NEW YORK – Natasha Verma, the 23-year-old Indian American anchor at NBC Boston, is ready to be back on the air after being diagnosed with and treated for cancer, according to a Boston.com report.
Verma will also continue to work on a non-profit, “Put a Cap on Cancer,” that was inspired by her own feelings of distress over losing her hair from cancer.
After noticing a lump on her collarbone while working out at the gym last summer, Verma detailed how she thought of it to only be a muscle sprain. However, when she started to feel shooting pain in her arm, she went to a doctor who didn’t say much about it. When Verma began experiencing additional symptoms, including a tightening in her chest, she decided to visit the emergency room on Monday, Aug. 21.
It was the day of the solar eclipse and “the ER was empty because everyone was outside watching the sun. That was the only way I was able to get a doctor and an ultrasound,” Verma told Boston.com.
Even the doctor in the ER had doubts about Verma’s lump being cancerous as she was “young and healthy” but for her “peace of mind,” the doctor ordered an ultrasound.
When the reports for the ultrasound came back, a PET scan that “lit up like a Christmas tree” showed that Verma had been diagnosed with stage 2 Hodgkin Lymphoma and with aggressive chemotherapy, doctors told Verma that “she would be looking at six months off the air.”
“I was so shocked when I first got the diagnosis, I was like, ‘No, I’ll be fine, I’m going to work through it,’” Verma told Boston.com.
But soon enough, it became clear to Verma that working through chemo would be impossible.
“I had a really, really tough time with chemotherapy. It was really terrible. Pain like I’ve never experienced before, excruciating pain in every single muscle in my body. I had jaw pain. I had stomach burns, because when you’re pumped with chemo it kills every fast-growing cell, good or bad. The cells that line your stomach are fast-growing, so they got killed,” she told Boston.com, adding that it killed her mentally too, “even when I was feeling healthy during chemo, I would look in the mirror and I looked weak. I didn’t recognize myself. It would make me feel sick even when the chemo wasn’t.”
Verma told Boston.com that when she was first diagnosed with cancer, “the first thing I thought about was my hair.”
“I know that’s kind of a superficial thing to think about, but it’s my identity. I’m on television. It’s just the first thing people think about with cancer and chemo,” she added.
Finally, on Jan. 3, Verma announced her illness on Facebook: “I am very aware that many of you have asked about my whereabouts on NBC 10 Boston. Thank you for your concern,” she wrote. “Five months ago, I was diagnosed with Stage 2 Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I immediately underwent aggressive chemotherapy at Beth Israel Boston. With the incredible support of my family and friends, I was able to overcome the physical and emotional toll of this terrible disease. Thanks to my brilliant oncology team I am in remission!”
After that, Verma launched the nonprofit project called “Put a Cap on Cancer.”
Verma told Boston.com that the goal of “Put a Cap on Cancer” is to provide wigs attached to baseball caps (“Cap Wigs”) to cancer patients who want a “fashionable and comfortable” solution to hair loss caused by chemo.
Verma added that she initially struggled while experimenting with wigs after she started losing her hair to chemo, “I had a lot of problems finding a wig that worked for me. They were itchy, they didn’t sit right, I hated the hairline, my scalp was too sensitive.”
But when she decided to place a baseball cap on top of her wig, she liked the look, “really no one could tell it was a wig. Plus, it was easy to throw on without prepping the wig, styling it, and gluing it down.”
In the weeks that followed her public announcement, she’s received more than 100 requests for her wig/cap combos, which use 100 percent human hair and come in 80 different shades, according to Boston.com.
Recently, Verma announced that the New England Patriots football team was donating 100 Patriots caps to the program, thanks to the team’s safety Duron Harmon.
Verma told Boston.com that she plans to continue the “Put a Cap on Cancer” program when she returns to her job at NBC Boston.
“Wigs are so tough to find, and every person’s needs are so different. So having this technique, throwing a wig and hat on quickly, it helps. And when you look healthy, you feel healthy,” Verma told Boston.com, adding that she is “nervous and excited” about getting back on the air in February and she has learned a lot from being diagnosed with cancer.
“Cancer — this is so crazy to say — but honestly, it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I realized family is the most important thing. Career can take a backseat sometimes, and at the end of the day, it’s important to do good for others. I don’t know if I had all of that in focus before the diagnosis,” Verma told Boston.com.