Cyrene Tankard is growing up, and we see that more clearly this season of Thicker Than Water than ever before. However, Cyrene has learned the hard that independence can bring its own set of challenges.
Cyrene was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis as a child, which can cause inflammation in the digestive system if she doesn't avoid gluten, soy, rice, and corn. During her first year away at Howard University, Cyrene let her diet slip, which landed her in the hospital multiple times and forced her to take a break from school. Not only was this a traumatic experience for Cyrene, but it was also a scary one for her mom, Jewel Tankard, and stepdad, Ben Tankard.
But now Cyrene is back in school, and she has learned that lessons don't take place only inside the classroom. The Daily Dish met up with Cyrene last week to get an update on her health, her future career ambitions, and what surprised her the most about this season of Thicker Than Water.
How does it feel to be on your own in college now?
Cyrene Tankard: It feels good. It feels really good. I finally feel like I'm growing into me. I’ve been fighting for this independence, and I’m finally starting to get a little taste of it, and sometimes it really sucks because I’m like, "Um, bills?" But then other times I’m like, "OK this is dope." I like the freedom. I like the challenge of it because I know it’s making me better. Every challenge I face, I’m going to come out stronger.
Coming from a more conservative background, how did you first react to being at college?
It was a culture shock. Howard in itself is a culture shock, because coming from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, like a small, predominantly Caucasian city, and then going into [a] completely black [university], and it was like all these different kinds of black people and all these different kinds of people in general, and it was like, I’ve never seen this. I’ve never experienced this. I love it, but what the heck? So adjusting was, obviously I couldn’t handle it that well. I had to be pulled out, but going back in the second time, I’m definitely making much better life decisions, health decisions, and personal decisions as a whole. So I’m actually pretty pleased.
Was there a part of you that wanted to rebel?
Yes, I did. I did. I wanted to rebel. I did get into a subconscious thing, like I’ll show you I’m going to do what I want to do, but [I realized] as I grow and mature, OK, that’s not cool. If you’re going to make these decisions, the intent or motive behind [them] shouldn’t be to rebel. It should be to really branch out and experience things you haven’t before and to see what you like and what you don’t like. It’s an experimental phase.
Has the relationship with your mom changed at all since you went to college, because in last Sunday's episode, you had a tense moment with her.
It’s pretty rough. [Last] Sunday’s episode [was] pretty rough. I can see how when people [saw last] Sunday’s episode [they would] be like, "Wow she’s such a rude little brat. She’s acting like a little bitch." OK, that’s not how it really is. There are times when I do need to get my attitude in line. I have to take responsibility for that, but since then, I definitely can say that I’ve grown. My mom and my relationship has gotten a little better. She’s slowly learning to pull up on the reigns, and I feel like you’ll probably be able to follow that throughout this season. So yeah, it’s interesting.
Is it hard to watch that moment back?
It’s kind of annoying because I’m like, ugh, why did I do that? Why was I acting like this? Like, c’mon. But at the same time it’s a wakeup call because it’s like, do I really act like this? If so, let me reevaluate my actions and the things that I’m saying and doing. And then it’s like, let me watch it from a different perspective too because maybe if I was a parent watching this, how would I feel? So it kind of helps, actually. It can be therapeutic.
How is everything with your health going these days?
So much better. So much better. This year, I really want to work hard, and I really want to make a difference, and I really want to prove things to myself and, of course, to my family as well. And I want to make myself proud. So this year I’ve been pretty strict [about not eating] gluten. I don’t even really eat dairy. I actually try to stay away from meat as well for the most part, but I’m definitely a lot more cautious. Every time I go out, I’m like, is this gluten-free, can I have a menu? Just making sure I go that extra mile because I want to make sure that I’m my best self — like health-wise, emotionally, physically — so that I can perform to my best ability.
Did you ever think your health would take a turn for the worse when you went away to college?
No, I never saw it getting that out of hand, but at the same time it doesn’t surprise me. One, I know I’m not the only kid that ever did it. And yes, on one hand the partying and stuff, I’m sure it somewhat affected it, but for the most part, I want to set the record straight that it is the ulcerative colitis, and that really can knock you out the game. A lot of people I saw on Twitter and social media were like, "Why did you waste your parents' money going to college, and you wanted to just mess up and party and be wild?" And that’s actually just the half of it, if half. Most of it is genuine health issues.
So did you encounter these health issues because you didn’t have your parents around to kind of watch you and your diet?
No, because it’s like I'm not 5. At this point I was 19, so it’s just, I was careless. I feel like I was careless, and I feel like I was invincible and that nothing was going to really happen at the end of the day, and I took for granted the grace and the protection that I had in my life. Although it was awful that it happened, I think it had to happen for me to really understand, like OK this is serious. You need to get your life together and your decisions and all that.
So it was a wakeup call?
So it was a wakeup call. It was, it was.
Obviously, it would be scary for anyone to have to go to the hospital multiple times, but what was going through your head when you experienced that while at college?
I was really scared. I was really scared because I never felt so bad and I've never seen some of the symptoms I was experiencing so there were times when I actually did think I was going to die, so it was really scary. And then I know it was hard on my mom too, just watching your baby in the hospital not feeling well. I can only imagine the kind of emotional pressure that I put on her, and she really was strong the whole time, like I never saw a tear drop. I never saw her doubt for a minute that I wouldn’t be OK, and so she really did stand in the gap for me in that point in time. But yeah, I’m just really grateful that I’ve come to, that I finally understand the severity of the situation, and that there is a solution, because a lot of times that stuff can happen and it’s too late, but I feel like with this second chance, I need to do it the right way.
