[HER Voice: A Survivor’s Story] Entrepreneur Timea Gaines Shares How She Fought Breast Cancer and Won
In the past, I’ve thought about featuring a breast cancer survivor during October for breast cancer awareness month but have always decided against it. I never wanted to randomly reach out to, or solicit, a stranger to talk to me (also a stranger) about such a personal journey. Fast forward to a few months ago when catching up with one of my endeared business boos, Timea Gaines, only to learn that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015. I knew we’d eventually end up talking about her journey…about how the diagnosis came at such a great time in her life and career and how cancer rocked her to the core. I also knew we’d talk about how she beat the hell out of it because I knew Timea and Timea is a fighter. I was right. Check out our in-depth girl talk about how she fought breast cancer and won below.
Keyauna: First, for those who probably won’t dig back so far in 2014 and look at the earlier She Rock’s interview, give a little bit of background of how you got into, number one, PR, and secondly, She Rock‘s itself.
Timea: Oh wow, I would say it was a double accident. I never intended to go into public relations at all. That wasn’t my track. I thought I was going to go into hard news, broadcast journalism, be a writer, more on that vein. I had an internship requirement that I had to fulfill for college, and so my school president at the time was like ‘you have to find an internship’. I emailed and called every radio station, TV station, newspaper you could think of, and Sheila Stewart from Radio One DC hit me back, and was like ‘come in for an interview’. She kind of took me underneath her wing and the rest is history as far as that’s concerned. She taught me so much about the industry, the communications industry overall. While I was there, it was me and maybe two other interns, we were invited to be PR assistants on a red carpet movie premiere.”
I’m like, oh my gosh, this is a big deal, and I fell in love with PR. I learned so much about the industry, how things are pulled together, how publicity is pulled together. I fell in love with it, so I started there. I started with PR and got pulled in on different projects. Came in under S & S Marketing, which was Sheila’s firm at the time, and the rest is history. I moved more towards marketing because I loved that as far as communications was concerned. I had a love overall for the industry, but I wanted to change the way that brands were seen visually, how they marketed themselves, and how they were able to resonate with their target audience. From that angle, I grew more towards marketing, and strategic communications. That’s how I got into PR.
As far as the whole She Rocks event is concerned, literally, my company started off as a blog site. A blog site covering people positive media. I felt like there wasn’t enough attention being brought to positive projects. Me and one of my colleagues from Morgan at the time, were covering the Gospel Music Channel Steller Awards, which are now on TV. I was just like, woman’s history month is coming up, we need to do something for woman’s history month. Maybe a documentary, highlighting some of the influential women throughout DC, Maryland, and Virginia. When I began to do the research, as you do with any project that you’re about to leap into, I found out that less than 20 percent of women artists at the time across the world were being showcased, or featured, in Smithsonian’s and museums across the world, and that’s a problem. Then I thought about it, and I said I’m tired of women being undermined, or being told that they’re not good enough, just for being a woman. You play the guitar good for a woman, you do this good for a woman. Women are just as capable, as dominating, and really soaring in male dominated industries. We need to be recognized for that. There are so many women who are talented in the visual arts business that need to be brought to the forefront. They are kind of the underdogs. I want their peers to see them and celebrate them. I said forget a documentary, I’m going to throw an event. I’m going to call it She Rocks, because she does, and I want women to celebrate women. I want people to come out and see these women. I want them to be given a platform to showcase their art. I even saw women in corporate America who were great, I mean amazing visual artists, and they weren’t being celebrated.
They felt like it’s no platform for this, or this doesn’t really get that much attention. I’m like, it does, you’re talented, and you need to be seen. I threw the first event in the basement of my parent’s church. I didn’t know how I was going to pull it together, but I did, and people were calling me that day, like I’m trying to buy tickets but it’s sold out. I’m like what do you mean, how? How is it sold out, I don’t understand? After that event, people were just requesting it, and then they said we need something like this, and it’s so necessary. The second year I stepped out on stage, and said okay to my dream venue was out the budget, without the money to do it, I just felt like everything’s still going to come together and it did. We’ve been doing it ever since. Next year will be the fifth year for SheRocks.
