BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Baton Rouge hair stylist Tonja McMillan has a goal to save as many lives as she can.
"I've lost a great aunt to breast cancer and a dear, dear client to breast cancer," McMillan said.
Several weeks ago, McMillan noticed something strange when she casually brushed across her chest but little did she know she'd soon be facing a battle of her own after feeling, "Rough bumpy tissue."
After several long hours of appointments and screenings, she said she knew something was different about the route she was being taken on.
On September 7, at the age of 37, McMillan was diagnosed with Stage 2 Breast Cancer. She said, of course, she hoped for the best but subtle hints gradually allowed her to possibly accept her next steps.
McMillan said everyone she looked, she could see the word cancer.
"Flipping through the channels on the television, I was seeing the word cancer on the tv guide." She even noticed commercials that mentioned cancer.
In that moment, she decided that diagnosis wasn't a death sentence and her salon chair was her platform.
"I knew that it was something I had to do with it." She said she wouldn't be silenced by her cancer but rather, "live out loud in it."
An example of that journey taking form was when McMillan decided to shave her head, with her 3-year-old son by her side.
"For me it was taking back the power and control, choosing to shave it off versus letting it fall off. It made me feel more like a fighter than a victim," she said.
Sunday afternoon she chose to share that power by inviting breast cancer survivors and even those who aren't in the fight, to her salon to bring awareness and give women information she wished she would have had in the very beginning, like mental health tips.
Francinne Lawrence, Director of Integrative Medicine and Survivorship at Mary Bird Perkins, Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Center said, "Mental health is exceptionally important when we're going through a challenge, such as breast cancer, or any illness that we might face." "It's very important to pay attention as to what our thoughts are focusing on and whether or not they tend to bring us down or up." Lawrence said having those positive self-care tools, "Not only can help us feel better emotionally but help our body function better, then we too know we're part of the process of getting better."
Event participants were also given nutrition and fitness tips and how to properly perform a self-breast exam. McMillan said after having already pushed through two rounds of chemotherapy, her illness has changed her life, surprisingly for the better.
"This is something that I believe God chose me for. So, my prayer is for him to give me the strength to do what he needs me to do," she said.
Quickly realizing her mission is to use herself as an example and educate others through her process.
"It's not going to hurt you to get checked, but it's going to hurt you not to," she said.
McMillan said if you feel any changes in your body, make your doctors aware of it and never push it aside.
"Never try to figure out yourself or try to make sense of it yourself. Always, immediately your life and health trumps everything else so, make time for those appointments," McMillan said.
Follow McMillan on her journey here.