CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — After surviving her own battle with breast cancer, a 36-year-old woman from Clarksville uses down time during the pandemic to create the app "Feel For Your Life" to help any woman conduct self-breast exams from home.
"I'm not an app developer. I'm just like a passionate advocate," explained Jessica Baladad. "Women aren't learning how to do these [breast exams]."
Baladad learned at an early age after a scare when she was in college.
"I accidentally stumbled upon a lump in my breast, and it turned out to be a benign occurrence called a fibroadenoma. I had it surgically removed and it was that experience that put me in the habit of doing self breast exams," said Baladad.
Fast forward about a decade to when Baladad was 33 years old.
"It was March of 2018. I skipped my self-breast exam because I had an appointment with my practitioner that month, and I thought, ‘Who better than my practitioner, than to do my physical exam and check my breasts for that month?’ and so I skipped my exam, I went and saw her, she examined my breasts, and didn't say anything to me about a lump," recounted Baladad.
But two weeks later she said, "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."
After a visit to a new doctor, an ultrasound and tests, the doctor confirmed her worst fear, she had breast cancer.
"My heart sank," said Jessica with a tearful eye, "I was really scared, I was in the process of losing an aunt 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."
Her next three years were consumed by her cancer.
"I went through 16 rounds of chemo, a double mastectomy, 24 rounds of radiation, a hysterectomy. And then back in February, I had a 10-hour flap reconstruction where they took fat tissue and blood vessels from my abdomen and place them in my chest to recreate my body. And I have one more surgery to go," stated Baladad.
Her reconstruction was delayed because of the pandemic, "So I lived life with a flat chest as a female for a little over a year and a half, you know, so getting my clothes to fit and was always a fun challenge."
But instead of letting the delayed surgery disappoint her, Baladad, put her energies toward a passion project.
"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," she said.
With that fact in mind, the 'Feel For Your Life' app was born.
Baladad explained, "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."
She said she had seen other apps that showed women how to do a breast exam but wanted to go step further.
"I wanted women to...be able to track and monitor their progress through their exams, and I wanted them to be able to set reminders so that they knew when to do their self breast exams," Baladad continued, "and this is really just a tool to help women communicate with their their physicians better and 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.'"
She said she hopes to continue to develop the app to add an easy in-app telehealth option but first is focused on helping women sign up.
"[I] didn't think it was gonna happen to me either," said Baladad. "I was in the best shape of my life...I worked out, I didn't drink, I didn't smoke, you know, I don't do drugs, I was training in the gym. I'm very athletic. I didn't think it was going to happen to me...especially in my early 30s. But, I'm alive today because I did a self breast exam and I advocated for myself."
If you have a story for our weekly Take Time to Smile segment, email Claire at firstname.lastname@example.org.