If you remember Natasha Verma, the former NBC2 traffic reporter who’d achieved a mid-career resume by the time she left the Southwest Florida market at age 22, then this story won’t surprise you at all.
If you don’t remember Verma, read on anyway for some inspiration—and a chance to help her make life a little brighter for others.
Six months ago, Verma, who is now working for NBC10 in Boston, woke up to a shooting pain in her left arm. She found a lump by her collarbone. Strange, she thought, but she initially wrote it off as a gym-related injury.
Her physician dad, however, urged her to have it looked at. Her story gets messy here—an initial misdiagnosis and then a second nearly wrong call—but we’ll skip ahead to the heart of it: Verma, just 23 and in meticulously good shape, had Hodgkin lymphoma, stage 2.
“It turns out I was a perfect candidate for it,” she says on the phone from Boston one recent morning. The cancer, which originates in a type of white blood cells, most often strikes people in their 20s and in older adulthood. “It’s just such a cruel joke,” Verma says.
She’d hoped to keep working during her treatment but found it impossible.
“I was not mentally or emotionally prepared for what was coming,” she says. “Everything hurt. Every single thing.”
The chemotherapy sent her muscles into spasm, ate the lining of her stomach, triggered her long, dark hair to fall out in clumps. The former side effects rendered physical anguish, and the latter an equally intense emotional hurt.
“I couldn’t even look at myself,” Verma says. “If I caught my eye in the mirror, I would start crying. I couldn’t recognize myself.”
She tried wearing a wig, a synthetic one (the sort that insurance will cover), but hated it—it was impossible to style, its hairline and texture were all wrong, and it itched like crazy. She started wearing baseball caps on top of it; a better look, though still uncomfortable. (High-quality, human-hair wigs, incidentally, cost $1,000 or more, putting them out of financial reach for many medical bill-burdened cancer patients.)
Here’s where Verma's go-getting, sky’s-the-limit attitude kicks into high gear.
Verma started thinking about a way to make cancer patients feel better about their looks without the discomfort of synthetic wigs. The solution struck her: What if you attached hair to the rim of a baseball cap—real human hair, the stuff you can curl or straighten or style as if it were your own?
Verma’s family is big on giving back, and some years ago they launched their Global Health Foundation, which they’ve since renamed The Verma Foundation to allow more flexibility in the causes they support. Using the foundation as a mechanism and her family’s business contacts (her parents own a medical spa in Texas that features their in-house Verma Beauty line of products), Verma found a manufacturer to produce the “cap wigs” that she had designed.
The wigs are donated to women and children suffering from cancer. They can custom design the products, choosing from various cap styles, hair colors, lengths and textures.
“It’s amazing how much hair can make a difference,” she says.
Now, she’s trying to raise funds to continue producing her products. Through the foundation, she’s been getting applications from across the United States, including Florida, where Verma is fondly remembered. NBC2 had gotten so many inquiries about her whereabouts when she went off air in Boston that the local affiliate sent a reporter there to interview her. That story is expected to air on Monday, Feb. 12.
Verma’s most recent tests earlier this month show no signs of cancer. She went back on air Feb. 1. Her first shipment of cap wigs, 100 of them, is going out next week.
The unexpected “time-out” was painful, but Verma is ready to charge forward again.
“I do feel like I’m a better person after going through this. I appreciate things. I don’t take things for granted,” she says.
To learn more about Verma’s story and to support her “Put a Cap on Cancer” project, visit vermafoundation.org.