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18 October 2015 @ 12:33 am
The Trans-Siberian Orchestra Interviews: Natalya Rose - Winter Tour 2014  

Natalya Rose Interview

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra Interviews:
Natalya Rose - Winter Tour 2014 - Dec 19, 2014

Interview, photos & videos captured by Brad Parmerter unless noted otherwise.

The winter of 2010 saw the addition of a number of performers to Trans-Siberian Orchestra's east touring group. Along with four other fresh, new female voices was dance captain and vocalist, Natalya Rose. With a grueling tour schedule of over 75 shows in just eight short weeks, her first national tour was a whirlwind of excitement and hard work. The following spring found the Virginia native inspiring the best from her fellow dancers in Europe and over the course of the next five years she hit the stage for over 400 shows.

At the end of June 2014, Natalya revealed on Facebook that she was going to be facing the fight of her young life: "I don't know how to say this without it sounding a little dramatic...on Tuesday I had a suspicious lymph node removed that was found as a result of my recent shoulder injury. I didn't want to tell everyone because I wasn't sure I needed to cause any kind of worry. Unfortunately, my fears have been confirmed. I have been diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma. For those of you who aren't familiar, it's a rare, but curable cancer. I only found out a couple hours ago so I don't really have many details but I promise to keep everyone informed going forward. Again, it's curable and I'm gonna beat it, but I still can't help crying about it. I'm just in shock. Please send thoughts of love to my family who are all planning to be by my side through this process. I know they're worried sick and trying to be strong for me."

As prayers and support from Trans-Siberian Orchestra fans poured in, Natalya faced this new challenge with poise and determination. Surprising many, she battled her way back to the stage in November and joined her fellow band members for not only opening day in Toledo, Ohio, but every show on the tour.

Purple bracelets could be seen on fans' arms in a show of support of Team Natalya. Many hugs and tears of joy were shared during the band's after-evening-show signing lines as fans expressed how inspired they were by her hard fought battle.

Near the end of the tour I discussed with her dancing and singing as a child, her introduction to TSO, the diagnosis and her fight to make the tour, how she beat cancer and how much fan's support meant to her. Natalya's strength and determination was apparent as she described her battle and her poise inspiring.

Bp: Hi, Nat, how's it going?

Natalya Rose: It's going good. The girls and I just got back from shopping and picking up some last minute Christmas gifts for family who are coming to see us, Secret Santas, and such. It's a good day today!

Bp: Excellent. We'll circle back to more current events as we go, but I wanted to start with where the spark for singing and dancing came from as a child?

Natalya Rose: There are home videos of me putting on little shows for my grandparents and my Mom. I guess I was always a little ham. I grew up an only child. I have a half-brother and a half-sister now, on my dad's side, but I guess being an only child I was a bit of a ham. Probably a little more active than the average child and my Mom's only child, she raised me as a single Mom. She encouraged that a little bit and singing, she encouraged me to do what I was interested in. I tried karate when I was really young. I tried a little soccer, singing, dancing, piano, and singing. Dancing is what I really took to when I was young. She put me in dancing when I was about to be two years old. I always loved to dance. As I got into middle-school I took cheerleading which was sort of in between dancing and sports. I was a tomboy too as a kid. I started dancing competitively in middle-school with the Elite Dance Team out of Virginia Beach. It was a small studio, it's a much bigger studio now, called Golden Slippers, and I had some really great and inspiring teachers who really encouraged my dancing career and I stuck with it a while. I guess I was always born and bred to be a performer in a way, so in high-school I took it a step further and auditioned for a magnet program, a couple of different programs actually. I got into the Governor's School for the Arts for both dance and musical theater because I really wanted to sing too. Dancing was great, but I felt like I wanted to do more to express myself. I've always loved singing, but I never had the confidence as a singer. I still struggle with confidence as a singer too, which is probably why I don't have a solo in the show yet, because I've never asked for one. I've never told Paul I wanted one. But maybe now having beat cancer I'll have the confidence to put the bug in his ear. That's how it works kind of. You come in and stay a dancer, but if you show interest in singing a solo you can put the bug in his ear. But I haven't, I've haven't even wanted to go there.

But anyway, back to high school, I was in the musical theater program in high school – I thought I was going to be on Broadway my whole life, I wanted to go to New York and that was it for me. I wanted to go to NYU and I wanted to sing and dance and be on Broadway. I went to college for a year at Marymount Manhattan College in New York, which is the same school that Adrienne Warren [TSO East vocalist, 2008] went to, also her mom is the President of the Governor's School now, so I'm really close with her family and of course she was a previous TSO singer. She is probably the reason why I'm with the band now. That's how I basically got to this point. As far as singing goes I didn't take myself seriously as a singer until I was out of high school. Now I'm really realizing I am a singer and it's what I want to do. I'm now writing my own stuff and I've released one song I've written. But I'm still finding my sound as a singer so I won't be releasing any new music until I really know for sure because I take it very seriously and I'm very passionate about it. I don't want to be some random pop artist.

"The Mountain" - November 30, 2014 - Albany, NY evening

Bp: So Adrienne was your introduction to TSO. How did that come about?

