Takeover

Normani and Her Mom on Their Family's Experience With Cancer

As Told To Claire Valentine

For our new digital cover series Takeover, we chose five of our favorite women who're making a significant impact on the music industry right now. Normani, the breakout pop star of supergroup Fifth Harmony, has quickly ascended to the top of the charts, making a solo name for herself. Today, she'll be taking over PAPER with guest edited pieces and answering fans' questions on our Instagram.

About 1 in 8 U.S. women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime, and nothing could be more important in the treatment of the disease than early detection. Besides skin cancer, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed form of cancer among American women. To raise awareness about early detection (and hopeful outcomes for treatment), Normani and her mother Andrea Hamilton, a 17-year breast cancer survivor, have teamed up with the American Cancer Society to educate and tell their story.

Normani: I was really passionate about partnering with the American Cancer Society because of my personal experience. My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was around five years old, and it was the scariest point in all of our lives.

Andrea: I didn't know much about breast cancer, and though I was always educated by my doctors to do my self breast exams and everything, I took it for granted. You can kind of turn a blind eye until it actually happens to you. I was about 33 years old and I wasn't doing my breast exams on a regular basis. I don't know what it was but something told me to check that day that I found the lump. I immediately went to the doctor. By doing my own self breast exam I caught it at an early stage.

Normani: I just remember her being so strong for our family. She's the one that really did keep us hopeful, and God really did bring us through that time.

Andrea: At first I was really in denial and couldn't believe it was happening. All Normani knew was that mommy had gotten sick. When I started going through chemotherapy and radiation, my hair started falling out, so one day, my husband shaved my head. My mom had just picked Normani up from school and she came running through the house looking for us and found us in the bathroom. It frightened her; she didn't know what was going on. That was one of the hardest times of my life—to not just go through what I was going through but to have my child feel fearful about what was happening. My mother and my husband explained things to her because I was just overwhelmed with so much, and I couldn't grasp and comprehend it myself.

"The more educated young women become, the better we can fight this disease."

Normani: I remember that moment like it was yesterday. I came home from school and I didn't recognize my mom. At the time I was very young. It's hard for anyone to be able to comprehend that one of their loved ones is that ill and could possibly not be with them anymore, but being a five year old trying to understand that was even more difficult. It hurt me to know that it hurt her. I remember she started crying after, and as a woman there's insecurity in losing your hair. I don't know what that's like, but I know my mom was very strong during that time and my dad was so supportive. That's important for any woman that's going through the same experience, to have a support system of people around you who are reminding you that you're still beautiful.

The experience definitely brought us even closer as a family. At the end of the day, we stayed strong for each other as a family and the only thing I can really say is that God kept us strong. I wouldn't be the same person and I probably wouldn't even be in the position that I'm in, so it's really beautiful to have her be here and witness all these beautiful things. I can't imagine doing life without her. Having her here just wasn't an option.

Andrea: I'm very proud of Normani to be able to share this with me, because she's growing into being a young woman herself, and using her voice and her platform to help spread awareness is very important. Early detection is so important. Breast cancer is spreading so widely, and it comes at all ages now. It's very important that the young generation knows how important it is to do your self exams and get checked on a regular basis. The more educated young women become, the better we can fight this disease.

Normani: It felt like the right partnership with American Cancer Society. We met with them two years ago, and they just welcomed us with open arms. They were really eager to hear our story and just everything that we've been through. I felt like it was my duty to share my testimony and share my mom's testimony with other people that are going through the same thing. My mom's a seventeen year breast cancer survivor, so showing that that's possible and for people to see a walking image of that and can hopefully give them hope.

It's definitely a bonding experience now. Our biggest thing is that we're so grateful God brought us out of that situation and out of that darkness. It's part of our purpose and part of our service, to be able to go out and share with people, and to say, 'We're here for you and we've also been through that darkness as well, but there's really light at the end of the tunnel.' I just want people to feel supported and heard and know that we're here. We'd be foolish not to share out testimony.

Visit the American Cancer Society homepage to learn more.

Photography: Stephanie Mei-Ling


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