Keyauna: Wow. I’m happy to say that I was able to be a part of year two, I think it was year two. I was just starting to cover events, and all the events that we cover are selective. We cover events that we can get behind, and that our readers will enjoy reading about. Our readers are mostly women between the age of 18 and 44. When I was looking at events to cover that I thought would be interesting, I was like this looks fun. It said 2nd annual, and when I looked at some of the stuff, the footage and the media from the 1st annual event, it was very appealing for the reasons you just said. It was actually neat to me, because I hadn’t seen anything like it before, which is very smart of you. We’re not celebrated, women in the arts, not celebrated the way that we should be. It was really refreshing to see and I think that’s what made people gravitate towards it.
Timea: Yeah, I’m just so excited that I went with my gut, and I did what I really love to do. It’s not always east pursuing your dreams, but a lot of times it’s necessary. It’s necessary not only for you, but for other people as well.
Keyauna: I was going to say that next, because the people that you’ve empowered through SheRocks is another whole thing. It’s one thing to pursue your dreams, and to expose your company and do things that feel good to you. The people who are impacted by that, I was there year two, like I said, and to be able to see people who were acknowledged, who were celebrated. The warmth in the room, was something that I’ve never forgotten. Everybody was sticking together, and celebrating each other, and supporting each other, and it was just a great thing. As you said, following your dreams sometimes is way bigger than you.
Keyauna: As amazing as an event that SheRocks is, there’s so much put into it, and I know you put so much of yourself into it, as far as your personal time, your energy, your resources, and that’s not always easy. Talk a little bit about what it takes to pull off something like that.
Timea: Wow, where do I begin? I would definitely say that you need perfect partners for sure, and the reason that I say that is because during the first year that I did SheRocks, I was a small blog site. I was trying to handle everything on my own, and even though I pulled in volunteers and people to help, I didn’t realize the weight of my dreams. I didn’t realize how big it really was, until I saw it manifest. By year two, three, four, it was like, I need people who share the same vision that I do to help me to pull this together. Even though we can do certain things as women, that doesn’t mean we should do all of it. I often say that if your body doesn’t work, your dream won’t either. A lot of times, we try to handle everything, and we become super exhausted, and we over exert ourselves.
I learned early on that the first thing it was going to take to pull the event together would be to pull a team of purpose partners together who understood the vision, and who had qualities, or possessed qualities and strengths that I may not have been as strong in, or I may have been able to do, but they were an expert in. I began to pull my team together, slowly but surely, through the years, and that, I would say, that was definitely the first component. The second is definitely making sure that you reach out to others to help to fund your vision, because everything I was doing in the beginning, also, I was pulling out of my own resources, and pockets. I would tell women, whenever putting together an event of that magnitude, you have to use your innovative resourcefulness. What I mean by that, is where there is no way, you have to figure out how to make a way, so that it can come together the way that you intend for it to come together. I learned early on, that instead of me pulling, or putting all the financial burden on my company, it was very important for me to figure out ways that I can partner with other women in business, to help expose them, while also allowing there to be funding for what it is I was trying to do, because essentially, It wasn’t just for me, it was so that other women can be recognized. The joy that I would say I got in it, was the fact that other women were other to share their gifts, but I would definitely say perfect partners, innovative resourcefulness, and writing your vision out, writing your plan out.
I would kind of be myself, like a new age creative genius. I’m creative, especially millennials, we’re all over the place. We like being in our notes, or on napkins, or on whatever we find. That’s how we think, that’s how we brainstorm. Wherever we are, wherever our ideas, our bursts, that’s where we write them down, or put them on paper. I realized how important organization was for those ideas, so as I began to write them down, I would get a passion planner, a planner that I could use, to kind of sort out the different stages and phases of the event. What it was going to take. For my events, I typically feel was the artists, make sure that VIP’s are taken care of, email correspondence are sent out, logistics are kind of ran smoothly. In order for me to keep all that stuff on top of my mind, I have to be able to write it down. I would say those are some of the key things that it takes to do the event, and pull it together, the way that I have.
