As we continue with our Breast Cancer Survivor Spotlights, I can’t wait for you to meet Chris-Tia, the awesome #GIRLBOSS that is the CEO of Thank God It’s Natural (tgin) and a breast cancer survivor who is using her platform to not only spread greatness but awareness. It’s women like her (click here to meet my previous Survivor Spotlight) that are true testimonies of resilience and prove nothing can hold you back from elevating to new heights. Again, these awesome features are one way that I feel I can use my platform to empower others and bring about awareness.
P.S. Click here to find my curated list of brands to support for breast cancer awareness. And of course, tgin made the list!
Name: Chris-Tia Donaldson
Age Diagnosed: 36
Age Now: 38
What stage were you diagnosed with?
I was diagnosed with Stage 2. Grade 3.
How was the cancer initially detected?
I actually discovered the lump myself, which is why self-exams are so important. I was actually taking a shower and noticed it then. Initially, I thought it was hormonal related, because I had a cyst removed from my breast in my 20s. 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 doctor. Although she 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.
How did you feel when you first received the news?
I was shocked. I felt like it was completely unfair. I was a good person, went to church, tithed, said my prayers, and only gossiped a little. I felt like God was playing a sick joke on me, considering that I was in my professional prime and looking forward to starting a family. I realize now that God was using me as a mean to share my experience with others as a cautionary tell about the importance of breast health and being your own advocate.
Is there a family history of breast cancer?
I am the first person in my family to get breast cancer. My mother died of non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma when I was 17.
Did you have a support network? If not, how did you overcome it or find it?
My father and uncle were amazing during this ordeal. My friends were also there for me as I was going through treatment. Finally, my tgin team was incredibly supportive and helped to ensure that things remained on track at the factor while I was out.
Tell me about your treatment process.
I had a lumpectomy, followed by 8 rounds of chemotherapy and 33 rounds of radiation. My doctors were extremely aggressive with their choice of treatment given my age. In older women, they tend to only do a lumpectomy and radiation, if the size of the mass is small, because of their shorter life expectancy. Given that, I may have 40-50 years ahead of me, they were conservative and went all the way in.
In terms of the side effects, the biggest thing is extreme fatigue and mild nausea. Although I’ve never been pregnant before, I would say it is akin to a really awful pregnancy. I basically dealt with the side effects by taking it easy and resting a lot.
Were there any programs or services offered to you that would help with the treatment process?
I went to therapy every other week. Although I had a team of really good doctors that are experts when it comes to cancer, dealing with a patient’s emotions didn’t prove to be their strong points. During a time like this, doctors are quick to prescribe prescriptions for Xanax and other anxiety drugs to help you cope with the many emotions you may experience. I opted for the natural route and chose to work with a therapist to help me process what was happening to me.
Did you face any obstacles during your treatment process? If so, how did you overcome these obstacles?
I spent so much time on the internet and Instagram looking at other people’s surgical outcomes (e.g. lumpectomy, mastectomy, bilateral mastectomy, no reconstruction, etc.), that I had prepared myself for the worse. When I finally took the steri-strips off to see my surgical scar, where they removed a 2.5” tumor, there was nothing even there. My surgeon was so amazing that she cut around the nipple leaving a scar that even doctors and medical professionals can’t detect, unless I direct them to the site.
Initially, I adopted the same fearful beliefs about medications and the ensuing side effects. I would lurk on different message boards and read about the massive amount of weight women gained from the chemo steroids and how they felt nausea on the drug. I accepted that this was going to happen to me as well. Surprisingly, it didn’t. I actually lost weight, and my cancer body was BANGIN! I also only got slightly nauseous once.
Advice to new patients:
Along this journey, I’ve learned you can’t use other people as your benchmark, and that everyone’s cancer and life’s journey is different. You have to run your own race. Sometimes, you also have to accept that you’re just not in control, and that 1+2 may sometimes equal 4. You ladder will truly be greater and you may have absolutely nothing to do with that. When you think you’re at your worst and things can’t get any better, you never know how God is moving in your life, turning things around and making things better, day by day, moment by moment, second by second.
Stop thinking about how it will happen, and just trust that it will. Looking back on my journey and what I have been through, I never thought I would look and feel as amazing as I do today.
How you’ve changed:
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I had barely talked to my sister, my closest cousin and my niece in over three years. My relationships with most of my friends were also strained over some pretty petty stuff. In some instances, I will take the blame. In other instances, I was either too busy or just not at all interested in sitting down and having a long “uncomfortable” conversation about how I hurt you/how you hurt me when I had emails to check and purchase orders to get out.
Then there were the friendships, where nothing was wrong but I just didn’t make time for them. I’m not making excuses, but between running tgin and juggling my full time job, I could be bad about returning phone calls or making time for girlfriends who reached out just to talk. I was a workaholic stuck on a treadmill and I didn’t know how to get off.
This whole ordeal taught me to let things go, but also to prioritize those who are dear to you, because life is short. I also apologized to some people who I should have said sorry to years ago.
Holding grudges can build up in your system and can potentially manifest in your body. You can drink all the smoothies you want and go to Soul Cycle every other day, but none of this matters, if you’re working 70+ hours a week, and unwilling to forgive and let go of the past. Now that I’m through with treatment and released a lot of anger, I feel lighter than ever before.
If you’re holding onto something or some pain, release it. If someone has done you wrong, forgive them. If you know you hurt someone, say you’re sorry. In Bali, this woman taught me this Hawaiian prayer. I love you, I’m sorry, please forgive me.
What you wish everyone knew:
Saying things like, I know what you’re going through, my [fill in the blank] died of cancer. I hate hearing about people who have lost their battle to cancer even though it’s just a fact of life.
In what way can readers support breast cancer efforts:
Breast cancer is an extremely personal issue to me. As a survivor, I want to use tgin as a platform to educate women about breast health and raise awareness about the importance of being your own health advocate.
We are releasing a limited edition pink Green Tea Super Moist Leave in Conditioner, a portion of the process of which will benefit organizations like the Metropolitan Breast Cancer Task Force of Chicago, which helps un- and under-insured women to navigate the mammogram and breast cancer process. You can now find this product at select Targets and Sally Beauty Supply.
I think you also can financially support by donating to reputable organizations like the American Cancer Society and encouraging your friends and family to be vigilant about their health, when they notice something is not right.
By day, Harvard Law graduate, Chris-Tia Donaldson provides strategic legal advice to top executives at one of the world’s largest Fortune 100 companies. By night, the lawyer-turned-businesswoman is inspiring women from the south side of Chicago to South Africa to embrace healthier beauty practices through Thank God It’s Natural, her line of natural products for hair and skin, which is now available nationwide in stores such as Target, Whole Foods, and Sally’s Beauty Supply. Under Chris-Tia’s leadership, the company plans to expand into healthy snacks, cookbooks, supplements, and fitness apparel in the near future.
Chris-Tia has been featured in major media publications such as USA Today, Marie Claire, Black Enterprise, Ebony, Heart & Soul, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun Times, Detroit News, Boston Bay State Banner, as well as many other outlets throughout the country.
Her book Thank God I’m Natural: The Ultimate Guide to Caring for Natural Hair is a #1 Amazon bestseller, and was recently hailed the “Natural Hair Bible” by Essence Magazine.
For updates about Chris-Tia, follow her on: