When Tyesha was diagnosed with Stage 2 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (ERPR+, HER2-) at age 34, her sons were just 15 months and six years old. As she went through chemotherapy, she remembers the difficult conversation she had to have with her six-year-old son. “He knew I’d been going to a lot of doctors’ appointments. I told him mommy doesn’t feel well but the medicine helps mommy heal. The medicine takes mommy’s hair away but it will come back.” Two years after undergoing chemotherapy and a double mastectomy, Tyesha was dealt another blow: A Stage IV diagnosis.
Her first years with this diagnosis were difficult as she struggled through relationship difficulties as well as the devastation of knowing her cancer had spread. “I asked my mom, why is my body trying to kill me? What did I do to deserve this? There were times I literally just laid on my couch in my living room and just cried. That’s the things that people don’t see. I always felt like I had to be strong, so I never allowed people to see that side of me.” A group of Tyesha’s friends, in particular, felt hurt that she wasn’t as socially active as before, failing to understand the toll that juggling metastatic breast cancer, motherhood, and work was taking on Tyesha. However, Tyesha was scared to let go of these relationships. “It was the last thing from my previous “normal” life. I was holding onto it for dear life when everything in me was telling me it was time to go.”
Tyesha continued to work on her relationships, but things just got worse. Finally, she decided it was time for a change. “2018 was hell. A 15-year relationship with my husband I’m about to let go. My job was downgraded. Literally, it felt like I was losing everything that I cherished, everything I had in my life. I even lost a 20-year friendship but that 20-year friendship was one that I needed to let go. I was holding onto all these things for dear life and I was choking myself in the meantime.”
While this period was devastating, Tyesha feels that making these changes was ultimately the best decision she could have made. “I didn’t want to go into that storm because it looked really ugly. But sometimes you have to go through that storm to get through to that other side. I promise you it’s going to be hard. but it will be so worth it when you get on the other side. My life just seemed so much brighter.”
Tyesha spent time exploring hobbies and interests that had long fallen by the wayside. “I had to find out who Tyesha was. I had catered to everybody else for so long that I had lost sight of myself… I went through this period of relearning myself, and one thing I realized is that I had not been by myself since high school. I had always had a man in my life. And I realized it’s time to find out what Tyesha loves to do. And what makes Tyesha happy.”
When Tyesha’s mother asked what she was truly passionate about, she didn’t know. A friend eventually helped her realize it was crafting, making wreaths. It then turned into creating custom t-shirts. At this point Tyesha started Just Saying Thank You (justsayingthankyou.com), a site for cancer patients and their loved ones to find meaningful and affordable gifts to show support for one another. The site also offers wellness products to help cancer patients manage side effects with essential oils and organic products. Tyesha is currently working on developing a chemotherapy care package at a lower cost point than the $60-plus dollar offerings she typically sees.
Tyesha recently had to have another difficult conversation with her now 15-year-old son, often referred to as “The Talk” in the African American community, as he prepared to get his driver’s license. “He’s one that will just do something without really thinking. He might just be talking to them [a cop] and reach over for his cell phone and see its ringing. I had to tell him that you literally can’t reach for anything. It was a lot.” This happened just one week before George Floyd suffocated as a police officer knelt on his body. In the period that followed, Tyesha started seeing posts and comments from Facebook friends that were hurtful and confusing. “I had to remove some people…I had discussions with others. One Facebook friend had made a comment about the whole Black Lives Matter movement and I had to explain to her why people are frustrated. This is something we have had to deal with for generations.”
Trying to advocate for both the black and metastatic breast cancer communities (Tyesha also has a Facebook group called “Living the Pink Life”) while working and raising two sons is a monumental and impressive undertaking, and Tyesha credits her faith and family for helping her move forward with strength and resolve. Thank you, Tyesha, for sharing your amazing journey to help us see that even at our lowest point, there is always hope for a brighter day and for serving as an advocate for change and understanding in both your communities.