In the Face of Loss, She Found Love — And a Mission to Fight Breast Cancer
When Betsy Nilan matched with a good-looking, friendly-seeming man named Jonathan on Bumble just over two years ago, the timing was…well, not ideal.
She was mourning the recent passing of her beloved mother after a breast cancer relapse. She had been seeing someone, long-distance, but knew in her heart that it was over.
And she was set to embark — the very next day, in fact — on a month-long, cross-country road trip with her two siblings, with the aim of spreading their mom’s ashes as they went.
“I didn’t want to tell Jonathan what I was doing,” Betsy laughs now. “I thought it was a little morbid for our first conversation!”
When she returned, they had a first date. And a second. It turned out he’d recently experienced a loss. Jonathan understood and supported Betsy’s mission: to take up the mantle for her mom, and to finish the work she’d started.
Fourteen years ago, Betsy’s mom Mary Ann Wasil, then just 39, found a lump in her left breast. Her doctor, Betsy recalls, told her it was small, and probably nothing. “Whenever my mom told that story, she described it as the most disrespectful thing ever,” Betsy remembers.
Never one to settle for a first opinion, Mary Ann found a new doctor. It turned out she did, in fact, have cancer — in both breasts.
She never wanted another person to feel as disempowered as she’d felt sitting in that first doctor’s examination room. She set about teaching every woman and girl in her small Connecticut town how to do a breast self-exam. Mary Ann discovered there was a huge demand for this information — and for the simple, interactive tool she created (with the help of pediatricians and nurses): the Daisy Wheel.
“It outlines 8 steps necessary to perform a breast self-exam,” Betsy says. “It isn’t sexualized. It’s friendly. And there’s no mention of cancer. We focus on health, empowerment, and not making it a scary thing.”
Mary Ann called her nonprofit The Get In Touch Foundation. She was adamant that the program be free for school nurses to use to teach kids in grades 5 through 12.
When Mary Ann’s cancer returned and her health started to decline, Betsy stepped up, first as acting president, armed with a master’s degree in Women’s Studies. (Her thesis, appropriately: ‘Patriarchal Society’s Effect on Women with the BRCA1 and BRCA2 Genetic Mutation.’)
After her mother’s death, Betsy took on the top job at The Get In Touch Foundation, determined to continue fighting for breast cancer awareness.
Her personal life took a toll, however. She remembers it as a lonely time.
“I was living alone at mom’s house,” she says. “I was isolated. I was just looking for support. Someone to get happy hour drinks with.”
Enter Bumble. And enter Jonathan.
More than two years on, they live together. And The Get In Touch Foundation is going from strength to strength.
This year alone, they’ve distributed more than half a million Daisy Wheels, for a total of over one million since the nonprofit’s inception.
“With my role now, I’m telling the story of my mom,” Betsy says. “My mom made the first move, by questioning her doctor. We should all empower ourselves with knowledge for the sake of our own health.”
You can learn more about The Get In Touch Foundation — and how to do breast self-exams — here.