One day in August 2017, Natasha Verma woke up and felt a pain shooting down the left side of her arm. She felt a painful lump on her left collarbone.
At first, she dismissed the pain because she’d worked out and lifted weights the day before. But the pain lingered so she called her father, who’s a doctor in Victoria, Texas. He encouraged her to get it checked out. He reminded her that both of her grandparents died from cancer.
“I just had this gut feeling something was wrong,” she said. “Intuition.”
So Verma, who was an anchor for NBC10 in Boston, went to a local urgent care center. The doctor gave her pain medication. While the pain went away, the lump remained.
Next, she went to another doctor and asked for an ultrasound. He pushed back on her request because she was only 23 and was otherwise healthy. After Verma’s urging, the doctor finally did an ultrasound, which showed a problematic lymph node. Next, they did a CT scan. She later had a biopsy and was diagnosed with stage 2 Hodgkin Lymphoma, a blood cancer in the lymphatic system.
“I had a tumor on my left collarbone and on my right collarbone, and a mass growing in my chest,” she said. “And what I had felt was the tip of the iceberg and I remember looking at the PET scan, and it just lit up totally lit up with tumor activity.”
Verma had surgery two days later, followed by three rounds of chemotherapy with no radiation. She says chemotherapy was a “crazy journey” because she didn’t know what to expect.
“I was pretty much in excruciating pain, my joints hurt,” she said. “Everything hurt so bad from head to toe.”
She didn’t lose her hair during her first round of chemo but her oncologist advised her to get a wig because she’d likely lose her hair during her second round.
“I went and got a wig and I just felt this like sense of dread and denial,” she said. “I threw it in the back of my closet. I hated it because it didn’t look like me.”
The very next day, a few hours after chemo, she noticed strands of hair falling out on her pillow. Then fistfuls of hair were coming out. She brushed all of her out within an hour.
“Up until then, I’d pretty much been in denial that I had cancer,” Verma said. “I think that was like my first physical proof of ‘Wow, the chemotherapy is killing me.’ And that’s essentially what it does; it’s a toxin in your body, that’s killing all of the cancer cells.”
Putting a cap on it
Verma felt lost and depressed, and stopped looking in the mirror because she didn’t recognize herself in the reflection. She didn’t like her wig because she was self-conscious and could never get the hairline right.
She started wearing a baseball cap over her wig and had a realization: It would be cool if there was a resource to make caps for women with built-in hair. She decided to launch a project, “Put A Cap On Cancer,” under her family’s non-profit, The Verma Foundation.
“We give real hair cap wigs, totally custom from your baseball cap to the color of the hair to the length of hair, and we give it for free to women and children battling cancer,” she said.
So far, they’ve donated more than 2,000 cap wigs across the world to people with cancer.
“We have so many women write to us saying how they have regained a sense of self and normalcy and confidence,” Verma said. “It’s not about vanity, it’s about dignity.”
These days, Verma is the weekday morning anchor on KUSA-TV in Denver. She’s done on-air stories about her cancer and her foundation. She also does a regular segment called “The Warrior Way,” highlighting people who overcome challenges.
Verma’s been in remission for three years. Every six months she gets screenings, even during the pandemic. She advises other women to be advocates for their own health and get screenings too.
“Know your body, listen to your body, and if something is wrong, get it checked out,” she said.
For more information on the Verma Foundation, visit natashaverma.com/.