After Breast Cancer Diagnosis, She Channeled Her Ups And Downs Into Texts NPR's Scott Simon talks with Natalie Sun about her project, textingwithcancer.com. The website won a Webby award, and documents her pessimism and optimism while undergoing chemotherapy.
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After Breast Cancer Diagnosis, She Channeled Her Ups And Downs Into Texts

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After Breast Cancer Diagnosis, She Channeled Her Ups And Downs Into Texts

After Breast Cancer Diagnosis, She Channeled Her Ups And Downs Into Texts

After Breast Cancer Diagnosis, She Channeled Her Ups And Downs Into Texts

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NPR's Scott Simon talks with Natalie Sun about her project, textingwithcancer.com. The website won a Webby award, and documents her pessimism and optimism while undergoing chemotherapy.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE NOTIFICATION TONE)

NATALIE SUN: OK, universe, I get it. If this is some crazy lesson to get me to appreciate life more, I get it. I do. Really. Please, please, I beg you. Please stop. I've learned my lesson. Please, I beg of you. Please don't be cancer.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is Natalie Sun and, yes, she's texting herself. Natalie Sun was diagnosed with breast cancer last summer at the age of 25. And she felt the need to write about her experience to understand it herself. She started a website. It's called textingwithcancer.com. And it won a Webby award for best personal blog this month. Natalie Sun joins us from our studios out in Culver City, Calif. Thanks so much for being with us.

SUN: Thank you so much.

SIMON: Can I get you to begin by reading some of your texts?

SUN: Sure.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE NOTIFICATION TONE)

SUN: Oh, God, the technician saw me and ran away. Oh, God, she knows.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE NOTIFICATION TONE)

SUN: Doctor's here. She's avoiding my gaze.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE NOTIFICATION TONE)

SUN: Her hands are shaking. Oh, my God, she's asking us to sit down. This can't be good.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE NOTIFICATION TONE)

SUN: It's fine. Smile, you're going to be fine.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE NOTIFICATION TONE)

SUN: Well, I have cancer.

SIMON: So why write like this?

SUN: It came to me through, I guess, a period of ideation (laughter). I wanted to share my experience with people in a way that was understandable. And I've read a lot of articles saying how teens these days or millennials these days are very - they find it easy to share emotional experiences actually through texting rather than calling or voice.

And so I wanted it to be understandable in way that anyone could pick up their phone or pick up their computer and just scroll through my story as if it was another friend. And so I wanted to create a familiar interface, which I think lends really well to this kind of a story where if you're trying to deal with a very difficult situation, the best way to kind of unveil a story like this is in the simplest non-design heavy way possible.

SIMON: OK. Now we'll explain. These text messages are in different voices even though they're all you. Right, it's pink for you, it's gray for the - I don't want to say pessimistic but (laughter).

SUN: (Laughter) It is what it is, yeah.

SIMON: All right, but a little more grim view.

SUN: (Laughter) Yeah.

SIMON: And all that's going on in you at the same time.

SUN: Yeah, I mean, I think it was born out of the funny situation of being in a waiting room. And waiting rooms always put you in the worst situation when you're waiting for the worst news.

SIMON: Yeah.

SUN: And so I didn't have anything else to do. The magazines weren't really doing it. I started getting a very, I guess, existential, outside-looking-in view of what was going on in my mind and how I was dealing with it. And so you're sitting there trying to tell yourself that everything's going to be OK when you had no idea what was going to happen.

And so I'm sitting there going, oh, the worst is going to happen. And then two seconds later I'm going, oh, no, no, no, you're going to be fine. Take deep breaths. It's going to be fine. And seeing this from an outsider's point of view, it's actually very funny seeing, like, this person trying to grapple with this fact.

And just sitting there in the waiting room seeing other people not knowing that this craziness is going on in my head was very funny. And so I thought I should document it in some way.

SIMON: Yeah. Do you ever reread these text messages?

SUN: I do every so often. It's funny because when you go through a horrible, painful thing like that, you think that you would never forget it. But the human body is very resilient and the human mind is extremely resilient. So just a few weeks or a few months afterwards, you forget that it all happened.

And so I'm really glad that I documented it because when I'm going through basically, like, a history of text messages now, it drives me to tears mostly because I can't believe I ever felt this way. I can't believe that there was a point in time just months ago that I wanted to kill myself, that I was so depressed. And it makes you remember that life is OK (laughter).

SIMON: When you say I wanted to kill myself, is that a little hyperbole or you really...

SUN: Well, one of the side effects of chemotherapy is depression. So you get into a spiral of hating yourself and wondering why you're putting yourself in so much pain. And there are points in time that you're bedridden and you just wonder why you're doing this, why you're even bothering. And so there were definitely times where I fell into a really dark hole.

And it's hard, even for someone who's logical like me. Talking yourself out of it still doesn't do it. And so I want to say it was a hyperbole because now thinking back on it, I can't believe I ever felt that way. But I'm sure at the time it was definitely something I was thinking about.

SIMON: We should reveal, I gather you're doing much better.

SUN: I am, yeah (laughter).

SIMON: Look forward to the sunrise every day in a way, you kind of - you took it for granted before.

SUN: Oh, for sure (laughter). There was a time after my diagnosis that I started doing the cliche movie things where I would walk around downtown L.A. and start feeling the leaves and feeling the wind between my fingers and really appreciating everything (laughter).

SIMON: Aw.

SUN: But yeah, it's definitely something that I'm doing now too. I start to appreciate things a lot more and look at life differently.

SIMON: Natalie Sun, she's the author of the website textingwithcancer.com and won a Webby award this year. Thanks so much for being with us.

SUN: Thank you so much, Scott.

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