Q&A 4Her – Erica Tullis, Executive Director of Breast Cancer Charities of America
When Erica Tullis‘ father was given a ‘30 days to live’ cancer diagnosis nearly 25 years ago, finding the connection between health, lifestyle and cancer became her primary focus. After seeing her father overcome the odds and continue to live a healthy, cancer-free lifestyle to this day, Erica was further motivated to help all people understand the importance of integrated wellness. Through her work as founder and executive director of the Breast Cancer Charities of America and the iGo Pink campaign, she educates others on how diet, exercise and lifestyle balance play vital roles in preventing and treating cancer…but with a special focus on women and breast cancer.
Erica’s efforts have brought nationwide attention and a fresh approach to breast cancer by focusing on lifestyle habits for prevention and treatment, as well as through fashion. After only eighteen months since founding BCCA, the iGoPink Campaign has caught the interest of fashion & lifestyle industry leaders such as IZZE’s Natural Soda, NYLA Shoes, Chaugory Couture, Trina Turk, Shameless Jewelry, Brighton Collections and Chick fil A, and Charles David to name a few.
Erica took a moment to talk to MyCity4Her about starting the organization, what she enjoys most about her job and more. Read on for the full interview!
Did you ever imagine yourself achieving what you have?
I have always been the type of person that KNOWS I’ll succeed when I put my mind to something. “No” or ‘it’s not possible’ are not part of my vocabulary. Nonetheless, I am still shocked at the demand level of our iGoPink brand and program services just three years after creation. That has blown all of our expectations/initial plans out the door! (In a good way!)
What in hindsight would you say you underestimated about your industry or business and why?
I underestimated how many women are in need of help RIGHT NOW with something as small as paying their $25 water bill. We started our Help Now Fund program (where we pay for the rent and utilities of women going through breast cancer) after we saw the need for basic lifestyle needs to be met while going through treatment.
We quickly grew from a network of only 30 hospitals to now almost 400 nationwide. I knew women needed immediate help, but I didn’t realize HOW extreme those needs were. Thousands and thousands of women contact us in tears–about to be evicted or have their water turned off, because they had to pay for so many doctors visits that month and didn’t have the means to pay for their basic needs. The feeling when we call a woman and tell her that her rent has been paid, and hearing her break down in tears on the phone in relief, is an indescribable feeling that still gets to me every time I speak with a patient we have helped.
What is the best business related advice you have ever been given?
Work shouldn’t be ‘work’ but something you enjoy and are passionate about. Ever since I was young, my father instilled in me that if I was passionate and dreamed something big, I was capable of achieving it. This pertained to getting the lead role in the high school musical, making varsity tennis, or achieving academic awards; but now in the ‘real world’ I think about this passion constantly in a work perspective…I never feel like I get up in the morning and “have to go to work.” I have made the choice to always view work as something I’m passionate about, not something I have to do. Find what it is that excites you, put your every last effort and breath behind it, and it will become a reality.
What do you love most about what you do and why?
The people: The relationships I’ve built through the foundation. From the nurses, doctors and patients we work with, to our corporate partners, volunteers and staff…I am humbled and blessed daily to look at the people I’ve been able to meet, help with our program services and get to know and work with daily. Some of these folks have become some of my closest friends. Any company, no matter the industry, isn’t possible without a strong team of believers. We have an amazing team that believes in what we do–and it shows every day.
What if you knew then what you know now – would you do differently and why?
To delegate more—(and I’m still working on this!!) Being a business executive comes with both pros and cons. The biggest challenge I find is not having enough time in the day. Sleep definitely becomes an afterthought when you want to be sure that everything is being done, and done correctly! I tease when I get asked “is it ok if I take a half day?”…”no problem” I’ll respond, “are you going to work the first 12 hours or the last 12 hours of the day?”
All joking aside though, the trick is to delegate. Get the right team members in place that share your passion/vision and trust that they will achieve it. When I first started the foundation, my ‘team members’ were all volunteers and interns because I couldn’t afford to pay for help…but those people shared my vision and knew we were making a difference and saw the big picture.
When you’re not working how do you like to spend your time?
With my husband, our family, close friends and our dogs. I also love to travel, cook, play tennis, go to the theater or live concerts…the list is endless and I’m constantly on the go. I’m always trying to learn or do something new. I am currently learning more about photography, and want to take up playing the piano. Life is too short…carpe diem!
How do you define success?
This is a great question—I think SO many people get caught up in the financial definition of success and my view is quite different (you don’t decide to get into the non-profit world for the money…it’s for the passion of helping others!) Prior to starting the foundation, I was in corporate America, quickly climbing the corporate ladder, traveling the world…but there was something missing in my heart. Working for the greater good fills that space.
So in my eyes, success is defined by how you’re helping humanity. Are you being a good steward? There’s a balance to reach and I know I’m definitely not there myself, but I’m striving for it.
If you had to share one final thought with our audience of thousands of women in business – what would it be?
Be strong and don’t give up! You WILL get told “no,” have the door shut in your face, be told what you’re not doing right and quite honestly, it can really hurt sometimes. But don’t let those words of negativity define you and your work. Persevere through the difficult times and focus on what you ARE doing right…you’ll stand tall and strong in a room of women. It’s those that get back up after being torn down that succeed!