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Tina Marie Romero of Synergy HomeCare: I Survived Cancer and Here Is How I Did It

An Interview With Savio P. Clemente

Self-love. This is the time to pamper yourself unapologetically. Treat yourself like a VIP and celebrate yourself every day. Do things that make you happy. Marie Kondo your life and eliminate things and people who don’t spark joy. Remember, you are not being selfish to focus primarily on yourself during this time. In fact, it is necessary.

Cancer is a horrible and terrifying disease. Yet millions of people have beaten the odds and beat cancer. Authority Magazine started a new series called “I Survived Cancer and Here Is How I Did It”. In this interview series, we are talking to cancer survivors to share their stories, in order to offer hope and provide strength to people who are being impacted by cancer today. As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tina Marie Romero.

Tina Marie Romero, owner and CEO of Synergy HomeCare of N Central NJ, helps seniors and individuals who need care stay safely at home while providing peace of mind to their families. Along with an MBA and MA in Diplomacy & International Relations, Tina’s passion to help seniors by providing compassionate caregivers has made her agency a gold standard for homecare. Tina grew her agency into a seven-digit business a year after she was diagnosed with breast cancer and has been consistently awarded Best of Home Care Provider of Choice.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! We really appreciate the courage it takes to publicly share your story. Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your background and your childhood backstory?

Sugarcane, everywhere. My childhood conjures up a sweet, musty smell wafting through endless rows of jointed green and brown stalks up to twenty-four feet high and long sword-shaped green leaves. I grew up in Bacolod City in the island of Negros Occidental, the Sugar Capital of the Philippines. My homeland became the first US colony after Spain ceded the Philippines for $20 million in 1898.

I lived in a modest home in a close-knit subdivision with my dad, mom, older sister, younger brother, and a rotation of relatives. Dad was a veterinarian and a serial businessman. He opened the city’s first animal hospital and agricultural supply store, among other side businesses. His example definitely ignited the entrepreneur spirit in me.

My sister and I went to an all-girls Catholic school from kindergarten all the way to high school. We all grew up with a strong US colonial mentality. We adored everything American. We watched American movies, listened to American music, idolized American celebrities, ate American food and simply worshipped anything from America. So, it was a dream come true when I moved to the US in 1996 in my quest to achieve my own American Dream.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“The purpose of this glorious life is not simply to endure it, but to soar, stumble, and flourish as you learn to fall in love with existence. We were born to live, my dear, not to merely exist.” — Becca Lee

Six years ago when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, a shift occurred that gave me laser focus clarity.

It is human nature that when faced with an imminent threat, we react. I always had an innate zest for life but the possibility of dying brought a different level of excitement and appreciation for my life.

I remember this one specific day on my way to the office from my radiation treatment. It was a brisk winter morning in February, a few days after a heavy snowstorm. It was my final week of daily radiation and my body was getting tired from the demanding combination of my gym workouts, radiation treatments and my day job growing a homecare business.

As I drove past the park I pass by every day, I stared at what seemed like something I’ve never seen before. I impulsively turned into the park and parked the car. My snow boots sunk into the deep snow as I walked into a beautiful winter wonderland I am seeing for the first time with a different set of eyes. I still remember closing my eyes, smelling the fresh cool winter air and hearing winter birds chirping.

Tears started falling down my cheeks and I was overwhelmed with gratitude for being alive, for breathing, for seeing, for hearing, for feeling the cold snow crushing between my palms as I formed a snowball. At that moment, I knew I fell deeply in love with my existence and vowed I will never take life for granted. I knew then that nothing can rob me from the joy of living, not even cancer.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about surviving cancer. Do you feel comfortable sharing with us the story surrounding how you found out that you had cancer?

Aug 28, 2015. It was a nice Friday summer evening in New York City, and I was having dinner with two childhood friends and their husbands. While in the restroom, my best friend noticed a red lump above my chest that I have not even seen before.

Timing couldn’t be better since I was scheduled for my yearly mammogram three days later. Not surprisingly, my results came back abnormal that led to a litany of tests (ultrasound, MRI, FNA) in the next two weeks.

A month after on Sept 28 at 8am, I was seated in my breast surgeon’s office to discuss my FNA (fine needle aspirate) results. It was a hectic workday since my business partner and I were flying to Arizona that evening for a franchise meeting. I walked in the Breast Center alone not concerned with what the surgeon could possibly tell me but worried of the rush hour traffic to JFK airport.

So, it is an understatement when I say I wasn’t prepared when my surgeon held my hand, looked me straight in the eye and said “As far as I’m concerned, you have breast cancer. But you’re fortunate it is early stage. This won’t slow you down.”

What was the scariest part of that event? What did you think was the worst thing that could happen to you?

This may sound weird, but the truth is I wasn’t scared at all. I did not even think of the worst thing that could happen to me. Not once did I think I wasn’t going to make it. I truly believed my surgeon when she confidently said, “This won’t slow you down.”

