It’s a diagnosis that prompts more questions than answers.
Each time one of nurse practitioner Heather Flanagan’s patients received word that they had breast cancer, it was up to Flanagan to provide the frightened women with reassuring information.
Flanagan has worked for Dr. Donna Bridge’s office in Brandon since 2008. Although she’s a general surgeon, Bridge concentrates on breast cancer surgery.
“I kept hearing the same questions when the women were diagnosed,” said Flanagan, a Riverview resident. “They don’t know where to turn for information, and some of the information out there on the Internet can be very scary.”
As a nurse practitioner, Flanagan took it upon herself to provide these women with easy-to-read, factual information that explained the things they needed to know about their diagnosis.
“I went to work every day and I love my job, but I couldn’t help but feel there was more I could do,” said Flanagan.
Then, one day it occurred to Flanagan that she could reach so many more women by developing a website with the information.
“I already provide patients with packets of information,” she said. “This would be an extension of what I already do and reach a lot more people.”
Although there already are breast cancer websites available, Flanagan said many of them are too technical to be of practical use to women.
She decided to launch “My Breast Cancer Answers,” mybreastcanceranswers.com.
In February, with no experience developing a website, Flanagan set about building a site that encompassed all of the information she was already giving to breast cancer patients, and more.
“I taught myself how to use the software and got a lot of help from my friend Christian Tenekeds, who pointed me in the right direction and gave me pointers,” said Flanagan. “I designed the logo and, from February to May, did research on how to build a site.”
The mother of a 1-year-old who works three days a week, Flanagan said most of the work on the site took place after she put her baby to bed.
“I probably spent 40 hours on the content alone,” she said.
She then launched her site three weeks ago, but noted that “My Breast Cancer Answers” is a work in progress because she’s constantly updating information, interpreting breast cancer studies, adding nutritional information and answering the questions from her readers.
“There’s just so many facets to the disease,” she said. “And there’s new information published all the time. I do the research for women and put it in a format they can understand. I want to be the advocate for these women and, in turn, I’m teaching them to be their own advocates.”
The website discusses a variety of topics, such as the different types of biopsies that are available and what women need to do to get a quality mammogram.
“A quality mammogram can save you from getting a biopsy you don’t need,” she said.
Topics on her site range from “Pink is Pretty,” to “Pink is Fit” and “Pink is Green.” The latter discusses products with chemicals, pesticides and environmental factors that have been linked to cancer.
“I might be interviewing an organic farmer or do a series on weight and nutrition,” she explained. “Once a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, she wants to know what to do to stay as healthy as possible; she wants to know what she can do to feel good again.”
She’ll also provide practical inside tips, such as what patients should bring to the hospital with them when they’re having surgery.
In addition, Flanagan is hoping the website will be a place where women with a breast cancer diagnosis can connect with one another. “We’ll have a chat forum so ladies can discuss their different issues and concerns,” she said.
“My website is totally different than the others out there,” she said. “It’s not meant to replace those other sites. It’s meant to supplement the sites out there. I want to create a community where women can help one another, share their stories and experiences.”
Flanagan cautioned that her website will not provide medical advice or recommendations on specific physicians or hospitals.
“The site is meant to augment or enhance your current relationship with your doctor,” she said. “As a patient, you don’t always know what questions to ask. This site will help you.”
In fact, the site includes a printable checklist of things to ask once you’re diagnosed with breast cancer.
In addition to launching her website, Flanagan has been busy starting a breast cancer support group at the in Valrico.
The support group was founded in June.
“I’m just facilitating the group,” Flanagan said. “I want to provide support, but I’m hoping the group will be a way to connect women with breast cancer.”
Upcoming meetings are scheduled for rom 5:30-7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 23 and Tuesday, Sept. 20.
Flanagan also hopes to start a foundation for breast cancer patients needing help. She plans to work with other organizations, such as the Greater Brandon Community Foundation and the American Cancer Society, in providing assistance to patients with special needs.
“There might be a single mom in treatment who needs baby-sitting while she goes to the doctor,” said Flanagan. “Or the woman who can’t afford the cost of a mammogram or follow-up appointment. I’d like to be able to offer them the resources they need.”
Her overall mission is to help breast cancer patients maintain control of their lives, she said.
“We fight better when we fight together,” she said.
Flanagan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.