Illustrations by Brittany England
For many who are going through breast cancer, family and friends provide unconditional and essential support. But having connections with people who are experiencing exactly what you are is irreplaceable.
Breast Cancer Healthline (BCH) is a free app created for people living with breast cancer. The app matches you with others based on treatment, stage of cancer, and personal interests, so that you can share experiences, bounce ideas off of each other, and express your thoughts and feelings with someone who understands firsthand.
“The app is a breakthrough way to get women with breast cancer to connect to each other and discuss their diagnosis and treatment,” says Ann Silberman, who received a breast cancer diagnosis in 2009. “Somebody who is scared or having a bad day can have a group of people who have been there — [right] in her pocket [waiting to] connect.”
Ericka Hart, who received a bilateral breast cancer diagnosis at 28 years old, agrees.
“I have found great ease in talking to other breast cancer survivors, sometimes more than my own family members, because they just got what I was going through. This app is an opportunity to just connect with people who get it, minus the hassle,” she says.
Create your own community
The BCH app matches you with members from the community every day at 12 p.m. Pacific Standard Time. You can also browse member profiles and request to match instantly. If someone wants to match with you, you’re notified immediately. Once connected, members can message one another and share photos.
“So many breast cancer support groups take a long period [of] time to connect you with other survivors, or they connect you based on what they believe will work. I like that this is an app algorithm rather than a person doing the ‘matching,’” Hart says.
“We don’t have to navigate a breast cancer website and find the support groups or sign up for the support groups that perhaps [have] already started. We get to just have our place and someone to speak to as often as we need/want,” she says.
Hart, a black woman who identifies as queer, also appreciates the opportunity to connect with a plethora of gender identities.
“Far too often, breast cancer survivors are marked as cisgender women, and it’s important to not only acknowledge that breast cancer happens to many identities, but that it also creates a space for people of various identities to connect,” Hart says.
Feel encouraged to converse
When you find matches that fit, the BCH app makes conversing easy by providing ice breakers to answer.
“So if you don’t know what to say, you can just answer [the questions] or ignore it and just say hi,” explains Silberman.
For Anna Crollman, who received a breast cancer diagnosis in 2015, being able to customize those questions adds a personal touch.
“My favorite part of the onboarding was selecting ‘What feeds your soul?’ This made me feel like more of a person and less of just a patient,” she says.
The app also notifies you when you’re mentioned in a conversation, so you can engage and keep the interaction going.
“It’s been great to be able to talk to new people with my disease who have experienced what I have and help them, as well as have a place I can get help if necessary,” Silberman says.
Hart notes that having the option to frequently match with people ensures you’ll find someone to talk with.
“It’s also important to note that just because folks have shared experiences of breast cancer of varying degrees, that doesn’t mean they are going to connect. Every individual’s experiences of breast cancer still [have] to be honored. There is no one-size-fits-all,” she says.
Opt in and out of group talk
For those who prefer to engage within a group rather than one-on-one conversations, the app provides group discussions each weekday, led by a BCH guide. Topics covered include treatment, lifestyle, career, relationships, newly diagnosed, and living with stage 4.
“I really enjoy the groups section of the app,” Crollman says. “The part I find particularly helpful is the guide who keeps the conservation going, answers questions, and engages participants. It helped me feel very welcome and valued in the conversations. As a survivor a few years out from treatment, it was rewarding to feel like I could contribute insight and support to newly diagnosed women in the discussion.”
Silberman points out that having a small amount of group options keeps the choices from becoming overwhelming.
“Most of what we need to talk about is covered in what there is,” she says, adding that living with stage 4 is her favorite group. “We need a place to talk about our issues, because they are so different than with early stage.”
“Just this morning I had a conversation about a woman whose friends were not wanting to talk about her cancer experience after a year,” Silberman says. “People in our lives can’t be blamed that they don’t want to hear about cancer forever. None of us would either, I think. So it’s crucial that we have a place to discuss it without burdening others.”
Once you join a group, you’re not committed to it. You can leave at any time.
“I used to be a part of many Facebook support groups, and I would log on and see on my news feed that people had passed away. I was new to the groups, so I had no connection to the people necessarily, but it was triggering to just be inundated with people dying,” Hart recalls. “I like that the app is something I can opt into rather than just seeing [it] all of the time.”
Hart mostly gravitates toward the “lifestyle” group in the BCH app, because she’s interested in having a baby in the near future.
“Talking to people about this process in a group setting would be helpful. It would be lovely to talk to people about what options they took or are looking at, [and] how they are coping with alternative ways to breastfeed,” Hart says.
Get informed with reputable articles
When you’re not in the mood to engage with members of the app, you can sit back and read articles related to lifestyle and breast cancer news, reviewed by Healthline medical professionals.
In a designated tab, navigate articles about diagnosis, surgery, and treatment options. Explore clinical trials and the latest breast cancer research. Find ways to nurture your body through wellness, self-care, and mental health. Plus, read personal stories and testimonials from breast cancer survivors about their journeys.
“With a click, you can read articles that keep you up-to-date with what is going on in [the] cancer world,” Silberman says.
For instance, Crollman says she was quickly able to find news stories, blog content, and scientific articles on a study of bean fiber as it relates to breast cancer, as well as a blog post written by a breast cancer survivor detailing her personal experience.
“I enjoyed that the informational article had credentials showing it was fact-checked, and it was clear there was scientific data to support the information shown. In an era of such misinformation, it is powerful to have a trusted source for health information, as well as the more personal relatable pieces about the emotional aspects of the disease,” Crollman says.
Use with ease
The BCH app was also designed to make it easy to navigate.
“I like the Healthline app due to its streamlined design and ease of use. I can easily access it on my phone and don’t have to make a big time commitment for use,” Crollman says.
Silberman agrees, noting that the app only took a few seconds to download and was simple to start using.
“There was nothing much to learn, really. I think anybody could figure it out, it’s so well-designed,” she says.
That’s exactly the intention of the app: a tool that can be easily used by all people facing breast cancer.
“At this point, the [breast cancer] community still struggles to find the resources they need all in one place and connect with other survivors near them and those far away who share similar experiences,” Crollman says. “This has the potential to spread as a collaborative space among organizations as well — a platform to connect survivors with valuable information, resources, financial support, as well as cancer navigation tools.”