I Stood Up for My Breast Health Amid Ignorant Cancer Comments

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After receiving a breast cancer diagnosis, I was faced with many people offering “advice” or commentary about the disease.

headshot of breast cancer survivor, Jessica Baladad

After receiving a breast cancer diagnosis, Jessica faced many unhelpful comments.

“Do you touch it?” she asked me.

“The lump?” I replied.

“Yeah, do you touch it?”

I was a few days out from my second round of chemotherapy, and I had a great support system that would check on me frequently.

“I try to leave the lump alone,” I said. “It kind of makes me nervous to touch it now that I know that it’s cancer.”

“Well, that’s probably a good idea,” my friend replied. “You don’t want it to spread.”

It was then I realized that some of the people closest to me really didn’t understand my diagnosis. But I couldn’t blame them.

In our early 30s, my friends and I were enjoying careers, marriages and families. We felt entitled to the rest of our lives ahead of us. So it made sense that no one was really thinking about the reality of their mortality. Breast cancer in our 30s? Was that really a thing?

Apparently, it is. According to JCO Oncology, in the United States, approximately 12,000 women under the age of 40 are diagnosed with breast cancer every year.

I found a lump in my breast after performing a routine self-exam. It was a habit I developed at 18 when I found a benign tumor in my breast that had to be removed, and it was that experience that put me in the habit of performing self-exams.

The hardest part of my diagnosis was talking about it. I was trying to grasp what my life was becoming, or rather, how it was potentially ending, and meanwhile, I found myself managing the emotions of others.

My conversations went something like this:

Me to friend: Hey, I have to tell you something, and it’s serious. I just found out I have breast cancer.

Friend: What? How? What’s going to happen? What stage is it? What are you going to do? I don’t know how I’m going to handle this!

After being hit with a barrage of emotionally charged questions and concerns, I found myself offering support to them.

Me: So, you just heard that your friend (me), just got diagnosed with breast cancer. Is there anything I can do for you?

My feelings were being hijacked, and I quickly learned that I had to be more intentional about how I delivered news.

As my body transformed through chemotherapy, the transition continued to make others uneasy. I experienced “cancer ghosting,” the concept of others falling off the face of the Earth because your diagnosis makes them face realities they don’t want to confront.

And then you have people who are too “helpful,” and they feel compelled to offer unsolicited advice. These people take a sanctimonious approach to offering “support.”

They say things such as:

  • “You should cut out all sugar because sugar feeds cancer cells.”
  • “You should stop eating (Name it. They think it causes cancer.)”
  • “(Fill in the Blank) can prevent cancer.”
  • “It’s just hair. It’ll grow back.”
  • “My (friend/relative) died of cancer.”
  • “Maybe you just weren’t right with God.”
  • “Have you tried essential oils?”
  • “But you don’t look sick.”
  • “I read about this thing on the internet that can ….”
  • “Do you think ‘Big Pharma’ is hiding the cure to cancer because they make so much money from treatments?”

There is no shortage of ignorant commentary about cancer. Anyone can suddenly become a “researcher” with the help of Google.

I became more open with my breast cancer story when I understood the depth of what I was facing and saw the impact it had on the people closest to me. When I made a public announcement on social media regarding my diagnosis, there’s one question that kept coming up.

“How did you know to get checked?”

“I perform my self-exams every month. Don’t you?”

Crickets.

The follow-up questions I received highlighted clear deficiencies in the education regarding breast health and advocacy.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, I was working with the NFL on their Crucial Catch campaign, an initiative to encourage people to get screened for cancer. I learned that many women were being diagnosed with breast cancer at later stages because they were missing their mammograms, and I felt compelled to do something about that.

A self-exam is what saved my life and led to my cancer diagnosis, and I wanted others to feel as if they had a sense of control during a time of uncertainty.

I also used my time during the pandemic to create an app called Feel For Your Life. It shows you how to perform self-exams, track your progress and set monthly reminders. I launched it as the Delta variant was peaking, and within a couple of weeks, word had spread about the app, and the news had gone viral.

Feel For Your Life reaches tens of thousands of people all over the world to aid them in their breast health advocacy. And just this year, a new AI feature was launched to help others have better conversations with their medical providers, friends and loved ones. It’s called BreastFriendAI, and it can take your lab and pathology reports and translate them into terms you can understand. It can help you find screening facilities that take insurance or offer free or reduced services. It can prepare you for appointments and provide you with questions to ask so you feel more empowered in the decisions that you need to make.

It can tell you what to say when you need to set boundaries with those who make inappropriate inquiries or impose on your privacy. The Cancer Muggles won’t stand a chance against BreastFriendAI.

I created the tool that I wish I had before and during my diagnosis. By developing the technology that supports breast health advocacy, I hope to foster better relationships between patients and the medical communities so that individuals feel more equipped in taking risk-reducing measures against cancer and disease.

This post was written and submitted by Jessica Baladad. The article reflects the views of Baladad and not of CURE®. This is also not supposed to be intended as medical advice.

For more news on cancer updates, research and education, don’t forget to subscribe to CURE®’s newsletters here.

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