Breast Cancer Survivor Creates App To Help People Examine Their Bodies
A 36-year-old woman who beat breast cancer has developed an app to help people conduct self-examinations on their bodies.
Stories and campaigns about breast cancer often include calls for women to check their breasts for anything out of the ordinary, and while there are instructions and graphics available for guidance, often it can be hard to remember exactly what you need to do, and when, until it’s right in front of you.
Jessica Baladad, from Clarksville, Tennessee, began checking her breasts regularly following a scare in college, when she ‘accidentally stumbled upon’ what turned out to be a benign lump, and had it surgically removed.
The experience put her in the habit of regularly checking her breasts, and her routine may have helped save her life, as years later, at 33 years old, she found a lump in her breast.
Recalling the discovery to News Channel 5, Jessica explained how she decided to skip one of her self-check exams because she had an appointment with her doctor coming up and felt they’d be the best one for the job.
The practitioner examined Jessica’s breasts and didn’t say anything to her about a lump, but two weeks later, in March 2018, it came time again for Jessica to perform a self-examination, per her routine.
The now-36-year-old explained, ‘It was time it was part of my routine to check my breasts at that time and I thought, ‘Should I really do an exam?’ And I thought, ‘Yeah I should stay in the habit’. And sure enough I found a lump on my left side.’
Jessica had the lump checked by a new doctor, who conducted an ultrasound and tests before confirming she had breast cancer.
‘My heart sank,’ Jessica said, adding, ‘I was really scared, I was in the process of losing an aunt to breast cancer at the time, and I missed her funeral; I couldn’t go, and I just felt like I was letting my family down.’
Over the following three years, Jessica underwent 16 rounds of chemotherapy, a double mastectomy, 24 rounds of radiation and a hysterectomy.
In February 2021, she underwent a 10-hour flap reconstruction that involved surgeons taking fat tissue and blood vessels from her abdomen and placing them in her chest in order to recreate her body. Jessica is in remission, though as of September 2021 still had one surgery to go for the reconstruction, with her original appointment delayed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Jessica ‘lived life with a flat chest’ for more than a year and a half, but in the meantime she set about finding a way to help other women detect and survive breast cancer with the creation of the Feel For Your Life app.
The website for the app describes it as the ‘easiest online platform for learning about your options for doing self breast exams, developing screening routines and understanding your risks for breast cancer’, with the hopes of equipping and empowering people to ‘communicate with your doctor about issues related to your breast health so you can make decisions that are best for you’.
Jessica stressed that she is no app developer, but rather a ‘passionate advocate’ for people knowing how to check their breasts.
One in eight women statistically are, you know, they get breast cancer…but if it’s caught early enough, you know, your options – you have many, many, more options.
I just want women’s breast health to be taken a little more seriously and that some of the stigma be taken away from it. Women talk about their menstrual cycles, but we don’t really talk so much about you know our breast health so much.
Though Jessica’s app is not the first to show people how to conduct a breast exam, it allows users to track and monitor their progress as well as receive reminders as to when they should perform exams.
The creator described the app as a ‘tool to help women communicate with their physicians better’, allowing them to say, ‘Hey, you know, back, two months ago I found this lump and then I took notes and a month later, here I have, you know I’m taking more notes and I’m noticing it’s starting to change a little bit.’
It’s easy for those who have not been impacted by cancer to believe it’s not going to happen to them, and Jessica herself was of a similar mindset when she found the lump in her breast. She recalled being in the ‘best shape of [her] life’, regularly working out and avoiding alcohol, cigarettes and drugs, but stressed she is ‘alive today’ because she conducted a self breast exam and advocated for herself.
For now, Jessica is focused on helping women to sign up for the app, though in the future she hopes to develop Feel For Your Life further to add an easy in-app telehealth option.
If you’ve been affected by any of these issues and want to speak to someone in confidence, contact Macmillan’s Cancer Support Line on 0808 808 00 00, 8am–8pm seven days a week.
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