Natalya Rose: I had just finished my first year of college at Marymount in the musical theater program, but I felt like I didn't really know why I was going to school. I just wanted to perform and that's how I had scheduled my first year, I basically crammed all of my classes into as few days as possible so I could live in the dance studios in New York City and audition all the time. I got really close in some auditions. I almost got Bring It On and In the Heights, I made it to the very end of those auditions, but for some reason I didn't get them. Of course a few months later I ended up with TSO so I guess that's why. So I was getting there and for my first year of auditioning it was pretty cool to have gotten that far. I was really close. The end of the semester came and I went home for the summer and a few days after I had gotten off the China Bus, that's how I used to get from Virginia to New York. Every time I needed to go back to school or from school to back home, $50 round trip get on the China Bus with a bunch of strangers. It wasn't the most comfortable, but I had done it so many times, I can't even tell you. That was my life before TSO.

Two days after I got off the bus from college I get a call from Danielle [Landherr, TSO Talent Coordinator and Singer/Dance Captain]. It started with an email actually. She reached out to me to ask if I was interested. She thought that I lived in New York because I think Adrienne told her I was going to school there so I think she assumed I was living there as well. I didn't want her to think that I didn't want to audition and so I just pretended that I was still in New York and said, "That's great. I'm interested." She asked, "Can we see you in two days? I'll send you a video of the dances and the music and you can come audition for me. We're having an audition in a couple days." So I had to jump right back on the China Bus to go back for the audition. I didn't want to tell her that I was in Virginia and ruin the opportunity to audition for Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Hello? I just told her, "I can be there, yep!"

So I freaked out and told my Mom that I had to go back to New York and learn all this material right now. It was a whirlwind, but I got there. I auditioned and thought I did a really great job. The energy from her and Dina [Fanai – TSO Talent Coordinator], who was there as well, was great and they thought that I did a good job. I didn't really hear back from them for about three months. As with any audition I thought, 'you can't get your hopes up.' You can think you've locked the audition but you still might not get it because you're not what they're looking for. I didn't hear from them for three months and I spent the whole three months looking at study abroad programs because I was so frustrated with school. For some reason I felt like I didn't want to be there. I'm super smart too. I graduated with high marks and honors, was in honors programs my whole life, I was on the Dean's list in college my first year; I should have just been into school because I was really good at it. I just didn't feel happy. I wasn't feeling fulfilled. I wanted to be on stage. I kept auditioning and tried to keep my chin up after that audition seemed like a failure. Then end of June came, this was in...2010 was my first year, right?

Bp: Yes, 2010.

Natalya Rose: So the end of June I received a call from Danielle which surprised me. She said, "I'm sorry it's been so long. I found out just after you auditioned that I was pregnant and so things were a little delayed." I was so relieved that was why I hadn't heard from them because here I was at home thinking that I totally failed miserably and they didn't like me. In reality she was just super busy and pregnant. But that left her place open for me because she was the dancer. She was a singer too obviously, but she was the dance captain/choreographer. So she really liked me and she pulled for me. Adrienne Warren and Danielle were my biggest cheerleaders in getting into the band.

She asked where I was and if I could send her a video of me auditioning again. So I had to send a video at this point and I'd never done a video audition. I'm 18 when this is happening, but I said, "Whatever you need." I sent her this really horrible video. I'm sure if I looked back at it now I'd be totally embarrassed, because I wasn't a TSO-girl yet, so I only knew what I'd seen on YouTube and what Adrienne had given me a heads up about. I thought I was still such an amateur and so young. I sent her the video and she asked if I could come to Maryland, where she was living, to her studio there to work with her there. I said, "Sure, absolutely! Anything you want." I was young and ready. I was going to follow this opportunity!

I met with her there and she worked with me on all of the head-whips and all the choreography to give me a feel for it and to get me on video. She then showed that video to Paul and I think I heard back a week later. She said, "Paul wants to meet you and audition you." And I'm thinking, "Holy crap!" I'm freaking out and super nervous. I'm telling you, Brad, I hate auditioning. I get so nervous for auditions. I don't know what it is, but I get so nervous. So I'm freaking out.

So what I did was, again, this was my life before TSO, the China Bus is how I got there. It was cheap and I could just get away having as many bags as I could, so I basically packed everything I needed for college, including my kitchen trash can that I used in my dorm. I had all my dorm stuff on this China Bus, these Chinese people must have thought I was using it as a moving service. So I go to New York a week before I was scheduled to return for my next year of college because that's when Paul wanted to meet me. But I just went ahead and took advantage of the opportunity to basically move back for college because I'm still not banking on getting this gig. I'd already paid my dorm fees for my second year of college and I was planning on moving back. So I took the China Bus to move my butt back to New York and I had a friend in New York. I said, "Would I be able to stay with you for a week until I'm able to move into my dorm because I have this audition and it could change my life." They said, "Of course." I don't even remember how I got it all to my friend's house, I think I just grabbed a cab because of all my bags. I was moving there for a year potentially so I had a lot of stuff with me! Honestly, it was good preparation for how I live my life now. You should see how we lug our bags around all tour.

So I go and meet Paul and I audition for him. And of course I think that he doesn't like me because that's what everyone thinks of themselves after an audition. The way Paul is, I know a little bit about this guy now, but if you're meeting him for the first time you have no idea what to make of him. He talks a lot, tells a lot of different stories, he's not cut and dried like a typical audition. In New York for an audition they'll say, "Sing me this, sing me that. Ok, great. Dance this, dance that. Ok, we'll call you." He's more of a sit down with you, get to know you, tell you stories, give you gold coins, for sentimental value...my first time meeting this guy, I'm thinking, "What in the world?!" I'm trying to take in everything that he's saying and understanding where he's coming from, but I was so nervous, I couldn't hear anything he was saying. I was so nervous and trying to figure out if he liked me, did he not like me?

