Alright – so today we’ve got the honor of introducing you to Amelia O’Relly, founder of how to Breast cancer. We think you’ll enjoy our conversation; we’ve shared it below.
Amelia, thanks for joining us, excited to have you contributing your stories and insights. We’d love to have you retell us the story behind how you came up with the idea for your business, I think our audience would really enjoy hearing the backstory.
Thank you for having me. It is absolutely my pleasure to be with you today. So, I decided to start my own online organization, how to Breast cancer, (thebreastcancerguide.com) with the intention to help anyone navigating a breast cancer journey, be able to do so with excellence and grace. We want to serve as the breast cancer guide, by providing a single, helpful, safe space, for anyone going through a breast cancer journey. The idea to create this platform came from an intensely dark moment that turned into a very bright light.
I’ll take you back to the start of 2019. At that time,, I was at a top post as a Human Resources senior executive, and at just 47 years old, my corporate career still had many years ahead. That all began to change on May 10th, when I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. I continued to work and for the first eighteen months following my diagnosis, and the cancer continued to resurface, in spite of the strong chemotherapy treatments I was undergoing. Towards the end of 2020, during the most terrifying stage of my journey because when we were running out of treatment options, I left my corporate career. It would be one full year later, before I would thankfully find stability in a new treatment plan that continues to work and has allowed me to create a new path.
And so iIn late 2021, I launched how to Breast cancer, @thebreastcancerguide.com, an organization that provides easy-to-use tools and practices for successfully navigating a breast cancer journey. When we think about breast cancer as a whole, there’s a lot of information out there on early detection and screening, which is extremely important and lifesaving. There’s also a lot on survivorship and living well, after treatment is finished. Again, very important. But I’ve found that there’s a huge gap in what I call “the middle”: how to really get started on the journey and how to sustain a longer-term treatment journey, especially if you have to be in treatment for the rest of your life, as I do. I want to fill the void that I felt as a patient.
I know from personal experience, that when you first get a diagnosis of breast cancer and start trying to learn about it, the amount of information can be overwhelming. Once you actually begin your journey, knowing how to stay on track can be a compounded challenge. Patients and their loved ones need a road map, and that’s what we intend to provide. As someone who is still living in the journey, I think this is a way I can bring real value and create a better way forward for anyone navigating a breast cancer journey.
Great, appreciate you sharing that with us. Before we ask you to share more of your insights, can you take a moment to introduce yourself and how you got to where you are today to our readers?
Sure, I was born in Havana, Cuba and spent the first nine years of my life there. My parents, my sister and I left Cuba on the Mariel Boatlift in 1980, and virtually overnight, became refugees. We eventually settled in Tampa, Florida, where I would go on to graduate with honors from the University of South Florida (go Bulls!). After university, I began what would become a very successful corporate career in Human Resources, spanning five major public companies and multiple geographies, for over twenty plus years. About half-way through that career, I met my life partner Derek, and together we’re raising our dog-child.
In early 2019, what began with discovering a lump, in late April of that year, and going to see my primary care physician, turned into an extremely serious diagnosis. Initially, both my doctor and I thought it was just a cyst because I’d kept up with my regular checkups and mammograms. A biopsy later confirmed that I had breast cancer, and a PET scan revealed that the cancer had already spread to my liver and a rib. Within two weeks, I’d gone from living my normal life, to confronting a very aggressive cancer.
Over the past three and a half years, I’ve been living with metastatic breast cancer. For much of that time, my main focus was on finding the right treatment to get the cancer under control. I’ve now thankfully reached NED (No Evidence of Disease) status, but it took a lot of time, effort, and grit to get here. To date, I’ve had over 90 rounds of chemo.
It goes without saying that cancer has changed my life. At its worst, it forced me to leave my former career, but there’s a bright light, in that it helped me move toward creating my own organization and purpose. I want to help clear a path forward for others navigating a cancer journey and make their lives a little easier.
In some ways, I liken the cancer journey to my early experience of escaping from Cuba, a country where there was so much oppression. When you get out, you think, “the least I can do is help.”
