How Jessica Brown Became Her Own Health Advocate after Her Cancer Diagnosis

Jessica, who was 26 weeks pregnant when she was diagnosed with breast cancer (left), advocated for her baby. Thanks to research done by her oncologist, she gave birth, during chemo treatment, to a healthy baby boy, Lennox (right), who is 2 ½ years old today.

Jessica Brown was just 36 years old when she was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer. She was 26 weeks pregnant with their third child.

“Meeting our oncologist Dr. Ibrahim for the first time, I was shaking and terrified about what he was going to say,” Jessica said. “But his first words were, ‘Right now, from what I’m seeing, this is still curable. And we are going to keep your son safe.’”

Jessica realized early on that Dr. Ibrahim’s “we” included her. Although it’s easy to let yourself believe you can sit back and be cared for, she learned how important it is to become a full participant in your own care. That’s true whether it’s a cancer diagnosis or something else. Research shows that people who get more involved with their own healthcare tend to have better results.

However, advocating for yourself is not necessarily a skill you’re born with.

“You’ll hear that advocacy is really important. But there isn’t a lot of emphasis on how to advocate for yourself.”

Jessica said that to her, advocating for yourself means being an active member of the team, communicating with them, and learning more about your disease.

“You’ll never understand at an oncologist level. But if you read through your file, it will lead you to ask questions that maybe you wouldn’t have asked before,” Jessica said.

That in turn can lead to catching things in your file that others haven’t.

“People aren’t perfect,” Jessica said. “If you’re reading your file and you come across an error or something questionable, you can bring it to your team. In my experience, they’re excellent in taking into consideration your concerns.

“But you have to be there asking. You’re one of many, many patients, so you do have to have the perspective that you can have some control in your care.”

Jessica said finding out what supports are in place for cancer patients at our Cancer Centre is another important part of advocacy. “They go over available cancer services quickly with you,” she said. “But you’re really overwhelmed and it’s hard to slow down and think about, ‘What do I need right now?’”

Jessica said that the Supportive Care she received has been a huge help.

“For us, it’s been a saving grace. Our social worker pulled us through a lot. He taught us the skills to get through this as a family and be advocates in an effective way.”

In Jessica’s case, she was also advocating for her baby. Today, baby Lennox is happy and healthy and is 2 ½ years old.

“I’m just so grateful for everything,” Jessica said.

Ask your doctor, specialist, and medical team what supports are available to you and how you can become an active member of your care team. Cancer patients can find more information on the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre’s website: