lose him if I couldn't provide that for us. I sought out spiritual advice, I prayed all the time and I just kept telling myself that I will have children, no matter what the doctors said. It was on my mind all the time but my doctor was amazing and she knew how important it was to me so she gave me a drug called Lupron that shuts down your reproductive system and is suppose to save the eggs during Chemotherapy. We were not sure if it would work because it is not a common practice for cancer patients. Two months after getting married I found out I was pregnant and it was one of the happiest days of my life. I believe in miracles. I have four miracles now.
3. It had to be incredibly difficult to tell your then boyfriend (now husband!) that he didn't have to stay and didn't have any obligations. What was that like for him to hear you say that?
I feel like it was heartbreaking for my boyfriend to hear me say he was not obligated to stay with me through my journey with Breast Cancer. He was such a strong man, it wasn't like I didn't think he could handle it, I just didn't want to hold him back and I really had no idea where this was going to take me. He is not really good at expressing his feelings and I had rarely seen him cry, so that day when he was crying a lot with me I got scared. He was fine and didn't waver at all, not even a discussion, he said nothing and then left me a note saying this was a trial the Lord has given us and we would work through it together. It was as if he dismissed my invitation to leave and just got ready for the journey.
4. Seeing your friends, family, and others rally around you had to be incredibly inspiring! What was it like to be the recipient of all of that love and support?
I always knew that I had friends and loved ones who cared about me but the support and care I received was incredible. It seems like it never stopped and there were times that it was overwhelming. From my chemotherapy shower, to my notes of encouragement. There were care packages sent from Hawaii, blankets made just for me and people calling to check up on me like President Shumway (the President of BYU Hawaii). I still cry thinking about Easter Sunday when I had no hair from the Chemo so all the ladies at church bought hats and wore them to church so I would not be the only one wearing a hat. It was amazing and has helped me to realize during trials even if you don't bake or make blankets, letting people know you are thinking can make such a difference.
5. So the cancer started in your breasts, but then spread. Where else did the cancer spread in your body?
The cancer spread to my first node called the sentinel node. There was a protein in my tumor called Her2Nue and this made the tumor more aggressive. I was so lucky that we did the biopsy because it had started to spread outside the tumor area and could have been throughout my whole body if it wasn't for that Doctor.
6. Your hair is something that was very precious to you prior to your diagnosis. Why was your hair such a defining part of you? What was it like to lose it? How long did it take you to come to the realization you eventually did about yourself and who you are?
My hair was different. It was naturally curly and somewhat crazy, but it had always been the thing that I received the most compliments about. So, for me, it was one of the things that I felt made me beautiful. Losing my hair was such a weird feeling. I remember being in the bath tub and running my fingers through it and large chunks just coming out. Then I just decided to shave it off instead of wait for it all to fall out. That way I was choosing to let it go instead of it having the control over me. I got a wig because it was hard to have people stare at me without hair, but my boyfirend hated my wig and constantly told me I looked so much better without it. It took me a couple months to get over the loss and then I realized that I was so much more than my hair.
7. Chemo sounds like one of the worst experiences ever. But, you said that your mom always got you candy to suck on and treat runs while you were getting your treatments. What was your favorite candy during this time?
I loved all candy but mint hard candy and fruity hard candy was my favorite. It was so interesting that even though you were sucking on candy you could still taste the medicine coming into your body. After every treatment I would crave coldstone ice cream so we would go there and get ice cream.
8. Throughout your story, you are real but extremely positive. Were there any good memories that came out of this whole experience? What are your favorites?
I look at this experience and call it a beautiful heartbreak. It was not part of my plan for my life. I wanted someone to take it all away, but after going through it and meeting incredible people and gaining a perspective about life that can only come when you are diagnosed with a life threatening illness - I wouldn't trade it for the world. I had great faith that I was put on that path for a reason and I was. I learned that things didn't matter, people did. I learned that through hard times you can still find Joy and happiness. I have so many favorite memories I couldn't choose one.but the experience as a whole especially because of the outcome has taugh t me that miracles can and do happen/,
9. How has your experience with cancer affected you as a parent? Do you ever fear that your children will have to experience it?
Knowing what is was like to go through the Chemotherapy, radiation and other treatments I would never wish that on anyone, but it makes my stomach hurt to ever imagine my children going through this. I have had multiple BRCA tests and once again I feel very blessed.
10. If you could tell someone who is experiencing breast cancer one thing, what would you tell them?
Your mental attitude and your strength to fight will take you further than you can imagine. Listen to your doctor but then go and do the things you love to do. Do not let cancer stop you.