“ Trust yourself to know what is best for you, and get good at asking for help.
Natalie Conforti is another resilient mAss Kicker from California! She is a three time cancer survivor and in the process has become a cancer thriver. Natalie has years of experience in architecture and design. She has been involved with Esperity, First Descents, Stupid Cancer, and the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) Children’s Hospital. In 2015, she helped to plan the “How to Kick mAss Thrivership Mission” to Brussels, Belgium. We are very honored to reconnect with her and interview her for the website.
mK: Thanks for doing this Natalie. What/ when was your diagnosis? How did you find out about your diagnosis?
NC: I am a three-time cancer survivor. I was first diagnosed with non-Hodgkin T-cell lymphoma in 1994 at the age of fourteen.
Ten years later, in 2004 I was diagnosed with a parotid tumor at the age of twenty-five caused by the radiation treatments I received as a teenager. Three years after that in 2007 I was diagnosed with another secondary cancer, breast cancer at the age of twenty-eight.
I don’t remember being told about the cancer in 1994 because right after I found out it was serious I went in for a biopsy and ended up in the ICU with a traechaetomy. I was forced to immediately start treatment with high-dose chemotherapy and radiation. There are a few months of my fourteenth year that remain completely obscured from my memory.
mK: What were your symptoms?
NC: With the lymphoma I felt more tired than usual, and I noticed a lump at the base of my neck so I went to the doctor and found out it was cancer. For the parotid tumor I made an appointment with a new doctor I had at the time due to a lump I noticed on my jawline, and was referred to an oncologist who sent me to a surgeon. The breast cancer was found through the regular mammography I have been doing since I was eighteen-years-old.
mK: Why are you involved in cancer advocacy? What do you do?
NC: After three diagnoses, and more than twenty years of survivorship how could I possibly avoid cancer advocacy? I find that being part of a community is so rewarding, and cancer survivors are usually very kind people. It’s something I will always be involved with on some level. I am on the Alumni Advisory Board at First Descents, I write blog posts for both mAss Kickers Foundation and Esperity, and I used to volunteer at UCSF Children’s Hospital.
mK: What motivates you?
NC: I am motivated by people around me who are doing something, and it could be anything from the very small to the grand gesture, to make a positive impact on other people’s lives.
mK: When was the first time you felt like yourself after your diagnosis?
NC: That’s a difficult question since my teens and twenties were plagued by cancer diagnoses. As a result, much of my identity is tied to cancer and the scars it has left on my body and life. I felt like I could truly laugh for the first time after my third diagnosis at a First Descents kayaking camp.
mK: What makes you laugh, cry, angry?
NC: I love being able to make people laugh by pointing out the absurd. I am not easily moved to tears, but I cry at weddings. I am upset by the fact that so many people I care about have had their lives, and resources cut short by cancer.
mK: What would you say is the most interesting thing you’ve done?
NC: I carved a functioning rotary dial telephone out of mahogany as my first woodshop project in college.
mK: Pretty cool! What was the toughest challenge you faced as a survivor? How did you overcome it?
NC: It has been incredibly difficult to keep my health insurance coverage. My premiums had been high ever since my first diagnosis, and I didn’t want to switch insurers/plans since I wanted to be able to have continuity of care so I never accepted insurance coverage through work. My premiums went up to $960/mo. in 2013 right before The Affordable Care Act went into effect. I did get some help from The SAMFund to keep the highest premiums from overwhelming me.
mK: Right! What is your guilty pleasure?
NC: I love to bake pies in the summer and fall. When I have access to fresh blackberries that is my go to pie. Freshly baked pie a la mode is one of my favorite treats. I also love cheese.
mK: If an anonymous donor gave you one million dollars to spend on material items in one day what would you buy first?
NC: I would immediately buy a plane ticket to Italy where I would first go to a beautiful farmer’s market, buy fresh produce and then go to town in the kitchen with new pots, pans, and knives. Hopefully I could find some Italian amici to enjoy my fresh banquet.
mK: What do you like to do in your spare time?
NC: I am a woodworker, so when I have access to a woodshop I love to make boxes, furniture, tables, and sculptures out of wood. I also enjoy traveling, and was able to participate in an educational trip to Belgium with mAss Kickers last year.
mK: What are you up to now?
NC: I work as a drafter, and designer. I live in San Francisco and enjoy everything this city has to offer while also enjoying time outside of the city when I am able to get away.
mK: Any advice for people or loved ones that get daunting diagnoses?
NC: Trust yourself to know what is best for you, and get good at asking for help. There are people willing to give help; you need to be willing to ask.
mK: Any parting words for all the mAss Kickers?
NC: Take advantage of all that life has to offer, and you will have no regrets.
Natalie Conforti: San Francisco based traveler, creative mind, woodworker, Italian connoisseur, the Alexander Bell of Wooden phones, “happy tears wedding crier”, 20-year 3x cancer survivor, and creative soul. Thanks for doing the interview Natalie. We look forward to seeing what you do next!