In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we want to share a special story from one of our new NBCF Community Ambassadors, Jessica Baladad.
We met Jessica after she messaged NBCF on Facebook asking to learn more. She explained that she was sharing our educational materials in her gym’s locker room, but wanted to do more to raise awareness. From there, our team built a relationship with her, even checking in on her during recovery. Our story came full circle when we were able to meet Jessica in person to document her journey facing, and eventually defeating, breast cancer.
“I couldn’t change that I had cancer, but I could decide how to go after it.”
“I found the lump soon after I turned 33,” Jessica said. “I was doing a routine self-exam in the shower when I discovered it. Instead of calling the doctor, I did something stupid. I researched my symptoms online and decided to ignore it.”
Since Jessica’s doctors removed a fibroadenoma from her breast when she was 18, she felt confident that this was another benign lump. She went to the gym five days a week, ate well, rarely drank, never smoked, and considered herself a healthy person. Plus, she didn’t have any of the symptoms she’d read about online. The lump being breast cancer didn’t make sense. However, Jessica recalled that her family has a lengthy history with the disease.
“Breast cancer doesn’t run in my family; it sprints,” Jessica said. “Two paternal aunts, my paternal grandmother, six paternal grandaunts and my paternal great grandmother have had breast cancer. Now it was my turn, but I was determined to defeat it.”
Soon after Jessica’s first treatment, the side effects of chemo began to take a toll on her body. While Jessica admitted that some days were harder than others, she stayed strong and embraced change as it happened. She found comfort in knowing that she was taking aggressive action against her breast cancer.
“I knew that these changes were necessary for my body to heal,” Jessica said. “I intentionally chose the most difficult route of care to ensure I would beat this, and having those choices empowered me. I couldn’t change that I had cancer, but I could decide how to go after it.”
Jessica underwent 16 rounds of chemo, a double mastectomy, and 24 rounds of radiation before her oncologist declared her free from cancer on May 3, 2019. This news was a ray of light and positivity for her after so much darkness. Other positives she recalled are how supportive her friends and family were. Jessica also noted how sharing her vulnerabilities throughout her journey created an opportunity to talk about the importance of breast self-exams.
“After I told my friends about my diagnosis, I discovered that they weren’t doing their own self-exams. They didn’t know how, they were afraid of finding something, or they hated their bodies,” Jessica said. “I wanted to change that. I started a project called ‘Feel for Your Life’ in an effort to encourage women to do their breast self-exams and take control of their health.”
Jessica was in treatment when we first connected with her. We are thrilled by her recovery, as well as her mission to pay it forward by promoting breast health awareness. Her story is a powerful reminder of the importance of early detection and breast health education.
“I’m looking forward to now serving as a Community Ambassador for NBCF because I believe in the heart of their mission,” Jessica said. “The first line says, ‘Helping women now.’ That means right now. Whether you’re taking preventative measures against breast cancer or finding yourself in the midst of the battle, this is an organization that is empowering women in all stages of their life. It’s an honor and privilege to help carry out their mission, and I look forward to connecting with more women in the future.”
Though Jessica is a proud Tennessee resident, we were excited to meet her when she visited Texas. Jessica had the opportunity to tour the NBCF office and see where some of the hope happens. It was an honor to meet in person, capture her story, and now share it with women everywhere as a source of hope and inspiration.