In honor of October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month we wanted to put the spotlight on an entrepreneur making strides to support those who are and have faced a breast cancer diagnosis. Laura Carfang started SurvivingBreastCancer.org as a platform to provide support, education, and a community for those that have been diagnosed and their caregivers. Laura took her personal journey with breast cancer and turned it into a way to inspire, encourage and support others. As Executive Director she has set out a vision and is a strong believer that everyone’s voice should be heard. We spoke with Laura to learn more about her journey and her vision for SurvivingBreastCancer.org
How can we offer support and compassion to both individuals fighting a breast cancer diagnosis and survivors of breast cancer?
There are various and sundry ways family, friends, and caregivers can offer support to those diagnosed with breast cancer. I think the most important thing to keep in mind is that everyone is different, so take the time to ask the person what would be helpful to them. You may think it is helpful to bring over food, but a person diagnosed with breast cancer may have a particular aversion to certain foods due to the side effects of the chemotherapy; some people lose their taste buds, others may develop mouth sores – making meals a challenge and a reminder that they are ill. One thing I noticed is that everyone has an opinion when it comes to your health care. Unless the person with breast cancer is asking you to recommend a doctor, or specific advice, sometimes these options are better kept to yourself. Finally, going back to the first point, I think it is also important to ask the person what their boundaries are, how open they want to be about their diagnosis, I.e., which family members get all of the details and which people get the high-level updates. In my experience, my boyfriend and caregiver came to all of my appointments and he was the one family members were able to call and ask questions allowing me to catch up on much needed rest.
What are some key initiatives SurvivingBreastCancer.org is working on this coming year?
We have some exciting plans coming up this year. We are transiting to more of a virtual platform to enable our organization to help as many people as possible. Secondly, we are seeking grants, corporate sponsorships and cause related marketing alliances that will enable us to work full-time for the non-profit.
Was there a specific moment in your breast cancer journey that set the stage for what you wanted the mission of your organization to be?
Absolutely! Living in Boston, one of the world’s great health care Meccas, and being a major metropolitan city, I thought it was going to be easy to find other women, similarly diagnosed with breast cancer and make connections. I honestly thought that if I typed into google “breast cancer survivors in Boston” I would find a thriving community ready to connect and share their experiences. In hindsight, I guess I was looking for a breast cancer mentor so to speak. Boston offers several support groups and forums which are great resources, but they are usually spearheaded by the hospitals. However, if you are working, it is hard to attend weekday afternoon sessions.
It was through my own experience navigating breast cancer that I launched my 501(c)(3) non-profit, Survivingbreastcancer.org. I wanted to create a virtual platform that provides community, education and resources for those diagnosed with breast cancer and their caregivers. A breast cancer diagnosis does not end when treatment ends, there is a lot of aftermath that comes with it. If you are diagnosed with early stage breast cancer, you are never truly 100% “Cancer Free.” Oncologists use the term “No Evidence of Disease” or “NED”. There is always a lingering fear that the breast cancer may return. That is where our organization comes into play. We are there when your medical care team says they will see you in 12 weeks, or 6 months or next year, and PTSD slowly creeps into the fabric of your life. This is when the community and support systems are needed the most.
Tell us about a mentor who has been influential to you as a leader.
I have to say that my mom and dad have been my biggest mentors and influential leaders. They are my rock! I am very fortunate to be very close with my family. My father started his own business in the financial industry 35 years ago, so in a sense I’ve grown up around entrepreneurship. From a young age I was exposed to the dedication and hard work that goes into running a business and that the hours are hardly 9-5.
My mother works in the healthcare sector. I remember early on, she would find opportunities to educate her patients and their families. She incorporates nutrition and lifestyle medicine in her approach making it easy for her clients to understand the complexities associated with illness, food allergies, and autism, for example. She now leads the Carol Carfang Nursing and Healthcare Ethics conference where leaders, educators, and philosophers come together to discuss the most pressing issues in the field.
I guess you can say, it’s in my genes and I couldn’t be more grateful for the mentorship and leadership I receive from my parents.
Do you have any tips for entrepreneurs to help them maintain a healthy work/life habit?
Most entrepreneurs will tell you that you have to have an unwavering passion for and belief in the work you are doing. There are times when entrepreneurship can be quite lonely. There are moments of doubt and insecurity along the way. However, it is in those moments that I remind myself, “if it were easy to put your life and souls’ work out there to be a success, then everyone would do it.” It takes a specific mindset and drive to be willing to take chances, to be judged (because everyone has an opinion), and to risk failure and still persevere, that distinguishes an entrepreneur.
The work/life balance is a challenge and it comes down to prioritization. A simple black and white question I ask myself is, will this give me joy, will this help me get from point A to point B. And if the answer is “yes”, then it is worth doing. If the answer is “no”, then I move along to the next thing.
The other technique that I use is dedicating one day a week for “me-time”. I have chosen Monday as that day where I do not book meetings, schedule podcasts, or work on blog posts. For me this is a guaranteed day where I can find a yoga class, go for a run, grab a dinner with girlfriends, or simply sit on the couch in pj’s and scroll through social media posts. Whatever you need to do to unwind, relax and refresh, it’s important to carve out that time each week.
In the work that I do running a non-profit, I am reminded that it is not a race but a marathon. Like all non-profits, we are called to solve some of the world’s most challenging problems. We are not going to cure breast cancer tomorrow. However, if we can help one person, move the needle one point, and provide support, education and community to those diagnosed with this disease, then I know we are going in the right direction.
You can learn more about Laura Carfang and her organization SurvivingBreastCancer.Org by going to her website or visiting one of her social media platforms. Facebook and Instagram: @survivingbreastcancerorg and Instagram: @breastcancerconversations