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Calgary Next Economy: Breast Buds connecting cancer patients with support

Wendy Muise just wanted to connect other women.

The women in her family all had been diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of 25. Her mom died when Muise was 31. She had to be more proactive, so she had genetic testing done. While the doc couldn’t tell Muise that she would most certainly get cancer, they suggested a double mastectomy and hysterectomy as a preventative measure.

She calls herself a Previvor.

When she sought out more information on resources and support from the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, she was less than thrilled with the response.

“She basically said to me, ‘do you know Facebook?” Muise said.

Muise said that’s not exactly where you want to be to get your information.

Not satisfied with that approach, Muise interviewed more than 300 women to find out what mattered to them in these circumstances.

“The truth was, they just wanted to connect with each other,” Muise said.

She said you get a cancer diagnosis and then told they’ll call you with a schedule for surgery.

Muise got her package related to the scheduled hysterectomy; an envelope, a sheet saying what’s safe to eat or drink and a checklist from her surgeon.

“If that didn’t exist, we wouldn’t get that. And that’s all I have,” she said.

“I was like, ‘OK, let’s make this better.”

And so began the Breast Buds journey. Muise, inspired by working with her own doctor, has developed a platform that connects patients dealing with breast cancer with each other and local resources.

“People want to help, but we genuinely don’t know how. I think that that became more clear as I thought about what we do,” Muise said.

Access to support – for patient and family

Muise said one of the things she learned through her research was there was just as much need for support for families and friends impacted by the cancer diagnosis of someone close to them.

“Supporters really struggle. People really have a hard time with knowing what to say when something terrible happens,” she said.

She said people need support and care and people to talk to, so they provide information on how best to provide that to someone going through cancer.

For patients, the platform is free. That gives full access to all the services provided by Breast Buds. That comes with five accounts for family or close friends, so they can be a part of that support network with the same resources.

It allows for everyone to be on the same page on everything from meal plans to childcare and medical appointments.

For the patient, with each login it asks a series of questions: pain, how they’re feeling, if they’ve eaten and then it will provide feedback and aggregate against others on the platform.

It also sends a message to one of the people in your support or peer groups to let them know how you’re feeling so they can be cognizant of it and perhaps do something to acknowledge it or make that extra effort to accommodate your needs.

“It tells me that you’re thinking about me, that you care about me, it does trigger that sort of like, ‘I’m not alone,’” Muise said.

“If you’re sitting there alone, where your pain is 60, thinking it’s never going to get better.”

Serial entrepreneur doing her thing

Muise had always worked with others on building businesses. She’d never founded something on her own. It’s different starting your own business than participating in a start-up, she said.

“I know a lot about entrepreneurship, I would certainly describe myself as a subject matter expert, but I would not describe myself as a seasoned founder by any stretch of it,” Muise said.

Working in the Platform Calgary Junction program has helped Muise lay the foundation for a successful business.

The goal was to be live this summer, as she had roughly 1,000 early adopters waiting to launch on the platform. She wants participants to be connected to the services in their region. She’d like to onboard many of these services as partners in her approach.

It will be a connecting place for patients, families and friends in the cancer journey.

“My hope is that this will help to reduce (anxiety) where people give them that connection and capacity,” Muise said.

Beyond the launch, Muise is hoping for steady growth in Canada and the United States.

After that, she believes there’s an opportunity to create this network for other chronic diseases.