FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and as the Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer turns the town pink, survivors are sharing their stories.
Tina Conrad is both a breast cancer survivor, and the daughter of a two-time breast cancer survivor. She was diagnosed at 37 years old and underwent chemotherapy, radiation, reconstruction, and a double mastectomy.
“It definitely changes things when you’re a young cancer patient, obviously they want to do the most aggressive treatments because they want you to have the longest opportunity for life,” she said.
Conrad’s mom, Della, who is now 20 years cancer-free, took her daughter’s diagnosis hard.
“She felt, like, a guilt associated with it and it really surfaced early in my diagnosis,” said Conrad. “We really had a conversation that was open, honest, and transparent, and I said I can’t worry about you worrying about me worrying about you – we have to put all of our energy into me getting well.”
So they did.
“She really was everything I needed as a mentor, a cheerleader, a mom, a listening ear. Because she got it, she understood what it was like.”
After her diagnosis, and with her mother’s example of “grit and grace through cancer and life,” Tina Conrad -an admitted optimist- found something within herself .
“I found a new purpose and really highlighted that I needed a legacy and it was really important to me to make a difference in this world,” she said. “I had such a unique experience with having my mom be a mentor to me, but I was really concerned for all these other women who had nobody. So I really wanted to be this sorts of inspiration and really help women along on their journeys.”
That lead her to start a podcast, DJ Breast Cancer, in which she tells her story and invites survivors and those battling the disease to share their own stories. Each episode also features a tip to help someone in their own journey.
“Now I’ve invited 100s of guests on, I have 100 episodes and it’s really been a meaningful and a great way to give back to the community,” said Conrad. “I keep it hopeful, but real. They’re going through difficult times, and sometimes it’s just empathizing. If I can help one person it makes their journey a little lighter.”
Conrad says she can’t emphasize enough the importance of a support system, and encourages anyone battling cancer to seek one out.
This year she also had a book of poems published. The book is called “From C to C,” it’s a journey through cancer and Covid-19. Conrad says she wants to help people feel like they’re not alone in this world.
“I started writing during my breast cancer diagnosis, honestly days after my diagnosis, and I found that with Covid a lot of these feelings came back. Feelings of isolation, and you can’t leave your house, and you’re scared about your health. All of these triggers that came back, and so one day I was walking and I heard this whisper to put them all in a book together.”
All of the proceeds from the book sales go to the Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer, which holds events and fundraisers to raise money for breast cancer research. Tina says the events, like Turn the Town Pink, are significant and beautiful. Each ribbon you see downtown, in a neighborhood, or hanging in a business, is in honor or memory of a loved one.
“The ribbons mean mean options, research and hope,” said Conrad. These ribbons really are a way of trying to get more options and time with their families and really for the next generation that we have hope.”
Conrad and her husband also work for Vera Bradley. She’s been there 6 years, and says it was important for her to find a company whose values matched hers.
“It’s ingrained in our culture to give back to breast cancer. Breast cancer is top of mind.”
Throughout Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Tina says awareness “is huge,” and it starts with you. She encourages all women to get regular screenings and always be aware of changes to your body.
Throughout October, the Vera Bradley Foundation is turning the town pink. People can make a donation to get pink ribbons to display at their home or business.