There is nothing more important to Normani Kordei than family.
This is evident as soon as you speak with her, but it was especially on her mind when ET chatted with her on Monday, just two days after she participated in her first breast cancer walk, American Cancer Society's Making Strides Against Breast Cancer 5K, in Santa Monica, California.
This was no ordinary stroll for the Fifth Harmony singer -- she was surrounded by breast cancer survivors, including her mom, Andrea Hamilton.
"The event was incredible. It was one of the best experiences and most memorable that I've had. It was honestly so surreal, exhilarating, exciting, emotional -- just a range of different emotions and feelings, because it's a cause so dear to my heart and close to me and my family because of our experience, my mom going through breast cancer," Kordei tells ET. "She's a 16-year survivor and it's really special to be able to walk alongside her and our family and friends who came out. It took nothing but a call to let them know what we wanted to do, and they were so excited to participate. It was just beautiful to see. There were little girls in pink tutus and there was a woman there in her pink afro and men out there supporting as well. We had a lot of fun in our pink that day."
Kordei was about five years old when her mother was diagnosed. Seeing her mom go through such a difficult health situation as well as having to relocate from New Orleans to Houston, Texas, after Hurricane Katrina strengthened Kordei into the assured, compassionate woman she is today. Before Breast Cancer Awareness Month came to a close, ET spoke with the American Cancer Society ambassador about what it was like when her mom was sick, why she wants to help raise awareness for young women and, of course, her hometown Houston Astros' incredible World Series run.
ET: You were very young when your mom was diagnosed. Do you remember much of her illness, or was it hard to understand?
Normani Kordei: I would honestly say that it was both. I was a bit confused and didn't really comprehend because I was so young. I remember my grandmother mentioned my mom was sick. She was actually the first person who tried to break it down for me, but I didn't fully understand. Any time I heard my mom was sick, I thought it was the sickness that I got, like a cold, or my mom's just not feeling well, but I didn't understand the severity of breast cancer until my mom was getting her head shaved by my dad because her hair was falling out. She kept saying her hair was falling out -- that's one thing I do remember -- and then we understood what it was. It became real once I saw my mom in a different state. But she really carried us through that time and we carried her through. It was amazing to see even her at her lowest point have strength for her family. It carried us through a tough situation, because if she hadn't been strong for us, we probably wouldn't have been able to have been as strong for her.
It was our family that really got us through and also our faith and just a supportive system, whether it be friends or other women going through the same thing, which is why I'm so excited to partner with the American Cancer Society, because it's a family-oriented organization. It's really cool, because they welcomed me and my mom with open arms, and they do so much for their patients and the community to bring light to the cause. I'm really grateful to be a part of something as special as this.
You also had to relocate after Hurricane Katrina, so you've dealt with a lot at a young age. How have these two major events shaped you?
I would say those are two of the biggest hurdles that we've had to overcome as a family, but I feel like those things shaped me into the woman that I am today and the woman that everybody sees. It's kind of an ongoing and a continuous battle, especially being in the public eye. I started at the age of 15. Growing up and remembering [what] me and my family went through and how we overcame it -- honestly, I keep going back to faith and just remembering what's important. To me, the most important thing is my family and God, so that's what keeps me going each and every day.
Was there a moment in your journey with your mom that led you to the ACS?
Honestly, just it being a celebration each and every day. As I said, my mom's a 16-year breast cancer survivor, and I think that's something that deserves to be celebrated. Also with me being able to reach so many people, I feel like it's my obligation, and it's something that I so want to do and desire in my heart, because it's something that's been so close and dear to me, especially with my experience and going through it with my mom and being there alongside her in the hospital, being there taking care of her at home, being her little doctor when I was little -- it brings it all back. It's something that we feel like we have to do. It's really special.
You could just see the radiance shine through her [at the breast cancer walk] and the light and the happiness and gratefulness that she had being amongst other people who went through the same thing. Representation is so important for anybody, but especially someone going through a tough time -- you want someone to talk to and have somebody that you can relate to, so it was cool to be among so many people that also care about you.
And I know it's not just your mom who's battled cancer -- your grandfather is sick now as well?
Yeah, my grandfather battled prostate cancer [but he is well now], and I just found out another uncle is battling [prostate] cancer as well, stage 4. Then my mom's brother, my uncle Norman who I'm named after, he died of lung cancer.
I'm so sorry to hear that. That is a lot for one family to go through. Mine is very similar, so I understand how difficult it is. Do you guys do anything specific as a family to cope and bond in such tough times?
I don't think it's necessarily one thing that we do -- it's just us being us. I'm in L.A., they're in Houston, Texas, but I make it a point every night before I go to sleep -- I have to call home to say I love you and to say goodnight, because we're not promised [tomorrow], and I think the things we've been through put those in perspective. It's just recognizing the reality that this is all real and being grateful for the time and the present with each other. I wish we could take more trips. I can only remember us having one family vacation, especially now that we're so busy, but I want to plan something. I want to go to Vegas or something for the New Year. My grandmother's going to help plan it all out, but I try to make it a point to think about those things. I'm not the best at planning, but I have good ideas!
That's OK, you can let Grandma plan!
Yeah! She can be my assistant.
And now you get to call home and talk about the Astros being in the World Series, which is pretty cool.
I know! It's so exciting. It's so funny that you say that because yesterday a group of my friends and I all went to Universal [Studios Hollywood], and it made me so mad because everybody had their Dodgers blue on and every time I saw somebody I was like, 'Astros!!' There were some mean faces, but I am so happy and so proud of my city.
It would be a wonderful win for Houston after everything that happened this year.
Absolutely. I think it's something we need. I'm originally from New Orleans, and after going through Hurricane Katrina, I remember that moment the Saints won the Super Bowl, so it's kind of a similar situation after [Hurricane] Harvey. It would be great for our city to be lifted up.
Learn more about Kordei's work with ACS at cancer.org.