After Britta Wilk McKenna was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010, one of the first things she did was what many Internet users do: hit Google to learn about her disease, ductile carcinoma in situ.
But it seemed search results fell in three camps: rather sterile facts-only medical sites, outdated blogs whose writers had stopped updating, or "scary" blogs about botched breast reconstructions and other medical procedures gone awry.
"What I didn't find was ... a website that had personality," McKenna said.
McKenna set out to change that with her launch of breastcancermystory.org, a site she describes as "a soft place to land online after the hard diagnosis" of breast cancer.
It grew out of her search for information, and desire to express herself, when undergoing a mastectomy and breast reconstruction. She started writing things down, such as her surprise at having green urine after receiving a radioactive dye shot into lymph nodes.
She came up with "Top 10" pre- and post-mastectomy tips, such as that having drains removed hurts like a son-of-a-gun, so be sure to take your pain medication before the procedure. Her plastic surgeon found the tips so good she started handing them out to other patients.
That grew into a personal blog and website about DCIS and her recovery, which led to breastcancermystory.org, a site for people with any of the 14 types of breast cancer.
McKenna is the site's administrator. It also has a board of directors that includes her plastic surgeon. They are working on getting certified by the Internal Revenue Service as a nonprofit organization.
The site features links to the American Cancer Society, news and research about breast cancers, and hospice care.
There's also a tab called "1 a.m. Worries," where she encourages people to leave a comment about whatever is keeping them up at night. For McKenna, one night it was about whether she should have had her other breast removed before cancer strikes it. For one of her friends, the 1 a.m. worry is that her cancer will metastasize to other parts of her body.
McKenna hopes the website will help cancer patients feel less isolated, especially those who live in areas that don't have nearby cancer resource centers. She wants an online community where people feel free to express their thoughts, and discover they aren't the only ones who, perhaps, dislike Breast Cancer Awareness Month and its flood of pink-themed promotions because you feel it puts you on display. McKenna has heard from people who say, "I just want to live a normal life in October."
McKenna has expanded her vision with the help of the Illinois Small Business Development Council at Waubonsee Community College and the Fox Valley Entrepreneurial Center, of which she is a board member.
The entrepreneurial aspect appeals to her. From 2004 through 2010, McKenna was director of Batavia MainStreet, an agency devoted to improving downtown Batavia. She ran for mayor in 2009, helped found Batavia's community garden, and managed volunteers and marketing for the building of the Batavia Riverwalk in the 1990s. She said she likes to work with purpose and build things that previously didn't exist.
She has worked as a marketing consultant for the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy and a local architect, and in 2011 she obtained her master's degree in public administration, postponing reconstructive surgery to finish.
Earlier this month she visited Florida to join a former high school classmate in starting a promotion where information about the website will be included in boxes of Toffee to Go, sold online by her friend. Ten percent of proceeds from the sales of certain items will be donated to Breast Cancer My Story.
She's also a co-sponsor of Little Company of Mary Hospital's "Behind the Scenes With Breast Cancer Diagnosis and Care" and talks about having community coffee meetings to talk about breast cancer. She's open to suggestions and could see this becoming a full-time project.
"The balls are going," she said.
For more information, write McKenna at firstname.lastname@example.org.