The Spirit of Pageantry

Natalie Gamble is back on our blog with a post about supporting her daughter while in treatment for breast cancer, pageants and being honored with the “Spirit of Pageantry” Award.

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Life doesn’t stop because of a breast cancer diagnosis – it goes on. How you decide to approach that life is up to you. Me personally, I never missed a step.

After deciding on a treatment plan and scheduling my surgery I was on my way to Virginia Beach with my daughter for the International Junior Miss. Some background information about this trip: My daughter Mikayla is my hero and one of the strongest, most driven individuals I know. I tease her all the time that I want to be just like her when I grow up. At the tender age of 9 she announced she wanted to be a microbiologist and will be attending U.C. Berkeley to earn her degree, and here is the kicker – she wants to pay for it herself!  Since those words left her mouth, Mikayla, now 14, has made it her mission to do just that. Besides maintaining a A/B average in school, she competes in natural pageants to earn scholarships, pageants like International Junior Miss.

As a pageant mom, I wear many hats: tailor, beautician, coach, travel agent and cheerleader to name a few. Needless to say, my cancer diagnosis was a huge hiccup in my role as her support system. Monetheless, I was determined to work around it.  On our way back from an exhausting week of competitions, I received a phone call from my daughter’s new pageant director Christina Sacha Grooms, who introduced herself to us and updated us about the rest of my daughter’s reign.  I informed her of my diagnosis and told her that no matter what I would get my daughter where she needed to be.

While I was fighting the good fight in treatment, my daughter was reigning as International Junior Miss’ Colorado Preteen 2014. And as promised she was at every event, photo shoot, and appearance as scheduled. Our pageant family was just as supportive as our immediate family and to this day, I thank God for these incredible people. Every time we saw each other it was a family reunion and it touched my heart to know they read and looked forward to my Facebook posts. Every day I tried to share my feelings and thoughts with my family and friends. 

By the time I started radiation I was bald, scarred from my chemo rash and struggling with neuropathy in my hands and feet. Little did I know the side effects would get worse before they got better.

Pageant weekend arrived and I was suffering from radiation burns, fatigue and could barely walk from neuropathy pain.  Still, the show must go on and IJM Colorado inaugural pageant weekend had to be as flawless as possible.  I borrowed a sweater from Ms. Christina and worked right alongside my daughter, her sister queens and pageant moms.  Even when my skin broke open and oozed and I spiked a fever I was still smiling and reaching out to help where I could. At one point that weekend, I was chased back to my room to take a nap because I felt so bad. But I still made it down in time to watch our girls MC and host.

When it was time for the finale, I was beyond tired and fighting tears because my daughter would be taking her final walk and making her farewell speech.  When Ms. Christina walked up to the podium to give out special awards I counted the minutes to crowning –  I just wanted it to be over and so I could rest.

As she gave a history of Pageantry magazine and the meaning behind the Spirit of Pageantry  Award she was about to present, she began to tell a story about a woman who called her to tell her she had cancer but that her daughter would still reign. She talked about how this woman always smiled, always helped, always reached out to everyone around her. This woman never complained or asked, “Why me?” while going through treatment. Instead, Ms. Christina began, this woman said, “How could I be so arrogant to think this couldn’t happen to me? It happened, so I thank God for paving the way for me and this is my path so I will walk it, not because of cancer but in spite of cancer.”

Tears poured down her face as she continued to tell the audience my story: about me being worried about my scars and burns offending someone so she loaned me her sweater. About how all weekend I struggled to help, but still did. About how I showed her, my daughter and everyone in that room what it meant to have the spirit of pageantry. Ms. Christina introduced me and presented me the award.

It’s not about the dresses, or even the crowns  – it’s about reaching out and helping one another, it’s about family and unwavering support for each other, like the support I gave my daughter. And at the end of the day it was about me just being me. I am still humbled and honored that I was given an award for being myself through one of the hardest times of my life.

The fact that I got to share that honor with my daughter, my hero, makes it even more special.  That night I got a standing ovation and more hugs than I could begin to count. The hug that stood out the most was the one from my baby girl, the one when she hugged me tight and whispered.  “Mommy, you’re my hero and I want to be just like you when I grow up.”

Natalie L. Gamble is a 43-year-old happily married mother of four and grandmother of one from Denver, Colorado. Diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer in May 2014, she spends most of her time writing short stories and poetry, or enjoying her role as a stay-at-home mother and grandmother.

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