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Big Ideas: “#checkyourself for breast cancer” with activist Jana Geyer

As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Jana Geyer. Jana is 34 years old and originally from New York. She now resides in the Chicago, IL area with her Husband and 2-year-old daughter. She studied Musical Theatre […]

As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Jana Geyer. Jana is 34 years old and originally from New York. She now resides in the Chicago, IL area with her Husband and 2-year-old daughter. She studied Musical Theatre in College and received her BFA from Five Towns College in New York. After graduation, she did several National Tours and Regional Theatre productions. She started working in the event planning field after completing a National Tour which eventually leads to a career change. She found herself working for Hilton Hotels as a Sales Manager eventually working her way up to a Business Travel Sales Executive.

On October 1st, 2018 she was diagnosed with Breast Cancer at 33 years old. It was devastating, but she knew right then and there that she was going to use the diagnosis to help other young women become aware of their bodies and guide them regarding what to do if they detected something abnormal on their own. She is undergoing chemotherapy which concludes at the end of February 2019. She will have a double mastectomy in March 2019 followed by five weeks of targeted radiation. When the treatment is completed, she will have breast reconstruction. Breast cancer had temporarily postponed the plans that she had before diagnosis, but it has not changed them. She is fighting the good fight and winning. She is also very passionate about maintaining a positive mindset by using her complex story to help other young women learn about breast health and their rights as a patient. Jana has created a movement titled #checkyourself, and she is determined to save lives by raising awareness allowing for early detection as well as educating as many young women about it as she possibly can!


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
 
I have always enjoyed being in the spotlight. I was like this as a child and studied this my entire adult life. Being on stage, performing, and public speaking always came very naturally to me, so it doesn’t surprise me that I have now incorporated this love into my breast cancer fight and as a breast cancer activist. Once I let my diagnosis sink in, I spearheaded this movement, and it has not only been a wonderful way for me, but it has further educated me. #checkyourself is not just a career path; it is a pathway to saving lives.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I have had the pleasure of speaking at several colleges to educate young women about breast health awareness and their rights as a patient. At one of my speaking engagements, I was approached by a woman who was unsure of what to do as she had found a lump in her breast. She said that my presentation had ignited the fire under her to get this taken care of once and for all. I spoke with her about the proper steps to consider going forward, and she was going to make all of the necessary appointments that week. I can’t help but think what would this woman have done if she never attended my movement lecture? How much longer would she have waited to do something? Would it have been too late? This is exactly why I know I can and will change the world.

Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?

It is not tangible, and it isn’t a new must-have product. It is a movement titled #checkyourself. This is the hashtag that represents advocacy for breast health with a focus on young women. I have started a public speaking project where I physically go to colleges, places of worship and other establishments where groups of young women (under 40) congregate. Here is where I talk about breast health, the importance of self-exams, and the steps to take if you find something abnormal. I speak by example and tell them my story. I educate and relate, I capture their attention, and I encourage them to fight for themselves and their rights as a patient. I have found that so many women especially young women have no clue what the next step would be if they found a lump or an abnormality on their own. It terrifies me to think that breast cancer is becoming a disease that attacks young women more often nowadays, and it is very scary and unfortunate that these young women have no idea what to look out for or how to proceed if something doesn’t feel right, or how to cope if they do get a breast cancer diagnosis.

How do you think this will change the world?

The #checkyourself movement can potentially save lives by stressing early detection, help with coping if diagnosed, act as a safe place and bring awareness to young women about the disease. I could see this blowing up in 5 to 10 years, and if so, so many women would be enlightened, maybe even survivors. This movement that I have created is not just a hashtag or a PowerPoint presentation. It is a lifesaving reminder that is necessary to have in every single establishment where young women spend their time. The more I can speak about the movement and give my customized #checkyourself presentation the more lives will be changed ultimately changing the world.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this idea that people should think more deeply about?

There are always drawbacks in business. The only drawback I can foresee is the hashtag fading on social media outlets OR the hashtag not getting the right exposure on social media. That is it. There is no other drawback to this business, the business of saving lives. If that is the only drawback or challenge ahead of me, then I will need to get more creative with the movement, and I can do that…

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?

Yes, there was. I found a lump in my breast on February 28th, 2018. I was misdiagnosed, told it was a benign breast cyst and to keep an eye on it if anything about the lump changes. It never changed but I developed other symptoms, and it just didn’t feel right to me, so I decided to aspirate it. After the aspiration, it came right back in 3 days, just the same as before.