He stepped out, and now in hindsight I know, he left the room leaving me with Dina and Danielle, and this is at SIR in New York City. He stepped out of the room and I was thinking, "Oh God, what does that mean?" I was looking at Danielle and Dina and they reassured me, "He likes you, he does. Don't worry." They weren't able to tell me if I got the gig because at the end of the day, he's the one making the decision. In hindsight, I know that Paul was making the call to Adam [Lind] and Kenny [Kaplan] to say "We've got another girl." I was there when they hired Angelica [Allen] so I know how that process went. But when he left my audition I thought he hated me, that I didn't get the gig and he was trying to figure out who else he could call.

So he came back in and said something like, "I'm going to have Adam and Kenny call you to let you know what the deal is." So I was thinking maybe I was going to be in the back-up band and then finally he said, "I want you on this tour, baby girl." I went, "What? What?" He gave me a program and CD and a couple other things to use to study up with for what I was about to experience. I had no idea. I said bye to the girls, all of this took about three hours, I was there quite a while. Paul walked me out of SIR himself and I'm thinking, "Wow, this is amazing that he's walking me out." Now he seems like more of a father figure to me, because I know him, and know that he cares about me and we have a relationship. He has a relationship with everybody. I always say that Paul has a special love affair with everybody that he hires. He is in love with everyone that he hires. We all have stories and things about us that he really loves. I realize how special our relationship is. This early on I'm thinking, "This guy is such a big deal and he's walking me out of the rehearsal studios, this particular rehearsal studio every artist you can name has used SIR, so this was the first time I ever had a reason to be there, so it was all crazy. It felt like a movie to me. I get into this black Lincoln car and he tells his driver to take me home and says to me, "I'll see you in a month, baby girl."

I was speechless.

"After the Fall" - May 21, 2011 - Poughkeepsie, NY

It brings me back because so much has happened since then. [long pause] That was such a huge turning point in my life. Literally it was just like a movie for me. I don't know if any of the other girls were lucky enough to experience it that way. I know they had to fly to Florida so they probably had to go back to their hotel and then wait and get on a plane. I basically got in a black car and was sent home. When he was driving me to Queens the whole time I was thinking...I was quiet at first because I didn't want to make a phone call right away because it was Paul's driver. I kind of wanted to get to know this guy who was driving me. He had these sunglasses on and he was from the Ukraine so he had this strong accent and was an interesting character. I was trying to keep it cool, but really I was about to pee myself because I had just been offered this amazing job. So a few minutes went by and I called my Mom and my Mom answered "Hello" [mimics a very serious tone] because she knew I was going on the audition, and when I told her I got it she yelled, "What?!" She was so excited for me! Meanwhile, I'm driving over the Queensborough Bridge while this is all happening so it was very much like a movie scene; the New York skyline out my window and I'm on the phone with my Mom and I said, "Yes, Mom, I got the gig!" She said, "I knew it! I knew you were going to get it! I know you deserve it!" Of course, I didn't feel that way, because auditions scare me so much. I remember telling her in that conversation that I felt like I was in a movie. I couldn't believe it. I'd never felt like that before. I couldn't explain it. Still, in hindsight looking back, I had every reason to feel that way because my life has been completely different because of it. Paul O'Neill has totally changed my life.

Bp: That's an amazing story. When Paul and I last spoke it was a few days into rehearsals when everyone was in Omaha and he was so excited that you had beat it and that you were there. He relayed the story when you called him with the diagnosis originally and how he told you he was going to see you in Omaha and you were going to beat it and he was so proud of you, but at the same time I could tell that he was being so protective and cautious talking about taking it day by day and that you had back-up if you needed. He talked about how strong you were, but I could feel a sense of how fatherly he was being.

Natalya Rose: Oh, yes. He's my rock and roll dad. And I believe that. Yes, there was a back-up girl, breathing down my neck during rehearsals, Brad. I wasn't intimidated by her or feeling challenged by her, she was sweet, but at the same time she definitely wanted my job. I would have given it to her if I would have felt like I couldn't do it. Management had to take that precaution anyway to make sure, because even I didn't know 100% if I was going to be okay. I was very confident; I believed in myself. I believed that if I got through this far that I could get through the tour and I guess having had a couple years of experience touring I knew what I was getting myself into. He definitely checked in on me several times during rehearsals, we had a couple heartfelt conversations. There was some figuring out to do, but for the most part nobody can tell the difference, which is awesome!

Bp: It's a testament to how strong you are and your determination. Can you walk me through what led to the diagnosis?

Natalya Rose: Yea, sure. I injured myself at the end of April at a boot camp class at the gym. I was going too hard, I have a problem with pushing myself really hard. I just like to challenge myself. I'm a big believer in pushing your limits and I treat myself like an experiment sometimes. I'm always trying to push my boundaries and this particular week, the last week of April, I was working out really hard because last year's winter tour we all got fat in our eyes. Because after the winter tour we went to Europe and we were so exhausted by the time we got to Europe nobody worked out while we were working and we ate awesome European food and took advantage of all that. I felt huge. So it was April and I was trying to get ‘sexy for summer' I called it, so I wanted to feel comfortable in a bathing suit and be ready for auditions. I started to push myself and I was working out about seven days a week at this point, I was hiking a lot and I injured myself at the gym. I had my dance classes at night until 10pm and then boot camp classes at 7am in the morning and not eating properly or having a smoothie here and there. I was just being ridiculous. So I injured myself and I thought I had dislocated my shoulder and it was just time for me to have that inconvenient injury that performers end up having every once in a while. The last time I'd injured myself badly was when I was in middle-school dancing competitively and I pulled my groin and it was never the same after that. It doesn't bother me anymore because I've beat bigger and badder things now, so I don't even think about it.

