Tina Conrad’s mother is a two-time breast cancer survivor, so performing self breast exams and paying attention to changes in her body had always been a way of life. And then one day, at age 37, Tina noticed that that the center of one breast had sunken in. Initially, she chalked it up to “old age,” but shortly after, doctors discovered that she actually had breast cancer herself. Newly married, recently promoted and now…stunned, Tina’s life quickly changed as she began treatment. With the support of her “rocks,” her mother and husband, as well as her newfound love of yoga and expanded faith in God, she fought cancer and was guided towards her passion and purpose in life – helping others. Tina now focuses on building community and lives life with more intention. She started an incredible podcast, DJ Breast Cancer, where she has shared over 100 episodes around diagnoses, treatment and life after cancer. She also, most recently, published her first book, “From C to C” – a poetic and pictorial journey through Cancer and Covid, told from her point of view as a survivor. To learn more about Tina’s breast cancer journey, see our latest In Her Words.
Name: Tina Conrad
Location: Fort Wayne, Indiana
Current Health Status: Survivor
Tell us about yourself.
I am currently a Merchandise Manager at Vera Bradley. They have ties with the Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer Research. It is so important that my job cares about breast cancer the way I do – that my company has the same passion for research. I am married to my partner in crime, my rock, my biggest supporter! I enjoy running, raising funds for research, podcasting DJ Breast Cancer and being an advocate and cheerleader in the community.
When were you diagnosed with cancer?
I was diagnosed with cancer at 37 years old. I had been married for only a few months. My mom is a two-time breast cancer survivor, so I was always attuned to examining my breasts. My mom had a lump both times of her diagnosis, but one day I noticed a change in mine. It wasn’t a lump, but the center of my breast had sunken in. I chalked it up to "old age" (so I told myself) and actually ignored it for a few months.
What were your first thoughts when you were diagnosed?
I was stunned. I had just been promoted to my “dream job,” married only a few months earlier and moved into a beautiful home. I didn’t have time to have cancer. My mom had been diagnosed in her 40’s and I just didn’t think that I would ever have cancer in my 30’s.
How did your friends and family take the news?
It was most difficult for my mom. She felt she was to blame for my cancer. We had an honest talk (we lived about 7 hours apart at the time), and I told her I didn’t blame her and I didn’t blame God. I told my mom I needed her “all in” on getting me to a good place. We had to put all of our energy into fighting the cancer together.
Describe your treatment and how you arrived at that course of action.
I had a double mastectomy, chemo (AC and Taxol) and radiation. My cancer was Stage 3A. With my mom’s history, all of these decisions were rather easy for me and also aligned with my doctor’s feedback. It's so important to have a team of doctors you trust, and I felt grateful.
Were you able to work through treatment?
I was able to work during some of my treatment, but I did end up taking a medical leave while I was doing chemo. My job at the time was very stressful and I realized that I needed to do more for me – it was not selfish, truly more self-less. I knew that I needed to to focus on getting well and having healthy boundaries. My job didn't allow me to do those things.
Where and how have you found the best care?
I developed a love for yoga. It was a crazy harsh winter, but I popped in a DVD of gentle yoga every day for 40 minutes. It really helped me to focus, center and stretch.
Have you received any additional support or alternative therapies? If so, what kind, and have they been they beneficial?
I did reiki, as part of a support group, and it was amazing. It helped me stay present when I was really struggling with focusing.
What or who have been your biggest supports? Who makes up your cancer tribe?
My husband, mom, cousin and best friend are my rocks. My pink sisters were the girlfriends I needed and didn’t know – it truly takes a village. I had one pink sister that I cry to and one who made me laugh. My mom was/is my best friend – my sounding board. I could vent and cry to her, and she would just listen or say “I get it.” She would also make me feel beautiful. My husband also made me feel beautiful each and every day, and he provided me with some of the best love I could have ever hoped for.
What has been one of the most challenging aspects of the experience for you?
Not feeling like me and searching for my identity. It was much more than the physical part of losing my hair. Afterwards, I was a changed person. My priorities were rearranged and different. My value system, faith and interests had changed. I wanted a more authentic and lasting purpose. I discovered that I wanted to leave a legacy.
What is one thing you wish you knew before you were diagnosed?
Breast cancer is more than just a lump – any change to your breast for longer than a month is a reason to have a conversation with your doctor.
Is there a particular mantra or inspiration that helps you?
Do something every day that brings you joy. Every day is not “good” but there is good in every day.
If you could offer a woman, who has been newly diagnosed, some words of wisdom for her journey, what would you tell her?
Community is everything. Share your story (when you are ready) – it will help you heal and may help others along the way.
What are you most proud of in your cancer journey?
Helping others and building community. My podcast DJ Breast Cancer has over 100 episodes. Stories from guests have inspired others across the globe.
How has cancer affected your outlook on life? On illness?
I live my life with more intention. I am very serious about screenings (just did a colon cancer screening at age 45 because I could), and I advocate for myself. I pay more attention to my gut instinct. Cancer strengthened my relationship with God, and my faith is very important to me. I openly share my faith with others and encourage them to work on all the relationships in their life. For me, that starts with and through God.
How have you changed?
I’m still me, but I’m a person with a passion and a purpose. I now have a mission of H.O.P.E. (Help One Person Everyday)!
To learn more about Tina Conrad, check out her website here: www.djbreastcancer.org