And so, we created how to Breast cancer @thebreastcancerguide.com. Launched in October 2021, we are an online platform that serves as a guide for anyone navigating a breast cancer journey. We are also a Latina owned and led business that believes in community and working with like-minded businesses to support one another.
Navigating a breast cancer treatment journey is hugely complicated, and there’s too much information to learn all at once. In my organization, by leaning into my own patient experience and learnings, we work with other patients and experts to compile information that serves as a breast cancer guide and that will offer the most important information in one organized place. One way we do this, is through our journey map, which provides information in bite-sized pieces for all the critical points along the way. An example is a list of questions for a new patient to ask their doctor once they’ve been diagnosed. The questions I wish I’d had when I first started.
We also work with nonprofits that are focused on metastatic breast cancer, because that’s a space where I think I can really make an impact, and where a great deal of support is needed. I’m grateful that medical researchers are focusing more and more on developing treatments that target those living with metastatic breast cancer and that are gentler on the patient. But there’s still a lot more to be done, especially in the area of treatment customization for patients.
We are very proud of the fact that since our launch, we have received consistent, positive feedback from viewers and subscribers about the usefulness of our tools and the clarity that our articles and other practices we provide. We have several testimonials posted on our site, expressing their appreciation and the impact of our services.
As we look ahead to our second year, we are expanding our focus to work directly with cancer centers and help serve as a key resource and extension of their patient portal. I say this humbly, but we want for people to know our guidance comes from having walked (and still walking), in “the shoes” through the journey and that relatability of a patient-to-patient voice, makes us a key differentiator and an immeasurable value to the patient experience.
We encourage everyone to get to know more about how to Breast cancer, by visiting our site www.thebreastcancerguide.com and by following us on all social platforms and our YouTube channel @howtobreastcancer.
We’d love to hear a story of resilience from your journey.
During the first 18 months of my journey with cancer, all of the treatments I was receiving to stop the cancer, failed. The failure of the treatments was not because of poor care or access to care, it was simply that the cancer was behaving far more aggressively than the treatments could combat.
To put that into context, we went through seven different chemotherapy regimens; each being administered every three weeks and each lasting at least four months. Some of these regimens lasted over six months. In addition to the incredible toll the treatments take on the body, that toll is further compounded when the cancer is still active. So much so, that in my case, the cancer spread to the skin, and I was in constant and extreme physical pain. For that entire time, I was also working full time,and this was also 2019 into 2020, when the world was facing the uncontrollable pandemic.
I never gave up on myself and that resiliency thankfully paid off.
In December of 2020, a new treatment emerged that finally contained and has eradicated the cancer once and for all. I continue to be on that treatment.
Because of the incredible struggle I went through, for almost two years, I decided to start my own organization and to draw from the depths of my challenges, to create a better way forward for those navigating a cancer journey. It is the reason I created how to Breast cancer @thebreastcancerguide.com.
It is not just my new business; it is my greatest life’s work.
Are there any books, videos, essays or other resources that have significantly impacted your management and entrepreneurial thinking and philosophy?
One of the most foundational personal and professional leadership books I read many years ago was The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz. He notes that the four agreements are: Be Impeccable With Your Word, Don’t Take Anything Personally, Don’t Make Assumptions, and Always Do Your Best. And while they are not always easy, they are absolutely true and grounding. I recently read a phenomenal book by Jaime Kern Lima, the Founder of IT Cosmetics, called Believe IT. Jaime’s story is not only deeply inspirational, but highly relatable for entrepreneurs. In the book, we are reminded of the tenacity you have to have when you truly believe in what you are doing, and why you are doing it.
I appreciated the way she shares the countless low points and failures they went through as they were building their business, and the incredible success they reached in creating a billion-dollar brand, a few years later. It is also a story that highlights the worth ethic and sacrifice you have to be prepared to make as you begin a new business, from nothing to everything!
In my opinion, every small business entrepreneur should read her book and truly believe in a dream far bigger than your reality.
One of my favorite lines from the book is when she writes, “know your why and then fly girl, fly”. It’s absolutely true!
Debra Sommerville Photography
Hannah Dougan Photography