I’m sure you’ve been having a lot of fun in college, too.
Yeah, don’t get me wrong. I have my fair share of fun, but someone told me, "If you’re going to do something stupid, be smart about it. Don’t be doing stupid stuff the stupid way." So I said, "We’re kids, so we’re still going to mess up, probably, lord knows how many times, but let’s at least set in course precautions. I know if I want to do something that I’m not really supposed to do that I’m in a safe environment with good people, so everything runs smoothly.
Was there any hesitation on your parents' part to let you go back to school when your health returned to normal?
Oh for sure, for sure, as there should be. But I feel like the process of it all, like I said, the severity of the situation and then being able to work all summer and just kind of be in that grind mode all summer long I feel like really put me in the right direction. And I started reading a lot more and I started doing research. And sometimes it was on random stuff and sometimes it was on self-development, personal development, and that kind of really tipped me over the edge too, because I’m taking in this information for myself. I’m not letting my parents tell me, "Do this, do that." It's like, no I actually am going to implement this in my life because I want to, and when I took the reins, I feel like that’s when things got better.
Do any of your classmates recognize you from Thicker Than Water?
Yeah, sometimes. I kind of have my core group of friends now, but even then a lot of times I’m solo because I move so fast, people just can’t keep up right now, and it’s like I’m sure when I get to where I want to be, then I’ll be around more people who are kind of doing the same thing that I’m doing so it won’t be an issue. But people will recognize. Sometimes they’ll mention it, and sometimes they won’t, but I’m not one to be like, "Hey guys! I’m Cyrene Tankard! I’m on Thicker Than Water!" I’m pretty chill about it, and if people know about it, then they know, and if they don’t I’m sure they'll find out.
Have you thought about what you’re going to do after college? Are you going to continue your work in fashion and modeling? You have a lifestyle blog, too. Is that all part of your future plans?
Yeah it’s all part of the plan, and then I’m actually starting a business as well, so that should be emerging quite soon. I’ve actually been doing work for a makeup artist, helping her come up with her soft opening, kind of like event planning, stuff like that, and then just doing stuff for my own brand, like aligning myself with certain brands. Hopefully, [I'll] get into acting, just commercial stuff. So there’s big plans, big plans. They'll unfold, it’ll unravel soon.
Are we going to see any of that on the show this season?
This season, not so much. This season’s more about back in school, getting back on track, kind of just talking about where I think I see myself. But this is all a really transitional phase for me. Even now, I’ve come a long way, but I’m still transitioning, and it’s supposed to be like that. I’m 20 years old.
What do you think is going to surprise us the most this season?
Well, there’s probably a few surprises. I think I go in detail about some of my adventures a little more, so that will probably be a surprise. And then there are lots of arguments and controversy you'll see that'll probably shock you, because it definitely shocked me. It was like every time I left and came back [from school there] was something new, and I’m like, "OK, what’s going on with my family, so I just feel like everybody’s really adjusting to all these swift changes, and then you'll see how everyone handles pressure and change.
It seems like the theme of this season is going to be keeping the family together because everyone's doing their own thing and living separately. Is that how you feel, and do you think that’s been a challenge for the Tankards?
Yeah, it’s definitely been a challenge. On the show, you’ll hear that we really haven’t been able to talk to each other, spend time with each other, and that’s true. We have to do a better job as a family unit keeping up with each other because we do know that blood truly is thicker than water, and at the end of the day we are all we have, so we want to stay true to that.
And we saw a bit of an awkward moment in the season premiere with you, Marcus [Tankard], and Benji [Tankard] talking about some of your college experiences. Do you try not to tell your family too much of what goes on?
Yeah, like I try not to tell too, too much, but honestly here’s how it is: I don’t have my “experiences” that often, but when I do, I do. I’m not one to be excessive continuously, like it’s an every weekend or every day thing, but it’s like that one weekend when you caught me at that, yeah, that’s it.
Now there are babies in the Tankard family.
There are babies. Thank God I am not part of that baby-having situation. Thanks be to God. But yes, there are babies. [Marcus and Tish's son] Micah is so freaking cute. [Benji and Shanira's daughter] Billie [has] finally arrived. She’s a cutie, and I feel like I’ve just been able to watch the change and the transition from watching my brothers turn into fathers, from husbands to fathers. I never thought I would see the day so I’m like, huh, how many more years until I get married and have kids? So it’s crazy. Crazy thoughts.
Has it made you want to have kids, too?
No, honestly right now I’m not involved with anyone and I’m not doing that. I’m staying away from that. This is how I truly feel. If I’m going to have sex again or consistently, then I feel like it needs to be with somebody that I actually care about. It just can’t be like whatever. And it’s not to say that that’s what’s been happening, but that’s just to clarify any thoughts. I’ll put that thought to rest.
So no man in your life right now?
No man in my life right now, but I have my eyes peeled. There’s a lot of different bachelors out there that can possibly intrigue me.
What has it been like being an aunt?
I love being an aunt because I love it when Micah lays his little head on my chest and then he just slowly falls asleep, and I’m like, "You’re so cute." And then Billie’s really, really cute, too. She’s funny. She talks a lot. She’s really cute, but I like it. I like being an aunt. We needed new babies. That’s what we needed.
Do you think one day you’d want to have a big family, too?
Yeah, I even said I would have four kids one day. I might adopt, too. One day probably in like 10 years? No rush at all. I have to travel the world, become a billionaire. I have things to do, honey.
Check out photos of Cyrene and the rest of the Tankards through the years, below.