That was a huge red flag, but I was still told that I didn’t need to do anything but watch it. I was never given a mammogram because I was under 35 years old and I was told the ultrasound was enough diagnostic testing to determine that it was, in fact, a benign finding. Months and months went by, and I decided to aspirate it again. Again, the lump never went away. Although this was another red flag for me, it didn’t seem to be one for the doctors.

More months had passed by, and my armpit started hurting. I was prescribed an antibiotic, and it was being treated as an infection. Still no mammogram. There were no changes except more odd symptoms such as nipple retraction and indentation. I finally decided to remove it in entirety. Low and behold the pathology report came back as Invasive Ductal Carcinoma and there I was, a 33-year-old woman, diagnosed with breast cancer on October 1st, 2018. Ironically the first day of breast cancer awareness month. Guess what?

I had been given a mammogram the very next day. This is why I am dedicating my time to the #checkyourself movement. This is why I created it. If I didn’t check myself, fight for myself, demand the proper care even though I was under 35 with NO breast cancer history in my family who knows what would have happened to me. My story could have been drastically different. It would have been. I knew that I was going to do something about this and not let this happen to another young woman if I could help it. That is why #checkyourself was created.

What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?

I need to continue my movement lectures and bring them to other cities. I need to create a successful marketing plan and get this campaign in the eyes of the right people. I need more exposure.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. There is much information out there, and it isn’t all true.
    Check the facts and statistics when doing your research and before you discuss them with groups
  2. Getting social media attention is hard.
    You can never reach out to enough people! It also takes a lot of time and effort into reaching the right people. Keep asking for followers and for people to share their #checkyourself experience!
  3. You will get emotional when you are asked questions about your personal journey.
    After a #checkyourself presentation, I was asked about family planning, and I shed tears telling them I may not be able to have more children. I tried not to but… the reality hits even in the spotlight.
  4. Each group is different.
    Although the information presented is predominantly the same, each group is not. I need to tailor it to fit the groups’ needs and interests. I need to improvise at times, and I need to be flexible.
  5. You will need to become a bit tech savvy
    Learn how to work with audiovisual equipment. There are different tools out there to help create better visuals. Get educated and learn how to use them.

The future of work is a common theme. What can one do to “future proof” their career?

Keep up with the times! Seriously, do not become outdated or overlooked. You need to be on top of the newest trends, and you need to stay relevant to be successful now and in the future. It is so important to be ahead of the game now that we are living in a social media focused world, but it is also important to maintain the core values that make a business thrive. Nobody wants to work with someone they can’t trust.

Based on the future trends in your industry, if you had a million dollars, what would you invest in?

I would invest in top-notch PR (PUBLIC RELATIONS). I would make sure I reached out to the perfect people to get me and #checkyourself into the larger spotlights so I can raise awareness on a much bigger scale like TV. I think speaking about this on daytime television shows would be so beneficial for the movement and for all of the young women that I haven’t been able to reach yet.

Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?

I have always lived my life thinking that nothing was more important than family and friends. I think being surrounded by love and the people you love the most trumps anything and everything. I also believe that people are individuals and should not be categorized or lumped into a statistical group. This is why I am so passionate about this movement that I have created. I want to be someone that helps others live that life. I want to share my story and educate young women so they can be the best they can be, surrounded by their loved ones and friends for a very long time. I want to empower young women and tell them that they are NOT the patient before them; they are an individual and not a statistic. I want to instill confidence in these young women telling them to always strive for answers and never let a medical professional dismiss you and your concerns.

Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?

I think that successful people never stop learning. It is a very good thing to be open minded and willing to learn new things. Thinking you know everything and that you cannot produce a better “product” is a huge detriment to businesses and business owners. If you think you know it all you are missing out on new opportunities and ultimately more success. So, being open-minded, learning new tactics, being relatable and approachable are some of the most important success habits and mindsets there are in my opinion.

Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say?

Do you want to be a part of a movement that saves lives? Do you want to be a reason why a young mother can see her child grow up? Do you want to help young women everywhere know how to properly screen their bodies for breast abnormalities? Do you want to not only change the life of a young lady but the world? #checkyourself is the only way to bring this awareness to college-aged women. It is the only way to make sure that these women are actively fighting for their patient rights. Please join me; a breast cancer fighter and activist, in educating remarkable young ladies everywhere about the risk of breast cancer, breast health awareness and the power of being their health advocate. Be a part of the movement. It is not just a hashtag; it is a lifesaving reminder.

How can our readers follow you on social media?
I am currently writing a blog: www.janamichellesstorytotell.wordpress.com 
Also find me on facebook: Jana Geyer
Please tag your photos and posts with #checkyourself after you have completed a breast self-exam or made an appointment with a doctor in regards to your breast health!

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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