Sunday, January 23, 2022

‘It Was Just a Tiny Mole On My Toe – Now It’s Stage 4 Cancer’ : A 20-Something Woman’s Story of Love, Loss and Dealing with Melanoma in a Tan-Obsessed World

Capsule x BLUNT

Natalie Fornasier’s 20s should have been filled with fun, frivolity and freedom – not hospitals, surgeries and diagnosis after crippling diagnosis. Here, the Blunt UV Umbrella ambassador candidly breaks down her cancer battle. 

With a rum and Coke in one hand and the European sun beating down, Natalie Fornasier was living the life most 20-something Antipodeans see as our rite of passage. 

The great OE is a time of discovery, of fun, of zero cares and countless hangovers. But for Natalie, it was where her battle with melanoma truly began. 

Strolling the cobbled streets of Europe, then 20-year-old Natalie noticed a mole on one of her toes had changed. And then it started to hurt. 

Within two weeks of returning home to Australia, Natalie was sitting in an oncologist’s office, being told she had stage three melanoma. 

Speaking to Capsule from her home in Sydney, a cheerful bunch of eucalyptus leaves poking out of a vase behind her, Natalie, 27, is candid about her battle with her now stage-four melanoma cancer – and wants to use her story as a cautionary tale to everyone in Australia and New Zealand who thinks skin cancer could never happen to them. 

“I remember it so well – it was 21st season and all of my friends were sorting out their parties every other weekend, and I’m sitting here thinking, ‘Fuck, I have to figure out whether or not to chop off a toe to try and get rid of cancer.’ It was the most jarring experience ever.” 

Seven years down the track, Natalie’s undergone literally countless procedures and endures ongoing complications from her treatments. She’s down said toe, now suffers from lymphoedema and bares intense scars – not to mention the mental exhaustion of fighting a fight that never seems to let up, especially during a pandemic.

Natalie with her BLUNT UV Umbrella

After beating cancer once, Natalie was told in 2018 that it had returned, when doctors found it had deposited in her lungs. 

“And that’s kind of been my journey since, and it’s wild to think it’s 2021 really because on paper, I really shouldn’t be here. The odds have never been in my favour –  I progressed to stage four, and it’s extremely harrowing and that’s when you really learn about the emotions of the human mind. At 24.” 

Since then, it’s been clinical trials with experimental drugs and immunotherapy, which is essentially saving Natalie’s life right now. Mixed in is radiation, infections, cellulitis, debilitating nausea, surgeries. You name it, it’s probably happened. 

It’s also a non-linear, bumpy road, with hopes raised, then dashed, then raised again with every scan and test she endures. 

And then there’s also the other side of Natalie’s cancer battle – navigating her 20’s (a bloody tough decade for ANYONE) while also trying to keep herself alive. 

She lost friends, especially during the early years where people simply didn’t know what to say or do, and tried to figure out how to date with cancer and get up the courage to bear her scars – physical and emotional – to a potential partner. Once, when she revealed her diagnosis to a man who asked her why she always wore pants, Natalie turned around to get another drink, and when she turned back, he’d disappeared. 

But somehow, Natalie’s remarkably pragmatic about her situation, and has turned what should be her greatest worry – her skin – into her passion. Now a skincare influencer and writer, Natalie’s using her experience to shine a light on the glaring realities of the dangers of the sun, and is now an ambassador for Blunt Umbrellas and their new UV range, which block out the sun’s most harmful rays.

“The thing about my cancer, weirdly, is that it actually wasn’t caused by the sun,” she says. “But that doesn’t mean that yours, or someone else’s, won’t be – we live in Australia and New Zealand! So sun safety needs to be celebrated, because looking after your body needs to be celebrated, so I really love Blunt’s new range – the umbrellas have a 50+ UPF rating and block out 99% of UV rays.” 

Tanning culture, she says, really pisses her off. 

“God I could go on for hours about it,” she says. “We’ve somehow glorified it and it comes with a social status now – like, if you’re tan, you’re somehow better? It’s problematic on so many levels. Yet we love skincare – if you’re doing everything else but not putting on sunscreen and you’re willingly going out into the sun to get burnt, it’s redundant!” 

With the results of a big scan due in a few weeks, Natalie is cautiously optimistic about the future – although in true Australian fashion, has a firm ‘don’t bullshit me’ policy with her team of doctors. She’s also madly in love, having met her partner Alexander a few years ago.  “He deserves all of the medals,” she grins. 

She’s also feeling pretty good about sharing her journey in such a public space, although admits it’s a constant battle to figure out what to post and what to keep to herself. Still, she’s glad she’s been so open. 

“I think with everything that’s happened in my life, I fell out of love with myself. That admiration for life kind of went, which I guess makes sense, especially when you’re younger. So I started sharing my story and I wanted to be really open about it, because I’ve always valued honesty and we live in such an Instagram culture, I was getting fed up with everything being so curated. 

“At the end of the day, I’m still a stage IV cancer patient – it can pop up at any time. I’m always going to be on that level. I was chatting to my psychologist about that the other day, about how damaging it is to carry that around. I’m glad I can express myself on my own terms and just keep having the conversation.

“I think the thing is, you just have to be aware of your body, you’re not invincible, and it should be your number-one priority.” 

With a 50+ UPF rating, the new BLUNT UV umbrella fabric blocks 99% of ultra-violet light so you can enjoy protection from harmful UV rays, while also keeping you cool with temperature-reducing shade. Win-win! 

The new BLUNT UV umbrella is available in two sizes and three colours, and is available now at www.bluntumbrellas.com

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