The spirited and soulful R&B Soul singer and 2012 StarQuest semi-finalist, Tarsha Rodgers was diagnosed with Stage 2B breast cancer shortly after her performance at the Taste of Soul Family Festival. In the process of her treatments, Tarsha continuously has relied on the grace of God, family support and her love for music to help heal the wounds of going through chemo therapy.
With a grateful heart, Tarsha shares her bout with breast cancer and her triumphant recovery process with the Los Angeles Sentinel family.
Maleena Lawrence (Los Angeles Sentinel): Flashing back, can you share what it was like for you to perform on the inaugural StarQuest stage?
Tarsha Rodgers: I remember performing in a booth at Taste of Soul the prior year and I had such a good time that I really wanted to perform on a stage. So, I googled “Taste of Soul” and up popped StarQuest. I went down to the audition on a rainy day and I auditioned with a song by Natalie Cole, “Our Love”. My mother made me perform that song when I was 7 years old at school. Finally, I got a callback to let me know I made it! I appeared on the Channel 4 news before the actual Taste of Soul. I remember, Kim Whitley was hosting and she liked voice and my shoes. As I mingled my way back to the stage to hear them announce the winners, Beau Williams and Adrian Battle I remember being so excited just to be a part of something so huge.
LAS: What kind of doors opened up for you after your debut StarQuest performance?
TR: During and after StarQuest, I continued to perform at different venues. I opened up for Chrisette Michele at the Key Club. I produced my own R&B show and as a direct result from StarQuest, The Sentinel called me to sing at the BET Experience. I am so grateful to Mr. Bakewell, Yvette and the LA Sentinel.
LAS: When you performed at StarQuest, were you working on your first album or a single?
TR: I had two singles done but only one was out on iTunes called, Ocean Breeze Love. Now fast forward to today and I have completed a whole record entitled, Still I Rise. I have been working on this forever! This is an accomplishment. Still I Rise is also the name of my upcoming single and it’s my response to this breast cancer that I been going through.
LAS: Share more about how you began taking your singing career serious?
TR: The desire for music always tugged at me. Initially, I did not start singing professionally until late 2010. I was strictly singing at somebody’s wedding, funeral or church. When I was a teenager, I was in a couple of girl groups. As an adult, I moved up the corporate ladder in Human Resources. I love my job. In the back of my mind I always felt like I wanted more, then I stepped out on faith with my music.
I invested in some nice home studio equipment that coincided with one of my producers. It really makes it easier for me that I have my home studio. I like to hear the music first then I start writing. I can sit home, heal and send files over of my tracks to my producers when I’m done.
LAS: What is the inspiration behind your titled single, Still I Rise?
TR: My single Still I Rise is tied into breast cancer and all that I am going through. Right now I am going through chemo. I am still pushing myself not to let this character win, still working and no matter what “I fight to win—soar like an eagle” and keep going. The single is a little pop and overall the record is a little bit of everything. The title song serves everybody. Anything can be an obstacle. You can get around it and rise above it. October is National Breast Cancer Month. The targeted release date for Still I Rise is on October 21, 2014.
LAS: Tarsha, When were you actually diagnosed with breast cancer?
TR: I first found the lump in my breast in 2012. When we (my Mom, sister and I) felt the lump we dismissed it. I want readers who hear my story to know that if something is wrong, go see about it. I am a walking miracle because my sister had breast cancer at the age of 29 and is a six year survivor. In thinking back, I probably had the lump when I was on the StarQuest stage. In September 2013, I got really sick with pneumonia bronchitis. Then, on Dec. 13, 2013, I went to have a mammogram and the doctor said I was fibrocystic but not to be concerned. When the results came back it showed something different. The doctors saw fatty tissue on my lung scan. Again, I was told not to worry. Yet, the biopsy confirmed it. On January 17, 2014 I was officially diagnosed with breast cancer.
LAS: What happened after your diagnosis was confirmed?
TR: Initially, I was devastated. I allowed myself to have a “Why Me” pity party for a few days. Afterwards, I said, “this is not a death sentence, you can fight this”. God was giving me my wake up call when I had pneumonia. I started doing research and goggling doctors. There was a doctor on the Dr. Oz’s show named Dr. Dennis Holmes. He does a lot of innovative and up to date things related to treating women with breast cancer. When he examined me, he said, “You can beat this”.
LAS: Were you able to save your breast?
TR: Prior to surgery, after my doctor checked both breast, my left breast was good, my right breast had the lump and my nipple was full of cancer cells as well so I decided to have a mastectomy (the surgical removal of one or both breast) of my right breast with reconstruction all in one surgery. I discovered my cancer was hormone triggered so I had to make some dietary changes. Removing the whole breast was the best option.
Also, It’s always key to know if you have cancer in your lymph nodes because if there is at least one infected lymph nodes you will have to have chemo. They removed 17 lymph nodes and I had cancer in three of them. Everything was removed. Due to the size of the tumor and where the cancer was located they considered that I had Stage 2B breast cancer.
LAS: As a Stage 2B breast cancer patient, what is your treatment regimen?
TR: With stage 2B I needed six rounds of chemotherapy. I have a high tolerance for pain. I breezed through surgery and my treatments are every three weeks. I am half way through my treatments now. My resolve to keep going is strong. I had my surgery on a Friday and that next Friday I was performing for a charity event. People asked, was I crazy? It’s how I dealt with it and keeps me from falling apart. In terms of chemo, I am fine because I am on steroids. After the initial two days, I am wiped out for a few days, taste buds gone then progressively my energy level returns.
During chemo treatment, I am using what is called Penguin Cold Caps. Most people do not know about this. It’s a lot of work. I have not lost one ounce of hair using this. Every 30 minutes my husband, mother and father work as a team to wrap the minus 30 degree cap around my head like a helmet while I’m getting my chemo infusions, and four additional hours after chemo therapy is over. The benefit is that I don’t loose an ounce of my hair. If I did not use the caps by now I would be completely bald.
LAS: Wow, how are you doing? And where does your music fit into your life during this time in your life?
TR: I have to keep talking to myself. I do have bad days. Every morning I wake up I thank God for giving me another day. I have a purpose for being here. This process has lit a fire in me. I have been saying I was going to do an album since 2011. I am an independent artist signed to a distribution label so everything comes out of my pocket. I felt like I had to get it in gear with this cancer and rest. I was determined to finish my songs and do music.
LAS: What do you want to say to this year’s StarQuest participants and women going through breast cancer?
TR: Don’t give up and don’t let anyone define who you are and what you can do. Only you can define you. The minute you give up can be the moment your breakthrough comes.
LAS: What’s next for Tarsha Rodgers and what do you want women to know?
TR: I am doing my R&B show on November 22, 2014 at the Celebrity Center. All our proceeds are going toward Revlon and their breast cancer research. And again, in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, on October 21st my single, Still I Rise will be available on iTunes.
I want women to get regular mammogram check-up’s, know your family history and request your doctor to test you for the BRCA mutation gene that can increase your risk for cancer. Truly, I am blessed.
Follow Tarsha Rodgers on Twitter: @TarshaRodgers | Facebook and Reverbnation: /tarsharodgers | Website: www.iamtarsha.com