image of Breast Cancer Survivor Tina Herring that links to the feature on her in the Daily News Think Pink Special Section that's sponsored by UTMB Health

'Every day you have to choose to live'

Positivity and a small group of supportive friends helped Tina through her cancer journey

Image of Jill Resendez and Tina Herring in front of gold back drop during the 2022 BRA Day event on the League City Campus

In October 2020, while everyone was trying to avoid COVID, Tina Herring was told she had the other “C” word — cancer.

She was diagnosed at the peak of the pandemic, which meant no one was allowed to accompany her to treatments. And she chose not to share her diagnosis with family members, who already had lost so much to the disease.

“This forced me to rely on my faith,” she said.

 When the pandemic closed her church, Herring hosted a weekly prayer call with the women of the congregation. What she didn’t know is that she was preparing herself for the fight of her life.

The scriptures she studied for the call became her weapon, she said, and she would remind herself of the promises of God multiple times a day.

“And on some of my worst days, I would dance to Lizzo’s ‘Good as Hell,’” she said. “That song says ‘Baby, how you feeling? Feeling good as hell,’ so I would tell myself just that and dance and laugh, loudly!

“So often we hear the word cancer, and we prepare ourselves to die,” she said. “I decided to do the opposite and prepare myself to live.”

Herring showed up to her appointments dressed to the nines because, “I didn’t want to look like what I was going through,” and she made certain to keep life as normal as possible for her son, who had lost his father to cancer.

“I wanted him to see that I was living with cancer, not dying with it,” she said.

To keep her mind occupied, she got into an MBA program and earned her master’s degree.

Herring, a financial analyst at the University of Texas Medical Branch, had no symptoms. There was no discoloration on her breast, no rippled skin, no discharge. No lumps that she was aware of. It was a routine checkup that revealed the cancer.

From having her port installed, her breast removed and numerous reconstructive surgeries, she’s been to the operating room “so many times that I have lost count.” But a positive mindset got her through her journey.

“Every day you have to choose to live, and you have to empower yourself and you have to do that while you’re vomiting and losing your hair,” she said. “But you have to tell yourself that you’re worth it. And then you have to understand that it’s OK to not be OK.

“Especially as women, we’re supposed to be strong and we think that we have to hold everything together,” she said. “And that is totally the opposite of what God says. It is when we are weak that God can show us his strength. It is when we let go that God can take control.”

Herring decided not to make broad announcements about her journey. Instead, she told only a few close friends.

“I went through it privately, but not alone,” she said. “It’s important to surround yourself with the right people. You’ll hear people say, ‘Oh, my sister had it and she died.’

“Don’t take ownership of somebody else’s story,” she said. “Whatever you believe about yourself, that is what you are. I had to constantly channel my thoughts and stay off the internet.”

Dr. Colleen Silva, a professor and the medical director of Breast Health at UTMB Health, and Dr. Julie Park, a professor and the director of the UTMB Health Breast Reconstruction program, oversaw Herring’s care and treated her with respect, and they listened, she said.

“That was not always the case with other medical professionals throughout this process,” she said. “There were some instances that I was treated like I was less than, and I didn’t matter.

“Dr. Park always listened to my concerns and answered my questions,” she said. “She always encouraged me and cheered me on. I do not think I would have gone through this intense reconstruction process with anyone else.”

Herring reminds women that breast cancer isn’t a death sentence — unless you decide not to do something about it. She advises them to “show up” for themselves.

“Get your boobies checked! Early detection is the best detection, and cancer is not a death sentence,” she said. “I am living proof.”

View the print story

This feature first ran as a story in the  2022 Think Pink special section of the Daily News. You can view the full  publication online.

Herring's story was also covered in a recent feature with Community Impact.