Keyauna: One key thing you just said was about the partners, and the people that you work with here, your purpose people, so to speak. I’m sure that came into play so much more, based on your diagnosis, and the things you had to do personally thereafter. All in the midst of planning, and doing what you do. Talk about the pain in your life that happened over the last year or so, and how having those people around you made things better.
Timea: Oh, wow. I would say my purpose partners, and the people on my team, as far as on a personal level is concerned, I’ll take the publicist, for example. Nikki Osea, me and Nikki I was actually working with her as a marketing coordinator for another event, and at the time that I was diagnosed, she was there through the process. There are a lot of things that I had a burden of, just in trying to pull and stay above water as a woman in business, you’re always worried about how am I going to maintain the exposure, how am I going to balance interviews, how am I going to balance my schedule, and there were just different things, where she would hit me up and call me. She would say if there’s anything you need, I got it. Keeping me in character as a woman in business, constantly reminding me of the powers that I possessed as a entrepreneur and as a super hero.
Women, we have this ability to be able to multitask and things like that, and we can wear multiple hats but sometimes it gets to be too much. I feel like having those people there and those partners there, it helps to balance you out and that’s what it did for me through the process where while going through my process privately, I was able to really delegate responsibility, but also to have partners there who said ‘look, this is your dream, and regardless of where you are in life right now, we’re going to help you make it come to pass’. That was something that was major for me, and I would say that’s the biggest way, just keeping me encouraged, and helping to take on some of the weight, and then just balancing me out during the process so I wasn’t stressed, so I didn’t feel like my dream would fail, even though my body failed me at the time.
Keyauna: When were you diagnosed with breast cancer, you kept it private while you were going through it, which is completely understandable. After you put it out there on Instagram, I had no idea this was going on, but what I did take from it immediately, was the triumph, and your attitude, your gratefulness, it just resonated. I was reading it, and seeing some of your posts, I was just super encouraged, just from any standpoint, I think people don’t understand. For you, it was breast cancer, but for someone else, it could be a different thing. Either way, there was the story of triumph. I really want to talk about your journey, as much as you are willing to.
Timea: Yeah, absolutely. When I got the call, I was…first of all, going back to when I had the original biopsy done, I was on the phone negotiating bills for a national event for my location and I was just like, what do you need to make happen. I was so used to having my phone connected to me, I’m getting sponsors, partnerships, still doing this, while feeling exhausted, and when I felt exhausted, I thought ‘I just had a SheRocks event, I’m just tired, I’ve overworked myself, whatever’. I had no idea of the diagnosis that was about to come my way. I was 27, it was August of last year, I had just come back from Miami, I was at a peak in my life. I had another successful sold out event, I’m just like life is great. Then to get that news, and for me to be the age that I was at the time, and I’m still young, but going through that and then being told of the possibility of how it may affect different aspects of your life, it was an eye opening experience. It was very difficult, not just for me, but for my family and for those who really cared about me. It was just like I cannot believe that this is my reality right now, I can’t believe this is my life, but I don’t have to make it my life. I feel like a lot of times when people hear illness, or cancer, or things of that nature, they automatically think death, or terminal and it doesn’t have to be. I knew that how I conditioned my mind, and my behavior patterns internally, would play a part on how my body reacted internally. How I dressed and looked would have an impact on how I felt internally. Even if I was going … My mom used to be like, why are you getting dressed up to go to chemo? It was because I still wanted to look good, I still wanted to look like something, because when I look like something, I feel like something. I didn’t want people to treat me like I was like sick. I didn’t want people to treat me as if my life was falling apart, because I was determined that it wouldn’t.
It was a difficult process. I had to go through chemo, I had to go through radiation. There were times I remember so vividly. I had really bad itching because of one of the chemo medications and it’s like you’re itching all over your body, you have hives. You cannot control it. No medicine, nothing will help it, but steroids. It was that bad and you want to pull your skin off. I’m on the floor, crying, ice packs all over my body, really in torment. Imagine being tormented, and there’s nothing you can do about it because it’s internal, and you can’t control it. I would be in urgent care constantly and I remember having to force myself to take cold showers, just crying, tears streaming down my face, like I can’t live like this. I can’t do this another day, and I remember there were days I could not get out of bed, I couldn’t move.
