There are so many ovarian cancer advocates out there, and we wanted to shine the light on a few of them. This week we sat down with Harly Tilque, she is a young woman using her platform to spread awareness for ovarian cancer. We hope you enjoy getting to know this beautiful, talented, and thoughtful girl.
Teal Diva: Tell us a little about yourself (What grade are you in, favorite hobby....)
Harley Tilque: I am going to be a rising senior in high school. I have been a competitive dancer since I was 8 years old. Throughout the years I have tried gymnastics, cheer and even swim so I am pretty active in sports. A fun fact is that I was adopted when I was 9.5 months old from China into a military family with 3 older brothers. I am obviously the favorite since I am the only girl, haha. During my free time I usually paint my nails, workout and just watch YouTube while shopping for clothes I probably don't need.
TD-How long have you been competing in pageants? They are called pageants, right? This is a world I do not know a lot about!
HT-I have been competing since I was 13 and I am now 17 but I have been involved in pageants since I was 10. I participate in the Miss America Organization. In North Carolina, there are 2 divisions you can compete in. There's "teen" which is 13-17 and then "Miss" which is 18-25. Before that there is an option for younger girls ages 6-12 to be a Carolina Princess. This is when they get an insight into what it's like to be a titleholder and compete. Your Carolina Princess is like a "mini-me" for a year. You take them to events and it's a mentoring program for young girls to learn life skills like stage presence, public speaking and patience. For me, I was a Carolina Princess for 2 years then I competed in the teen division for 4. It can be a lot to understand how pageants work. The Miss America Organization is actually calling it a competition now instead of a pageant. We are trying to get away from that stereotype because we are the largest provider of scholarships for women. I actually won $5,000 at my state competition which will help go towards my college education. The organization has changed so much since it started 99 years ago but we are evolving as a society and the organization is right there with it.
TD-What do you enjoy most about competing?
HT-I think just learning more about myself and other people. I am a competitive dancer too so I am usually on stage or in a competition for the majority of my life. I like being able to learn how I cope in different situations and help improve my performance each time. It can be stressful sometimes so I think knowing how to deal with that at a younger age is something that I will carry with me when I am older. I also enjoy meeting other people. Sometimes I can be shy but I love connecting with people from different backgrounds or areas.
TD-Why are you an advocate for ovarian cancer?
HT-It's all because of my Humma (my grandmother). She was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer and only given 2 months to live. Although she was given the opportunity to be a guinea pig for research trials that allowed her 5 more years with us, I realized this disease needed more attention. I didn't even know what ovarian cancer was until I did more research. I learned that it is very uncommon to be diagnosed in stage 1 which breaks my heart. It's because the symptoms are so vague and there is no screen test that makes it difficult to catch. From my own personal experience, I make it a priority to educate everyone on this disease, both men and women.
TD-How do you use your platform to spread awareness for ovarian cancer?
HT-This is a loaded question and I am going to try to keep it simple. Majority of it is through social media, each week I post a #Tealtuesday to my Instagram story. This could be a statistic, new community event, survivor story etc. Another way is just through community events and fundraisers I do. I host fundraising events at my dance studio that include a full day of classes and all the money goes towards research. Through COVID, I wasn't able to do a lot of in-person events so I took advantage of any online opportunities I could.
TD-How do you incorporate teal into competition?
HT-The organization I compete in, each candidate is required to have a social impact initiative. This is an issue that you are passionate about and advocate for. For me, mine is T.E.A.L- Take Early Action & Live. So incorporating it into my competition is actually quite easy because each candidate is required to submit a page long statement about their issue, what they have done and what to do with it in the future. It's usually a hot topic during our private interview portion of the competition. It's a big part that makes the Miss America Organization different from other pageant systems people could compete in it.
TD-What do you want young girls to know about ovarian cancer?
HT-Always listen to your body! I was able to do interviews with 4 different ovarian cancer survivors. Each person's story was different but they all said they wished they listened to their body and took action sooner. I think as a girl, we could think some symptoms are normal or won't last long but don't be afraid to speak up and go get it checked out. I would rather be safe than sorry.
TD-We've heard about a dance you choreographed a dance, tell us about that experience. What did it feel like to come up with the dance and then perform it?
HT-I actually didn't choreograph it, my dance teachers Tracy and McKenize Faggart did. There is no way I could create such an amazing dance like that all by myself. I did have to perform it 4 times on stage within the same week though. I learned this dance back in March of 2021 and it was rough. I didn't even have enough stamina to get through it but after months and months of hard work, I was able to showcase my best abilities on stage. It was great knowing all my hard work paid off but there were days I was crying or stressed I couldn't do it on stage but everything worked out in the end.
TD-Where do you see yourself taking this passion for ovarian cancer awareness?
HT-Although I will age out of the teen division next year and I am free to let go of any work I have done with ovarian cancer, I feel so much more connected to bring awareness and advocate for this disease. I have met and read so many amazing stories and I still want to continue making a change. I don't exactly know what will be the next steps for me but I still want to volunteer and participate in community events to help ovarian cancer.
TD-What are your next steps? (In life, in pageants, in spreading awareness)
HT-At this moment, the next step in pageants is competing at Miss America's Outstanding Teen. This is where a girl from each state competes and tries to win the national title. If I am lucky enough to win that, I will travel across the country for an entire year promoting the organization and putting my marketing plan into action. All that while still completing my senior year of high school. I hope we are back full time so I can have a great senior year with all the fun opportunities. I will still continue competitively dancing at my studio and making the most of the time we lost from COVID. I am also starting the college application process which seems overwhelming right now but I know my teachers and parents will help me figure that out. As far as spreading awareness, I hope to continue interviewing more survivors to get their stories out to a higher audience of people. Hopefully with schools back in session, I am able to visit schools and talk to high schoolers about what I have learned and ways they can help.
We are so incredibly proud to have you as an ovarian cancer advocate Harley! Along with her advocacy she is also humble, but we can brag on her a little bit. Harley was just crowned “Miss North Carolina’s Outstanding Teen 2021”! This Sunday if you’re in the Concord NC area, McKenzie Jade’s is having a Harley Party! In honor of Harley being crowned MNCOTeen and her journey to Miss America’s Outstanding Teen competition!
You can follow Harley on her journey by following her on Instagram @harleytilque which is my personal or my pageant page which is @maoteennc. A favorite hashtag for Harley is always #tealfortilque because that was her "slogan" this whole year.