So, I went on with my day and my life as planned. I went to the office and shared the news to my business partner. I needed a big hug but after a brief comforting moment, we carried on with our chaotic travel day.

From my perspective, it was business as usual.

How did you react in the short term?

The remainder of that day led to a frenzy of phone calls from the surgeon’s nurses, my health insurance and primary doctor. It gave me so much reassurance that everyone moved with urgency to get things moving for me. No minute was spared to schedule more tests and biopsy needed when I returned from Arizona so my surgeon can determine if I should have a lumpectomy or mastectomy.

Twenty-four hours after I got the life altering news, I vowed to an iconic Arizona cactus pictured here, that I was going to win this breast cancer fight .

After the dust settled, what coping mechanisms did you use? What did you do to cope physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually?

The moment I made a pact to win this fight, I did everything fighting legends like Manny Pacquiao would do.

Mentally, I did NOT think of myself as a VICTIM. I never felt sorry for myself and never wanted others to feel sorry for me.

I went on with my normal life and conditioned my mind not to worry. I stayed positive and was immensely grateful that my cancer was detected early. I felt blessed to be in the US where I have the best healthcare team on my side.

Physically, I maintained my daily workout regimen and pushed harder than before. I was committed to make myself stronger than cancer. Except for a few days after surgery, I lifted weights and did cardio 5–6x a week. Later that year, I did mud races and my first Spartan Race. I felt stronger than ever physically and mentally.

Emotionally, I mindfully chose to live with joy, peace, and hope. I slowed down and listened to my heart. I was gentle to myself and did my best to also be gentle to others.

Spiritually, my faith was solid as a rock. I never felt scared and was confident God will see me through this. I went to church, prayed, journaled, talked and listened to the source of my strength. God undoubtedly gave me the will and grace I needed to get through this uncertain time in my life.

Is there a particular person you are grateful towards who helped you learn to cope and heal? Can you share a story about that?

My former business partner and best friend Tom. At the time of my diagnosis, we had only been operating for a year and still navigating the growing pains of a new business. He shielded me from being burdened by the demands of the business. His unwavering support made it easy for me to focus on my treatment and recovery. I came in and out of the office between medical appointments, whenever I needed.

Throughout my month-long daily radiation, Tom was considerate of my situation but also encouraged me to keep physically active. Since he was a personal trainer, we started training together in the gym.

Within six months after my surgery, we did a Spartan Race, Rugged Maniac and NY City Challenge. I also signed up for a CrossFit challenge. These physical challenges absolutely helped me not only to cope but to thrive and have fun. I never thought I was strong enough to do these activities.

Crushing these challenges after beating cancer was the best way to heal and I am grateful to Tom for that priceless gift. He made me realize I am stronger than I think, and that “I am living proof that what doesn’t kill me only makes me stronger.”

In my own cancer struggle, I sometimes used the idea of embodiment to help me cope. Let’s take a minute to look at cancer from an embodiment perspective. If your cancer had a message for you, what do you think it would want or say?

I heard its message to me loud and clear.

“Life is a privilege. Not everyone gets to live. In a blink of an eye, your life can change or be taken away from you. Do you get it now? Have you earned your privilege to live?”

What did you learn about yourself from this very difficult experience? How has cancer shaped your worldview? What has it taught you that you might never have considered before? Can you please explain with a story or example?

Contrary to the fear that the word “cancer” elicits, I found beauty in my own cancer journey. The thought of dying made me want nothing more than to live with meaning and purpose. I couldn’t be more grateful for my life. There is still so much I want to do, see, touch, and feel.

My worldview changed. There was urgency now to pursue my dreams and reach my full potential. One day while I was out for a run as the sun was setting beautifully, I distinctly heard a voice.

“I planted all the dreams in your heart for you to accomplish them. Your task on earth is to fulfill your dreams and reach your ultimate destination: the best version of yourself; your full potential. When you do everything you can to pursue your dreams, against all odds, you get one step closer to your fullest potential. None of your dreams are impossible. You just need to not ignore your dreams and be willing to do the work. The problem is most people refuse to acknowledge or simply ignore the dreams I planted in their hearts. They decided without even trying that their dreams are not achievable.

The fact is every day you are alive is your mechanism and opportunity to achieve your dreams. It is not easy but that’s what makes life very interesting. When time is up and your life is over, can you say with certainty that you deserved the privilege of the life given to you? Did you pursue the dreams designed for you to achieve? Did you at least try or did you waste all the moments given to you on earth to make your dreams come true? Your life could have ended but it didn’t. You get another chance to make your dreams come true and live out your full potential. What are you going to do differently now?”

How have you used your experience to bring goodness to the world?