I had over 20 plus medications. My mom had to give me shots in my stomach every single morning. It was crazy. I remember looking at her through the shower window, like I can’t do this anymore; wanting to give up at that point. Some days I felt like this may just be my last breath, this may be my last day, but I was determined that I wasn’t going to allow it to take me because I heard this quote “your mind arrives a destination before your life does”. I knew that if I wanted my life to end up on the other side, and by on the other side I mean being healed, being successful, having the life that I envisioned for myself, I had to place my mind there. That’s what I did, and this year in February I was declared cancer free, they were looking at my ultrasound, like we don’t see anything here, what is going on, we don’t see anything here. They had to call several doctors, and they proceeded to do surgery anyway and when the surgeon went in she came out and spoke to my mom, my dad, and my best friend, and said we went in and there was nothing there. They were so shocked because the size of my tumor was so huge, that the amount of chemo that they had to do was only supposed to reduce the tumor.
Keyauna: It was supposed to reduce, not go away?
Timea: Not go away. They were so shocked that my doctor said they had to present my case in front of a board of specialists and doctors, who work on this type of stuff, because my case was very rare. I said you know what it’s not rare, it’s a miracle. I remember somebody telling me that miracles don’t happen where they’re needed, they happen where they’re expected and I expected a miracle, so I got one.
Keyauna: Wow. You said you were diagnosed last August, you have now had a SheRocks event since your diagnosis, and since February, when you were told that there was no more cancer in sight. How important was SheRocks this year, to make it happen again, through your struggles, through your triumphs, and to stand on the red carpet, stand in the midst of your event, doing what you’ve done a few years ago, but I’m sure with a different feeling, a different level of gratitude. How was that experience?
Timea: After having to push through, and get everything done, it definitely was a rewarding feeling, but it was more important because I really saw how the purpose of others is important to my survival. When you have something that you are passionate about, something that you believe in, it causes a fire to be placed under your behind so to speak. I was so passionate about the event, that for me, it was like this has to happen, this has to work.
Timea: Yeah, and I said I want other women to know that no matter what adversity you face, no matter what you’re going through, you can make it through that and accomplish your dreams, and slay your day, and make it through some of your toughest trials, and see your dreams come to pass. We get discouraged, a lot of people in business, especially women in business, we don’t talk about when our bank accounts are in the red, we don’t talk about when our businesses are low, and we don’t know how we’re going to make next month work. We don’t talk about when we finally want to give up and throw in the towel, because those things are frowned upon. We want to look like superwoman in front of everybody else.
Keyauna: All the time.
Timea: We don’t want to be honest about with the process. It lit a fire under my butt. So it’s a rewarding feeling that you get, knowing that your passion is being produced after you’ve experienced the fire. That is the best way for me to say it, that’s the best way for me to answer the question. It’s knowing that everything that you fought for is actually happening before your eyes, it’s actually coming to pass. I worked harder on garnering sponsorship, and partnerships. Not to mention sponsors that backed out last minute. I didn’t know how certain things were going to come together, but I said this has to happen for the women, I don’t care what I have to do to make it happen, it’s going to happen.
It was the fight of it all, that was beautiful. It was the fight of really going through the process, and saying no matter how things look, no matter where this event is right now it’s going to happen, it has to happen. No matter how sick I feel, it’s going to happen, no matter how things look, it’s going to happen. That’s really what changed my process and that’s really what produced a passion on the inside of me to keep going. That’s really what made it memorable, the fact that I was able to fight through and make things happen for other women. I wanted them to see that no matter what they’re experiencing you can get through it too.
Keyauna: What would you tell the woman who’s dealing with breast cancer, or diabetes, or anything else in life? Maybe someone passed away right in the midst of their joyful moment, their peak? The things that we deal with in life as human beings, sometimes they come at times when it just doesn’t make any sense. You’re at your peak, you’re floating, you’re riding and then boom.