But I was thinking at the time that this injury was going to be majorly inconvenient. A couple days goes by, I have to go in to audition for this other gig that I had. When I'm in California I do these corporate or industry types of gigs on the side every once in a while because I'm friends with this company and we have a lot of fun putting on private shows for people. We'll do little excerpts of The Lion King or Chicago, I play Velma Kelly when we do Chicago, so I do a lot of fun gigs like that. So I had rehearsals for that and I was in rehearsals in a sling a week after the gym injury happened. I was going to a chiropractor, Paul is totally against chiropractors, but I just didn't have time to go to a doctor or rest it, I had to work. So I went to a chiropractor who cracked my shoulder because I was stuck with a limp arm. My arm had to stay bent and I had to keep pressure off my shoulder in order to not cry. It was so painful. I was crying myself to sleep for two weeks. It was so painful. But when I went to the chiropractor for some reason he would crack it back into place and it would feel great for the whole day, but then it would get so painful at night. I was thinking that it was the worst injury ever. I went to the rehearsals and the following week we flew to Florida for the actual gig, that's where I had to dance full out. They were basically letting me take it easy in rehearsal, but for the performance the deal was that I had to go full out. So I waited to go full out at the gig and two days later a lump formed in my armpit.

I thought at first that maybe I ruptured something. After the gig my family came to pick me up and drove me to my grandparents' house in Florida. So I was killing two birds with one stone, I flew out to Florida for the gig and I got to spend time with my family. The good thing is, when I found the lump, I was with my family. We were having a ‘beach day.' I found the lump, which was the size of a lime, and it was all really swollen anyways because I had pushed myself in this gig. So I was kicking myself for doing that because now I had this lump and I didn't know what was wrong with me. My Mom said, "Nat, you need to get that checked out." And she was saying that like it was scary that I had a lump in my arm. I was thinking that there was no way it was anything because I injured myself. I just thought I'd ruptured something because I was working so hard after being injured. This is the second week of May at this point. So I went to an orthopedist and she told me to get an MRI and then tells me to get another MRI. She told me it could be a ganglion cyst, but that I needed to go to see a surgeon to get a biopsy first before they would do anything. I'm thinking my orthopedist is a total idiot because I'm not getting any PT advice or anything to fix it. At this point I had another month long stretch of gigs ahead and I was thinking that I couldn't go to a surgeon right now to get a biopsy and put myself in pain when I have all these gigs. So Brad, I continued to work with this big ole lime sized lump in my arm for a whole month after having it MRI'd twice and not knowing what it was.

Bp: Wow. That must have been extremely painful and more than a little bit crazy.

Natalya Rose: Looking back I really shouldn't have done that. Good thing that my cancer was a slow cancer. It was really painful and trust me when I say that I treat myself like an experiment sometimes, I had the lump, but I was working anyways. I didn't believe it. I thought I was fine. I didn't want to give up the gig. It wasn't about the money, it was about just wanting to be performing. I was being stubborn. I thought, "I can do this." So I was taping the crap out of it with tape. I was living on ice, which I hate to do, but I was tolerating it and taking lots of ibuprofen.

Then June comes around and I finally am done with my month-long stint of gigs. I think, "Let me go try to figure out what this is all about," and I finally go to the surgeon. It was a Tuesday. Tuesdays are my day now, Brad, that's my favorite day of the week. Even though bad things have happened on Tuesdays, even better things have happened on Tuesdays. So I went in on a Tuesday to this surgeon, who I swear was on crack or who had drank ten too many coffees because he talked a mile a minute. I could understand everything that he was saying, but he just had so much energy. He said, "I can't believe you've been dancing with this, this is so dangerous...." [mimicking fast talking] I can't even talk as fast as he was talking. He said what it could be was lymphoma and I needed to get it looked at. He gave me options and said I could get a needle biopsy where they stick a needle in it and suck some juice out and if it came back inconclusive he'd have to take it out. I don't remember what the other options were, but I just said, "Take it out, please." I was in so much pain at that point. It was so swollen. He said, "When you have a lump in your armpit you can't normally see swelling, but since I had been working and singing and dancing on it, I was so swollen on that side. Looking back at pictures I can see it now, but for me it was such a slow evolution that I didn't notice I was swelling up that much. He said it looked dangerous and he wanted to take it out. I told him to please take it out.

The following Tuesday I was in surgery. I woke up crying after surgery and I guess anesthesia can make you emotional, but I feel like subconsciously my brain knew about the conversations that had been happening during surgery and I just woke up crying. I thought it was because I was so happy it was over because it had already been a hard battle to that point. I had been dealing with this lump for so long and it had been so painful. I was so happy that it was out and I was crying and my Mom was there and my boyfriend at the time and his Mom was there.

Two days later...he put a rush on my pathology report...they sent it over to UCLA and he called me two days later to come in. I thought, "Oh God." My Mom had told me on the way to my appointment with him that he said it was suspicious. So he told me and right after that appointment with him I was walking to the cancer center which was right near his office. It was walking distance, so in a flash my life totally changed yet again.