I do my best to spread my message that breast cancer is not a death sentence; the key is early detection. Every October when we observe “Breast Cancer Awareness,” I repeatedly share on social media the importance of annual mammograms and self-checks. My outcome could have been different if I ignored the palpable tumor I felt and skipped my mammogram. It could have been too late once the cancer has spread. When diagnosed at Stage 4, the chance of survival is very slim.

I raise funds to support breast cancer awareness. I have done many fundraising events. Just last month, I joined a Fab Over 40 contest and raised more than $10k for the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

I share my story to newly diagnosed patients to give them hope and support. People don’t realize how this simple act makes a big difference.

A few weeks ago, my friend told me about her friend Maria who just got diagnosed. Maria was scared and worried. I reached out, shared my own experience, and answered all her questions. Maria saw on my social media how I am currently living my best life after cancer. This made a huge impact on her. It made her less scared and more hopeful. This is how I used my experience to bring goodness to Maria’s world.

What are a few of the biggest misconceptions and myths out there about fighting cancer that you would like to dispel?

Myth: I won’t get it if I don’t have a family history of breast cancer.

Fact: Most people diagnosed with breast cancer have no known family history. Only about

5–10% of breast cancers are believed to be hereditary, meaning they’re caused by abnormal changes or mutations in certain genes passed from parent to child. Still, if there are one or more cases of breast, ovarian or prostate cancers in your family, this is an important risk factor that should be taken seriously.

Myth: I don’t have to worry about breast cancer if I maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly, eat healthy, and limit alcohol.

Fact: Although these behaviors can help lower breast cancer risk, they can’t eliminate it.

It’s something we hear again and again from newly diagnosed women: “I eat healthy, I’m at a healthy weight, I’m active, and I barely drink. So how did I end up with breast cancer?” Yes, there is evidence that all these behaviors can help lower risk. However, they can’t guarantee you’ll never get the disease. There are so many examples of people who do everything right and still get breast cancer.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experiences and knowledge, what advice would you give to others who have recently been diagnosed with cancer? What are your “5 Things You Need To Beat Cancer? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Faith. I grew up with a strong Catholic faith and attribute my fearless approach to cancer to it. Believing in something larger than yourself is important in life changing events like cancer. It doesn’t need to be faith in God or a religion. You just need to believe in something that will give you hope and the will to fight.
  2. Mindset. Kill ANTS (automatic negative thoughts). There is no room for “ants” in cancer. Negative thoughts won’t heal your cancer but only exacerbate your compromised state of being. Cancer is beyond your control but how you handle your situation is within your control. Live with a positive mindset and a grateful heart.
  3. Support system. Surround yourself with people who love you and lift you up. Reach out to a survivor who can give you practical tips and inspire you. There is a sisterhood among survivors that can give you comfort knowing you are not alone in this journey. Do not be afraid to ask for help or support from family and friends. You’ll be amazed how much others want to help you and see you get through this.
  4. Consistent healthy habits. Eat right, sleep well, exercise often. Be mindful of what you put in your body. Choose whole foods and vegetables over processed food. Avoid sugar known to feed cancer. Keep moving and exercising to maintain a healthy weight. Get a good night’s sleep every night so you can start each day with a positive mindset and energy to exercise.
  5. Self-love. This is the time to pamper yourself unapologetically. Treat yourself like a VIP and celebrate yourself every day. Do things that make you happy. Marie Kondo your life and eliminate things and people who don’t spark joy. Remember, you are not being selfish to focus primarily on yourself during this time. In fact, it is necessary.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be?

H.O.P.E. Help One Person Everyday

I have always loved the word Hope, defined as an optimistic state of mind based on an expectation of positive outcomes with respect to events and circumstances in one’s life or the world at large.

But I loved it even more when I heard this acronym. Can you imagine what our world would be like if all of humanity helped one person every day?

It’s a simple but very powerful and doable concept. We always have the opportunity to help someone every day. It can be as simple as giving someone a compliment, opening a door for someone carrying groceries, driving an elderly neighbor to her radiation treatment, etc.

When we purposely seek an opportunity to help someone else, that simple act transforms the recipient’s day (or even their life). It creates a ripple effect of grateful people who feel blessed to be helped and want to pay it forward.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. :-)

As a female immigrant, it would be a thrill for me to have mimosas with Arianna Huffington. I am fascinated by her story. Her success is an inspiration but beyond her power and influence, I want to hear from her firsthand and be compelled to thrive, always.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

https://www.linkedin.com/in/tinamarieromero/

https://www.facebook.com/synergyhomecarepiscataway

https://www.instagram.com/synergyhomecarencnj/

https://www.synergyhomecare.com/agencies/nj/piscataway/nj14/

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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Savio P. Clemente

Savio P. Clemente

Board Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), #1 Best-selling Author, Syndicated Columnist, Podcaster, and Stage 3 Cancer Survivor