Timea: You know what I would say? It may be your circumstance, but it’s not your destination. We go through situations and circumstances in life that are not favorable, that are not fun, that may be devastating, that may be really discouraging, but even through our circumstances weren’t built for us to win, or it doesn’t look like we’re going to thrive there, it does not have to be our destination. We decide where our lives end up. We decide where our purpose will take us. My pain catapulted me to my place of destiny. So even though you may be in a place…whether it’s a woman who just got diagnosed with any form of cancer, or just got laid off her job, or who got kicked out of grad school, or failed business, I would tell them number one, remember it may be your circumstance but it’s not your destination.
Also, for them to remember that regardless of how tough it seems, there is something that my dad says that sticks with me no matter where I go, and he said, faith produces victory when you carry your corner. A lot of us, we have to learn how to carry the weight of our dreams. We want that baby to be birthed, we want our vision, our passions, our lives to be this great awesome thing, but we don’t want prevail for it. We don’t want to go through the labor process. I think about a mother who’s in labor, it’s the same way with your dreams and visions and goals. There’s a time frame where you’re carrying your dream, and you have to labor for it. What does that mean? You have to work for it, you got to go through some things. There’s going to be some difficulty that you face, but if you’re not willing to labor for it, then are you really ready for the birth of this child? You may conceive the ideas, but how are you laboring for what you’re about to produce? Think about it. If you for example, if there’s someone who desires to go back to grad school, or there’s someone who even desires to start a business, and things look dim, or they have already done those things, and things look dim, do you really deserve the success if you can’t go through the failure? I don’t know one success story that doesn’t have “I failed”. You show me one, and I will be floored. There’s always a fail in every success story. Everything that you experience, you have to go through that to be tried. You have to go through that so you can prove to the universe, so you can prove to your God. You prove to others, I deserve to be here because I fought for it. I deserve to be here because I’m willing to put in the work when nobody else is. We can’t enjoy the fruits of our labor if we don’t labor.
Keyauna: Exactly, anything worth having is worth fighting for. If that is your dream, and it’s worth it to you, and it is something that you wake up and go to bed thinking about every night, how do you not work for that? How do you not put in the energy and the labor for that?
Timea: You know what someone told me, excuses don’t explain and explanations don’t excuse. There is no excuse that you can give me, to tell me why you cannot do something. It’s not that you cannot, you choose not to.
Keyauna: Exactly, because it got too hard. We actually won the blog award, 2015 Entertainment Award at the Black Weblog Awards.
Keyauna: Thank you. We got to actually accept the award recently, right here in DC. I actually put off blogging twice. I almost started up my blog twice in the last 10 years, and I stopped. All these different reasons and these things…I didn’t have time, I was in school, and all these things. I could not go to sleep, or wake up without thinking about creating a platform where I could express myself, and I can invite others to do the same. I’m a chatterbox, I have an opinion about everything. I found myself not being able to go to sleep, or wake up without thinking about it. I finally said okay, if you go to bed and wake up like that everyday, why are you not doing it? As you said, there are no excuses. You do it. If it’s something that’s inside of you…I hate to see people that leave this earth, leave this life, without at least attempting to go after the things that they love. That’s part of our purpose here.
Woman to woman, entrepreneur to entrepreneur, I am so proud of you. To have a story…because I know a person, who always wants to tell everybody what to do. I won’t say I don’t listen to that person but it was difficult because she never did anything that made her seem like a person to listen to. She never learned how to drive, she didn’t have any children, she didn’t get married, she never really took risks or did anything difficult. Her life is kind of in a box. That’s fine for her, but what I learned, is that unless you experience something, it’s very hard… I won’t say to tell other people, but it’s a different tone, it’s a different feel. When you’re talking to somebody that’s been through some stuff, and they’re telling you ‘listen, this is what happened to me and this is how you need to deal with it. This is how you get through’, with encouraging words, and words that matter and have depth to them, it’s just another whole thing.
I just think the depth, through your triumphs, the depth of your life has become even deeper. Everything is way more important, everything matters so much more for you and then for those who you impact. You have the ability to impact so many people.
Timea: I’m blessed to have been able to connect with so many people through this journey. People from as far as Germany, to the Virgin Islands, just reaching out and seeing how this story has impacted them. I have to keep going, and I thank you for the platform to continue to share my story, so that other people can be inspired.
To connect with Timea and learn how she’s helping other survivors triumph over breast cancer, go to TimeaG.com.