So I went straight to the Oncology Center in California at Northbridge Hospital and they basically set me up for all my preliminary tests; pulmonary stuff, heart stuff, echocardiogram; I did all of my preliminary tests in California because it all happened so fast. I didn't know if I was going to get treated in California or if I was going to go home to Virginia depending on how urgent it was. I found out my cancer was a slow growing cancer so I had time, but...when I met my oncologist in California he would not, other than the preliminary tests, he would not take it any further with me until I went to UCLA Fertility Clinic and got started on a fertility program to basically harvest my eggs. He said, "You're too young to take the risk of not being able to have children." Oh God, this is all so much. I go from being perfectly healthy to going to the doctor and having all these things that I need to do. All of a sudden my life was totally different. I was always in the hospital. Every day I had to get blood work or a test and then they wanted to put me on this fertility program and I thought, "My God, what's going on?"

Natalya and Joel Hoekstra share a smile in Hartford, Jan. 4, 2015

So I got on that and that took a little while to process and get started. Basically it was a two-week, and I couldn't start my chemo until I finished all of this, so I'm sitting here with cancer – I don't even know what stage yet, because you don't figure out the stage until you finish up the preliminary tests – so I'm trying to get my fertility program started when I don't know what stage of cancer I'm in and I'm freaking out because I'm sitting around with cancer and I just want everything to go faster. It took about a month for me to figure everything out before I got home to Virginia and got started with the actual chemo stuff. I did two weeks of fertility program, I was administering it myself, three shots a day in the stomach.

Bp: Ouch – that's got to be strange.

Natalya Rose: Yes, it was horrible. I'm pretty sure that part was worse than chemo because with chemo, nurses were plugging me in all day long and they were dealing with the needles. I had to deal with the needles for the fertility, I had to give them to myself, I was giving myself three different shots of hormones. My ovaries went from the size of walnuts to the size of fists. That's what they're supposed to do when you do fertility because basically it's to stimulate the eggs to be ready to be harvested and so my stomach blew up. I looked like I was five months pregnant all of a sudden; I gained a lot of weight through that process. As every day went by, my ovaries got bigger and bigger and I became more and more immobile. It was never to a point where I had to be in a wheelchair before harvesting. I had to walk very slowly, I was walking like an elderly person by the time I was done with my two weeks of shots before retrieval.

I had to have retrieval surgery at a facility in California. That's where it went...I mean, it wasn't really bad, other than dealing with taking it easy and...it wasn't a bad experience up until harvesting. This is where it all went to shit. They took out my eggs and the more eggs they take from you the longer your recovery can be. Usually the average for women is to harvest seventeen eggs. They got thirty-one from me! So that was a lot. I guess I'm just super fertile because I'm young. Most people don't do this treatment when they're my age, unless it's for reasons similar to why I had it done.

Western medicine is great, but they don't have a good recovery system for people who go through this. Basically they took out my eggs and sent me home. They didn't have anything to help me come down from all of these hormones that they were pumping into my body so I had a bad reaction to it. My ovaries didn't come down, they got bigger! So they went from a fist to a grapefruit at this point because my body couldn't handle the hormones. Literally anything I put in my mouth I threw-up. I was having a horrible reaction to it. I was rushed to the emergency room because I was getting dehydrated; I couldn't even keep water down. I was so sick and this was when I needed the wheelchair. It was horrible. They had to rehydrate me through an IV. I was overstimulated at this point by too many hormones. That took another week and a half to go away, all before I could start the chemo. That sucked majorly, I never want to go through that again.

Finally I flew home with my Mom to Virginia. I checked out CHKD in Norfolk and VCU's Cancer Center in Richmond and I decided to go with CHKD, they treated me even though I was technically an adult. I got a recommendation to go there and my cancer is a childhood cancer so they let me be treated there. The doctor that I ended up going with was the only doctor who gave me options as far as chemo. I went to three different oncologists and they all told me that I had to do ABVD, which is the standard treatment for Hodgkin's. It's basically what most people get. But he offered me a couple different other options and I actually went with one of the non-traditional options because it gave me the opportunity...he said, "Here's the thing with this, if you go with ABVD, that's for four months. That's how long you have to go through it. If you go with this one, which was OPTA or something, he called it alphabet soup, this other treatment, you can do two months of treatment and at that point you can be re-evaluated. If you're cancer free by then, which is possible, you are good and two months is all you need. If you're not, then you have the option to go forward and do the other half of the treatment. It just gave me the opportunity to have a shot at going on tour. Of course going on tour was not the priority at this point, the priority was obviously my health and staying alive. But I thought, why not give myself that opportunity. That's ultimately why I chose it. It also lowered the risk of future heart and brain problems. It escalated the risk for sterility, but since I had frozen my eggs already, I didn't care as much if I was sterile. I just wanted to be alive and I wanted to go back to my life. I didn't want my heart or my lungs affected because I wanted to sing for the rest of my life. It ended up being a great treatment for me and obviously, I'm on tour!

As a matter of fact, I think I wrote about this in one of my Facebook statuses, but if I would have...like every Tuesday were my treatment days and I ended on a Tuesday, but if I had ended on the following Tuesday, I would not be on this tour. It would have put me a week behind schedule and as it was I showed up at rehearsals a few days late. God's timing could not have been more perfect the way everything worked out. There are no words to explain how perfect everything ended up working out. I hate to make it seem like getting over cancer was easy, because it definitely isn't and I know there are a lot of people out there who struggle with it every day and they don't get to do things like I get to do, but for some reason I feel like God wanted me to get over it and get back on with my life so I could share my story and share with people that cancer isn't a death sentence. It isn't something you have to be afraid of. You can face it with strength with the support of your family and friends and be totally fine on the other side.

