Becoming an Advocate, an interview with Heidi Floyd
As a young mother, Heidi had to advocate for her care while pregnant. Her experience compelled her share her story and she’s continued to be a resource for other women dealing with breast cancer.
Brilliantly: Since your experience with breast cancer you’ve become an advocate, educator and public speaker. How did that happen?
Heidi: When I was getting my chemo, I was much younger than everyone else in the treatment room. And I was pregnant.
Having chemo while pregnant was very uncommon at the time. Even in the treatment rooms, people would stare. I had a fear of public speaking, had no desire whatsoever to do it, but I realized that people should know that this happens and that there’s treatment.
Brilliantly: It’s really important for anyone going through a difficult time to connect with others, but I imagine it’s even more critical when you’re pregnant and there are two lives in jeopardy.
Heidi: During one of my appointments, a young couple came into the waiting room very upset and crying. They sat right across from me and didn't say anything for quite a while.
Finally they asked if I was pregnant and going through chemo. They had just gotten the breast cancer diagnosis and found out that were expecting. I reassured them that they were in the right place and that I was doing well.
Brilliantly: That must have been comforting.
Heidi: I think so. But, then I unloaded on them. It was the first time I realized how afraid and alone I felt when I was diagnosed.
No too long after that my doctor asked if I would speak at an event. I’d had my son, undergone surgery, and finished chemo, but hadn’t started radiation. I could either hold onto my fear or help other people in the same situation.
Brilliantly: Wow. It’s hard to imagine having the energy, let alone the strength to reflect on your experience while you were still in the middle of it.
Heidi: At first I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want people to look at me. I didn’t think I had anything beneficial to say. But the doctor reminded me that it wasn’t just my story, it was also his story. He is a pioneer, one of the first oncologists to treat pregnant women. I represented his decades of research.
Brilliantly: What year was this?
Heidi: It was 2005. And until around then, women had to terminate their pregnancy or make the choice to delay treatment.
When I was diagnosed, my husband and I had already had two miscarriages, I just didn't want to lose another baby. The first oncologist was insistent that I had to terminate the pregnancy, so I kept looking. Then I found George Sledge. When I met with him and he was willing to treat me while I was pregnant, I had to try. And I haven't looked back since. He saved me and Noah.
I recently met a woman who told me that she had to go to eight doctors, eight, before she found one who would allow her to go through chemo while pregnant. Eight times she was told she had no choice but to terminate. How many people would have that tenacity to go through any kind of medical illness, any kind of situation and keep looking for the right doctor? That's perseverance. I'm teaching my kids to understand that if you don't like your doctor, you find another one. I want them to embrace and understand that they have to advocate for themselves.
Brilliantly: That’s amazing. You’re teaching your own kids such an important lesson. And telling your story must continue helping so many women facing a devastating diagnosis.
Heidi: I've also learned that sometimes it’s important for me to let someone else be a substitute for my voice. If a company or organization approaches me and wants to make an impact, I encourage them to think about showcasing underrepresented women.
Brilliantly: Women need to see others who look like them- whether that’s race or life-stage- talking about their health, especially in cultures where they're not encouraged to talk about their body. This gives entire communities permission to engage in the dialog. We can educate each other and support each other during the different struggles and victories.
Heidi: Right. That’s why I felt it was so important to share my story for other pregnant women.
Brilliantly: Does telling your story also help you heal?
Heidi: I feel really strongly that I think it's what I'm supposed to be doing. It's not something that I get paid for, it doesn't cover my mortgage. I use all of my vacation days to do it. I just know I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing - connecting with other women.
This past Saturday, for example, I met with a woman here in Atlanta who just completed her treatment. She's young, single, going through a pretty rough patch. She is interested in getting involved in legislation to make sure people have access to healthcare. We connected on LinkedIn and I offered to meet with her. We spend two hours going through the resources and people I could connect her with. It was rewarding for me to help her and she was genuinely moved that I made the time. At the end of our meeting she said, "I had all these dreams and now they're kind of broken." I said it wasn’t fair to look at them like broken dreams because they are the platform for building the beautiful cathedral that is her life. We have to help each other.
To me, public speaking isn’t about glamour and fun. It about being accessible when someone asks for help, and just giving it. And that helps me a lot because I'm not gonna be here forever. I have an abbreviated life span and I want to know that someone will do that for my kids. If they reach out and say, "Will someone help me?" I want someone to say, "Of course I'll help you." That's the reason.
Brilliantly: My experience is that this community is full of amazing, supportive group of people who want to make experience better for other women and families, explain options or side effects, or just be a sounding board.
Heidi: And simply so we feel less alone. I am part of three or four closed Facebook groups for moms with cancer. Every once in awhile they'll check in and see someone say something like, "I'm at seven months and I'm exhausted and I don't think I can go on. I'm really afraid.
Can somebody please put a picture up of your kids?” And then pictures flood in from around the world. After a day there's 180 pictures and offers from hundreds of women who are willing to chat.
Brilliantly: That's making me cry. Those groups, social media, is such a valuable tool for finding support.
Heidi: I've known some of the women in those groups since they were pregnant and now get to see their children. It's a beautiful network, and I think that's what community is all about. That's what we're supposed to be doing here, helping each other.
Heidi Floyd is a sought-after influencer with over 10 years of experience in healthcare and breast cancer non-profit management. Her diverse skill set includes social media marketing, corporate philanthropy, relationship management, partnership cultivation and program development.
Heidi is a powerful communicator, public speaker and published author. She is a passionate advocate who is effective in discussing all aspects of oncology. As a thought-leader in all things breast cancer, she highlights treatment options, quality of life and community concerns.
Ms. Floyd has served as the
“voice of the patient” for myriad organizations
including Ford, Google, the US Department of Defense, the American Cancer Society and Susan G Komen. Her experience has helped to establish and strengthen relationships with patient advocacy organizations that support patients and their families, and educate corporations on compassionate outreach to the cancer community.
Her written work has been featured in Forbes, Huffington Post, CNN and the NY Times.
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