A few years ago, a woman named Lauren wrote an article on a medical site about her cancer.
“I have been living with the illness for six years, but I was hesitant to share it with anyone because of how much pain I was feeling,” she wrote.
“It took me years to feel comfortable sharing my diagnosis, but finally I am.
The only thing that kept me going through this pain was the hope that others would get to know my illness.”
That’s when Lauren reached out to her doctors.
“At first, I was told my illness was ‘the new normal,'” she said.
“Then I found out it was actually a real disease, and that the treatments and treatment plans weren’t always what they seemed.”
Lauren’s story shows how important it is for people with breast cancer to talk openly about their illness and how it affects them.
“We know that breast cancer isn’t a ‘normal’ disease,” said Amy A. Dutta, MD, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society.
“But if we don’t share our experiences and beliefs with each other, we’re likely to continue living with a condition we might never be able to cure.”
So Lauren shared her story to help others find their own solutions.
She asked her readers to share their stories on the site with the hashtag #BeFree, which is a common theme in her article.
Over the past several months, Lauren has had thousands of responses to her article, and many of them have been supportive.
“People were willing to share what they had experienced,” she said, adding that “we’ve had a lot of supportive messages, too.”
While it may seem like a small number of people, it could be a sign that people are getting more comfortable sharing their stories.
“There’s a lot more support out there for people like me than there used to be,” Lauren said.
And because so many people are talking openly about breast cancer, there are also new strategies and treatments available to help people like Lauren.
While the number of women with breast disease has dropped dramatically in recent years, it is still far too common for many people to have symptoms, and a diagnosis isn’t guaranteed.
“The biggest fear is that I’ll be told I have breast cancer,” said Lauren.
“What I want to say to people is, I’m here to tell you it’s okay to be your own best friend.”
Be Free Lauren’s article is part of the annual Breast Cancer Awareness Month on The Conversation.
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This article originally appeared on Business Insider.