There are things that continue to affect me, the numbness in my fingers and my toes, and the stiffness I feel when I wake up, and having no hair, those are issues that bother me every day, but they don't bother me compared to everything that I've been through. The grapefruit sized ovaries, c'mon, let's be real. If I had that, that was so horrible. I forget about that, because so much happened before chemo...a lot has happened in the few months it took to get through this. A lot of people have longer journeys. I crammed a lot of drama into this summer.


Bp: What was the key source of inspiration for you during all of this?

Natalya Rose: Honestly, I wish people that go through cancer and have gone through the things I've just gone through, I just wish they had the support team that I had. Yes, it takes a lot of will power, your own personal strength to get through something like this. I will say, I'm pretty hard on myself, I really try not to be a baby and be unable to do things or whatever, but if there is any point that I feel someone deserves to be babied, it's going through cancer. As much as I push myself and I treat myself like an experiment, this is the moment that I wanted my Mom to take care of me and I wanted help. I was finally okay with asking for help. So I was definitely a lot weaker and not able to be my usual selfish self, pushing myself to suck it up. So to be vulnerable, but to be countered with all the love that I received from Facebook, from friends and family and fans...that made all the difference. That kept me from feeling sulky or feeling bad for myself in this whole situation, because I would think, "There are so many people out there who are sending love and support and praying for me, there is no way that I'm not going to get through this with grace and class. I'm going to do this for them!" Honestly, I hate to sound cliché, and say "It's for the fans," but honestly, people were reaching out to me as soon as I shared the news and giving me information and sharing their stories with me and all that. Things that I didn't even know...I had no idea what cancer was about before this, to be honest. There was no cancer in my immediate family as of yet and God forbid ever, but I knew what most of the world knows about cancer, it's bad, you have to have chemo and you lose your hair and sometimes you die from it. That's all I knew. If I didn't have TSO in my life I would have never had that overflow of information come to me; love, prayers and information. All of that was so helpful to me in this process. Instead of having to go do the research myself when my brain was already so overwhelmed emotionally, physically, etc. people were doing it for me. People were telling me that their family had battled this, and we recommend this and this. My reasons for getting through this the way that I did were just my way of truly saying thank you to all those people who helped me get through it. Seriously, I would not have gotten to this point without all of that. I think I would be alive, but it might have taken longer or because while I was going through chemo I was trying to stay strong because I was really looking forward to the opportunity to go back on tour. I really wanted to give myself a fair shot at it. I didn't want cancer to be my life. There were so many people cheering for me and I thought it would be so cool if I freaking beat cancer this summer and then I ended up on tour.

I think on my way home from one of my treatments, because I had to travel an hour to go to treatment, on my way home I started crying one day. It was a happy crying because it just came over me that I thought I was going to beat it and I just started crying because I couldn't wait, and this is what I said to my grandfather, who was driving me at the time, I said, "I just can't wait for this to all be over and to look back and say, 'Oh my gosh, not only did I beat cancer this summer, but I'm also back on tour.'" It was the day I asked my doctor, I think I was halfway through treatment, and I said, "Doctor Lowe, do you think I have a chance at going back to work at the end of October?" And he said, "Well, what's your schedule?" So we wrote it out on a post-it note, which I still have, we did a mini-calendar and he said, "You'll be done with your treatment by this week, you'll need your port taken out by this week, you'll have scans and this and this and this on this week, and yea, it looks like you might be able to do it."

I didn't accept it at first. I said, "You don't understand, I'm going to be on the road lugging stuff around, I'll have help if I need it, but I'm going to be singing doing two shows a day," I was trying to break it down for him, because I was thinking he didn't understand what I was really asking him. He said, "You're going to be tired, probably more than usual, but I don't see why you can't do it." I said, "Are you kidding me?" and I started crying. Wow. I could not believe how I could be going through that right then and that I might be able to go on tour. I asked him probably ten times if he was sure. I think this whole thing is on video actually. That whole documentary thing that we were trying to put together with some friends, that is still in the works, but it will probably be something that I work on and take my time on.

So I was going home that day and I started crying because it was overwhelming. I couldn't wait to get to this point, Brad, to where I had beat cancer this summer and I was on tour. Wow. The thought of that was just...tears were streaming down my face. It put the biggest smile on my face. I don't know that I've witnessed miracles first hand in my life and I really felt that it was a miracle that all of this could happen and I could still go on with my life without having missed a season of touring with TSO. It just really felt like a miracle. And like I said, all the prayers and support from loved ones and everybody who knew my story made a huge difference. My Mom ordered all of those Team Natalya bracelets because she wanted me to feel supported and she wanted people to feel like they were with you and it wasn't something we really planned on it being something that everyone could be a part of, it was originally just for the family. A lot of families do that just for the family, but it ended up being a much bigger thing. That was a big deal too, I still have bracelets with me at every show and in the signing line if someone knows my story I just give them a bracelet. I don't hand them out like the guitar picks, but when someone knows why I have bracelets with my name on them I'll offer one to them.

