Breast cancer survivor creates support group for women of color

By Juan Diasgranados
NABJ Black News & Views

It was 2015, and Tiah Tomlin-Harris was living her best life. Every other weekend Tomlin-Harris was traveling around the country visiting her friends and having a good time.

“I noticed in the current moment that I was existing but not living so I decided to make a life change and spend more quality time with family and friends,” she said. “One weekend I was in New Orleans, and then I was in the Bahamas, and I just wanted to do this for myself.”

Survivors come together to hang out at a paint party.

One night Tomlin-Harris was preparing to head to a networking event with a friend. As she always does, Tomlin-Harris conducted a self-breast examination in the shower. But unlike past self-examinations, this time she felt a lump.

“Immediately, it just took my breath away. I knew without a doubt it was cancer. What else could it have been?” she asked.

After several tests and doctors’ visits, Tomlin-Harris’ instinct was right. At 38 years old, she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer called triple negative.

“I remember that day clearly. I’m weeping and crying, my thoughts are all over and I wondered if I was going to live or was I going to die,” she said. “And that day God spoke to me… He said you can sit here and wallow in it or you can get up and fight. So, I decided I was going to fight.”

Tomlin-Harris started looking for support groups for encouragement.

“I went to some support groups, but when I arrived, I noticed nobody in the room looked like me. I’m young, I’m black, and they couldn’t answer the questions I had,” she said.

She then went to social media. But that wasn’t any better. She said the posts were very sad and depressing. That’s when she decided she would start her own support group targeted specifically for black women.

These are some of the ladies who are a part of the ambassador team.

“Cancer isn’t going anywhere. So my mission was to create a safe space and help women thrive and overcome the disease,” she said.

And she did. Her non-profit My Style Matters, provides a safe space where black women could connect, share and support each other.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), women from all races are diagnosed with breast cancer at about the same rate, however, black women are 40 percent more likely to die from the disease.

My Style Matters has been around since 2017. Tomlin-Harris recently started educating and recruiting teenage ambassadors so that these girls can go back into their communities and promote the benefits of early detection and treatment.

This warrior had lost her job while undergoing treatment and was living in a hotel with 6 kids. Tomlin-Harris provides survivor with Nutribullet to stay healthy.

Through her non-profit, Tomlin-Harris also puts on “Hey girl, Hey parties,” where she comes into people’s homes and educates women on breast cancer awareness. She recently hosted a Breast Health Educational workshop with Jackson State college students where many of them were unaware of the signs and detections of breast Cancer.

“I come in, I join the girls and we talk about breast health. I see it as a sisterhood,” she said.

It’s a sisterhood that has reached across the country.

Marie Hogan lives in Memphis and was diagnosed with Breast Cancer in 2016. While Hogan was undergoing treatment, she wanted to find a support group to uplift her and keep her positive.

“I joined a local group in my city, but I was the only African American woman in the group,” Hogan says.

She says she connected with Tomlin-Harris through a mutual friend and joined My Style Matters. And to her it was the best decision she ever made. Hogan says the information she was getting from previous support groups did not address the barriers, cultural needs, and treatment side effects she was experiencing.

“While I’m still a part of my Memphis group, My Style Matters took it to another level,” Hogan said. “It was refreshing to see people who looked like me, and had the same type of diagnosis as me, and I was able to learn about different treatment therapies, disparities and experimental programs on the horizon.”

Survivors, who some of a part of the sisterhood, while others were learning more about the support group.

After eight rounds of chemotherapy, surgery and 34 rounds of radiation, Tomlin-Harris is now cancer free. But for her, the fight continues.

“I tell the women the battle starts in the mind,” said Tomlin-Harris. “No sister walks this journey alone.”

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