Baddies Talk Back: A conversation with TGIN CEO and Breast Cancer Survivor Chris-Tia Donaldson
Tell us about your journey to diagnosis.
I was on a girls’ trip with one of my best friends in Palm Springs, when I noticed this lump in my chest, which had been there for a couple of months, had suddenly grown larger. Initially, I thought it was hormonal related, because I had a cyst removed from my breast in my 20’s. Given my age and the fact that I felt perfectly healthy, breast cancer was the furthest thing from my mind. After two to three months passed, I made an appointment to see my OBGYN. When I told my best friend the doctor’s team said I could come in three weeks, she told me to call back and be specific about my concerns, and that’s when they made plans to see me immediately. Although my doctor did not think it was cancer given the lump’s size, shape and the fact that it was soft and movable, she still recommended a mammogram just to be safe.
After getting my mammogram, I had a meeting that same day before leaving with a radiologist, who wanted me to come back for a biopsy the following day because she saw something suspicious which she termed an “architectural distortion.” I was scared as hell, and went home later that night and Googled everything I could find about “architectural distortions” so that when I showed up the next day for the biopsy I was armed with good questions. Forty-eight hours later, after undergoing a needle aspiration biopsy, I got the “I’m sorry, but you have invasive ductal carcinoma” call. Five hours later, I was picking my dad up from the airport and we were on this journey to figure out how I would fight for my life.
What kept you going on the days you wanted to give up?
When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer and going through treatment, I would often “lurk” (okay maybe “stalk”) on the pages of people going through breast cancer treatment. Most people were extremely positive, and I would kind of live vicariously through their pictures, which allowed me to see the light at the end of the tunnel. On the days that got really bad, I had to remind myself I was more than cancer and it was just a small piece of me. I was still a daughter, sister, friend and CEO. I enjoyed listening to hip hop and old school R & B music, watching Real Housewives of Potomac and God blessed me with another day on this planet so I had to live it to the fullest.
What was the most challenging aspect of your journey?
When I was first diagnosed, my doctor asked me when could I start chemotherapy. I told them I had a meeting with Target on March 22 that I had to look good for. Based on that, we scheduled my treatments in such a way, that I would be off and looking and feeling good for that meeting, but I soon learned you can’t plan for everything. We ended up getting calls to do meetings with Walgreens, Rite Aid and CVS, and I just had to wing it even though I was at my weakest, and had no clue what this journey would bring.
I think another major challenge was not getting bogged down with the distractions that come with reading some message boards. There were so many depressing stories and negativity in there. I was convinced after reading some of this stuff about low sex drive, thinning hair, dry vagina, and weight gain I would never be the same woman again.
How did you overcome this challenge?
I just talked to God and took things one day at a time.
How did you celebrate the completion of active treatment?
I was inspired by the book “Eat Pray Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert and took a solo trip to Bali to "find myself," which is now the basis of my new book “This is Only a Test: What Breast Cancer Taught Me About Faith, Love, Hair and Business.” If people do not take anything from the book, take the opportunity to start putting yourself first.
Now that you're on the other side, what's one thing you've learned that you wish you knew at the beginning of your cancer journey?
I think the one thing I wish I knew at the start of the journey is the world doesn’t stop moving just because you have cancer, so you have to keep going. Again, I had to realize that cancer was a small part of me, not all of me.
Also, even though I have great doctors, I wish I knew I had the power to heal myself and not to place all my faith in modern medicine, but in God.
If you have time, look up Deepak Chopra on You Tube. You should also check out a Youtube video by Dr. Lissa Rankin, where she gives this talk on the Mind Body Connection that she did at a talk at Google, where she talks about how people including Stage IV cancer patients went on to live 45 years because they never thought they were going anywhere. Finally, meditation is a powerful thing. You have to learn to let go, get outside, sit under that tree, and connect with your body and listen to what it is trying to tell you.
What advice do you have for newly diagnosed women?
Advancements in cancer treatment have come a really long way. If caught early, breast cancer is a treatable disease and is not a death sentence. The important thing is to know your breasts, stay in tune with your body, and talk to your doctor if you experience any major changes.
Also, trust your instincts! If something doesn’t feel right, listen to your gut. If you don’t feel like your doctor is giving you the best advice, seek a second opinion.
What is a piece of advice you have received that you carry with you to this day?
You can’t put any limits on God! He is a miracle work. He can do the unexpected.
Tell us about the tgin Foundation.
When I was undergoing treatment for breast cancer, I learned that having money could make the difference between living and dying when it came to this condition. When people think cancer, they think cancer treatment and that that somehow equates with survivorship. But what people don't realize is that there are so many women out there that can't even make it to cancer treatments, because of the cost of parking, their lack reliable transportation, their inability to take off of work, or they have no one to watch their kids. These socio-economic barriers to treatment are a major factor that contributes to health disparities and explains why black women, in some cities like Chicago, are 42% more likely to die of breast cancer than the general population.
I’m proud to say that the TGIN Foundation has raised over $50,000 to date to help subsidize free mammograms, offer breast navigation services to underinsured patients, and raise awareness of the importance of early detection in women under 40.
What's next for you and tgin?
I'm gearing up for a book tour for “This is Only a Test.” It's going to be interesting because I have to juggle running a company with trying to do a book tour and be sensitive to my self care needs. So I think I may just focus solely on the book for the time being to make sure I don't wear myself out.
Where can we get a copy?
You can order you copy at www.tginatural.com or on Amazon.com. It's also available on Audible & Kindle.
How can we keep in touch?
I'm on all social media, but Instagram is my favorite. You can follow me there, and on twitter @tginceo, but I do delete the app on weekends to give myself a break and time to just focus on me.