I'm really, really blessed to be in this position in my life that I get to talk to so many people about what's gone on...I mean, the TSO show is already amazing and awesome and we get so much love from the fans, but now having the whole cancer story to be a part of it too, I feel that much closer to people and I feel like I live my life with that much more purpose. I'm on that stage every night now not just being a part of someone's awesome holiday experience, I'm out there like a lot of people know the whole cancer story and so it makes it that much more special for people. I'm so proud to represent something so special even without the cancer, but after having gone through cancer, I'm really proud to do that for people and hopefully make a difference for anybody going through the same thing. Cancer does not destroy you, especially for people my age who don't know what cancer is all about and who get cancer they get down on themselves. I want my story to encourage people so they don't have to throw their life down. It doesn't have to change your whole life. You don't have to change your career.

Did you hear about Eric Berry from the Kansas City Chiefs getting Hodgkins?

Bp: Yes.

Natalya Rose: He was 26 and a Capricorn like me, his birthday's a few days after mine. I actually reached out to him and he got back to me. That meant the world to me. He said he loved to hear from fans and it made him feel really supported, but it was really nice to hear from me, someone who is not so far removed and really active. We were both young, active professionals and I felt like he might totally disregard my note, but I'm going to reach out to him anyway and tell him I'm cheering for him and supporting him. He actually got back to me and he said it meant a lot to him for me to reach out to him. That was really cool and just that alone having an NFL player talk to me, that was really cool.

"Christmas Jam" - November 24, 2012 - Manchester, NH matinee

Bp: What went into the decision while you were in it, to go public with it and share it?

Natalya Rose: Well, Brad, honestly, I've never thought about it, but when you find out that you have cancer this hood goes over your head. Metaphorically, I felt like somebody put on me that hood that goes over your head before you get executed on me. That's what it felt like. I felt like it was my doomsday when I found out. As soon as my surgeon told me, I was like, "Oh my God. This is scary." It felt dark. Even though it wasn't dark and my eyes were open, if felt heavy and dark and lonely. One of my biggest fears at that point in my life was dying. I believe in God, but nobody dies ever. It was that moment of facing death all at once. My life was being threatened, I'm not invincible. I'm young and not invincible, like a young person should feel. That was so scary.

So really your mind goes crazy to be honest. At least mine did. I didn't know what to do. But I think within hours I put up a note on Facebook that I had been diagnosed because I didn't know what to do and I thought about it for a minute and I thought, ‘When is a good time to share this information with people?' I guess I concluded right then and there was a good time because I had no idea what to do. I didn't know what else to do. My Mom didn't know what to do. That's where I thought someone out there has got to be able to say something to me to help me change my perspective on this because this feels like the worst news I've ever heard in my life. And I feel like it's the scariest moment of my life. No one in my family has dealt with cancer like this. I didn't know what else to do. I just put it on Facebook. I didn't even tell management before I did it, I just did it. I was so scared so I figured why not tell everybody so I can hear from somebody, "Hey, I hear ya. I'm holding your hand from far away..." Just anything that would make me feel better at that point. There wasn't a lot of thought that went into how I was going to do it because I didn't know what to think, so I just shared it.

Well, actually, I called Chloe [Lowery] first. My Mom was with me and at that point I think my family had a heads up because my Mom knew on that Tuesday. I called Chloe first. She was the first person I called when I found out. Both of her parents are doctors and I had been keeping in touch with her up until that point because it could have been cancer, but I didn't know. So I had been talking to her about lots of stuff so it was just appropriate for me to call her first and tell her. I said, "Chloe," (in a soft voice). "Yea?" And I could hardly get it out I was really devastated, I said, "I have cancer." She said, "Oh, Nat. I'm so sorry." It was a really sad conversation. She told me, "You're going to be okay. You're gonna be fine." I was sobbing, "I don't know what I'm going to do."

It's bringing tears to my eyes thinking about it. I remember exactly where I was sitting, right between my surgeon's office and the oncology center, I was sitting in front of a mural and just bawling my eyes out in the middle of a beautiful, sunny day in California, palm trees, my Mom was sitting next to me. That was really hard.

Bp: I can't even imagine. The group of five female vocalists that started in 2010, you've been a tight-knit group since starting together. Did they provide support as well and how important was that?

Natalya Rose: My TSO family is like family to me after being on the road so long together. Honestly when we're off the road we're so busy catching up with our real families that we hardly get to see each other. Chloe and I got really close on the spring tour and have been really close friends ever since and when I was living in New York, she was the only TSO girl who was living in New York City so her and I got close that way outside of the tour, but I never really get to see my other girls outside of the tour because we live all over the country. So at first it wasn't like they were some of the people that I called first, but Kayla offered to come see me in California or Virginia or wherever I was going to be, Georgia sent me this beautiful care package from her and her Mom to me and my Mom – it had a card in it, ‘To one mother-daughter to another' and it was all these cute things that definitely made me super loved. Erika called me and Autumn called and texted me. Everyone called me and sent me love, but I think they knew that with me finding out this news that there was a possibility I wasn't going to be on tour. At that point in the beginning I totally put it out of my mind. I had to, there was no way with the chemo to be able to do the tour. So I think they took a backseat because they knew not only was I finding out that I had cancer, but I was basically finding out that I wasn't going to be a part of TSO this year. I think they thought about that and wanted to let me figure things out and stuff. Thinking of them and thinking of the possibility of not touring with them was totally breaking my heart. There were a couple of weeks in the beginning where I was trying to avoid everybody, because I was finding out all this horrible news and I was going through all this fertility stuff and I just didn't even have time to get emotional about it. I just had to get through it.

I was determined to get through it, TSO or not, it didn't matter how. I was determined to do it. They definitely reached out to me and that was some of the most meaningful conversations that I had, but it's now, being on tour with them that's making the biggest difference. They're able to make the biggest impact for me because they've been with me since the beginning so they can tell if I'm not having the best day or whatever. Every day has pretty much been an awesome day for the most part it's been really....where normally it's just exhaustion, we've been really good and we're all looking out for each other. I didn't feel their impact as much until now that we're on the road together where I can talk to them about my experiences and we're really having a good time. I'm so thankful that I'm back on the road with them and I didn't have to miss out on all this girl time that we're so used to. Their support roles are definitely coming into play more now. I tell everybody on the road, if I were wrapping up chemo and prepping for some random tour I would not be able to get through it. If it weren't for being among these people who I'd already known and considered family, who I knew weren't going to treat me any differently, were sympathetic to my situation when I needed them to be, pushed me when I needed to be, and knew my personality; if it weren't for all of that, I wouldn't be able to do what I'm doing now. Getting to know new people coming after such a hard summer just would have been too difficult. It would have been too overwhelming. I've had a few moments on this tour that I've been so thankful that I'm around people who know me because if I have to break down and cry over thinking about it sometimes, I don't have to feel like I'm being judged ‘cause I'm among family.

From left to right: Kayla Reeves, Autumn Guzzardi, Georgia Napolitano and Natalya Rose

Bp: Are there any parts of the show this year that you're finding are more emotional because of what you went through?

Natalya Rose: It was definitely emotional the first week or two being able to be on the stage after coming out of this summer. It was overwhelmingly beautiful that I was here. I could not believe it. There was that, but after finding out that the fourth cancer crew member that we were waiting on to be cancer free, who I'd been worried about because he was stage four and he had been in treatment the longest out of all of us, I was worried that I was going to have to attend his funeral. He had had a really bad situation – he had almost two-hundred tumors just in his lungs – and they had become a really big part of the cancer experience for me. After finding out that he was cancer free it really hit me that the whole show and story...I really felt them. I just posted on Facebook when I'm singing the "Hallelujah," I'm really singing "Hallelujah" to Jesus. And when I'm singing in "This Christmas Day" which we sing on every tour and in every show – that's our song to play around a little and we get to interact with the audience more than other songs – that song, after finding out the news that Christian was cancer free that was it, because that was like him, he's got the Christmas tree, the ornaments, the string of lights – their families are going to be home for Christmas with their cancer free children and just the thought of that...every time Russ sings all those lyrics I imagine them and their families sitting by the tree, opening presents and it makes me so frickin' happy and emotional. The day I found out that Christian was cancer free that song made me very emotional. I feel like this holiday is really gonna be a good one for everybody. It's so good for me because all the love and support and happiness I feel with all the good news, it has to rub off on everybody in the audience. It has to. I'm throwing it at them and down people's throats I'm so happy. It could have been a miserable holiday. My goal before I got here was I want to be done with treatment by Thanksgiving and cancer free by Christmas. This was before I even met my cancer crew boys and for me to not only be cancer free before even the holidays hit and for them to be cancer free for the holidays – that is just a miracle. I am so happy to sing those songs because I really feel them!

Bp: It's been an amazing journey for you this year.

Natalya Rose: I wish I didn't sound like a broken record or cliché or corny when I say this because, you know, the show is awesome, but I just really feel the spirit of the holiday this year. I'm going to be twenty-four on the 24th, which is my golden birthday, and I thought was going to be the crappiest birthday because I thought I was going to be dealing with cancer and wondering when I was going to be cancer free and it's just going to be a great year! I'm so psyched after all the horrible stuff that's happened this year. I really feel the show this year and it's a happy show. It could have been last year's show where the Mom dies after giving birth...it could have been a heavier show, but this year it feels so right for me. Everything is as it should be, I feel. I'm happy to be this happy and I know it rubs off on everyone else in a way too. I'm totally thrilled about it. Crew guys tell me all the time and say, "Nat, can you just tone it down, can you just not be so dang happy? Why are you so happy?" That's truly how I walk around the halls of the arena all day long; generally happy-go-lucky. I hope it rubs off on everyone else, because I want everyone else to feel the way I feel.

I'm just so happy to be alive [laughs].

Bp: What an inspiring story of determination and heart. To go through what you have, conquer it and to come out the other side with such strength and poise. It's one thing to come out and tour a tour, but a TSO tour is totally different with a grueling schedule.

Natalya Rose: Oh, I know, it's a monster. There have been moments when I've almost lost it, but yea, it's not easy, but it's so great to be here with everyone, I'm getting through it. I'm getting through it because I guess I'm strong, whatever, I don't even credit myself for getting this far, I credit everyone around me for encouraging me.

Bp: Thank you for sharing your story. I know people are going to be moved and inspired.

Natalya Rose: Thank you, Brad. I really appreciate it. I wasn't even thinking about this as an interview, I was just having a conversation with you, I hope you got everything you needed.

Bp: Absolutely, yes. It was a pleasure, Nat. Thanks so much!

Natalya Rose: Great, I enjoyed it so much! When will I see you again?

Bp: In about an hour for the matinee and I'll be with you all weekend for six in the next three days.

Natalya Rose: Awesome!

Additional Links:
Trans-Siberian Orchestra - official site

More in my Trans-Siberian Orchestra Interview series -> here.

Natalya Then and Now

Then & Now: 2010 (left) & 2015 (right)