Candid Conversations: Chatting About Cancer

by Bri Kilroy • photography by Two Eagles Marcus

Susan Ford welcomes guest Diahann Carroll to last year’s Candid Conversations.

Casual. Candid. Cancer. The first two words promote ease and invite you into conversation, but the third word carries a weight that makes it almost too intimidating to approach. Public discussion about breast cancer was unheard of before First Lady Betty Ford revealed her diagnosis in 1974, and Spectrum Health Cancer Center and Betty Ford Breast Care Services keep the conversation going today with their 5th annual Candid Conversations, happening October 18 at East Kentwood High School.

Occurring at the height of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, this event invites men and women to engage in breast health and fearlessly address issues and concerns that surround it. Just as Betty Ford’s announcement was an immediate catalyst for women around the country to get a mammogram, Candid Conversations has its share of attendees who sought screenings after attending.

“We’ve had people who were compelled to get a mammogram because of the event and found they had breast cancer,” Kelsey Haynes, Spectrum Health Community Relations Specialist, said as she described the importance of attendance and how detection leads to action. Haynes centers on the main goal of engaging the community in breast health, knowing the conversation extends far beyond the event itself. “Many attendees have shared the information they learn from Candid Conversations with their friends and family and encouraged them to make a mammogram appointment.”

Confronting the topic of breast health through education and an open invitation to talk about it critically punctures the barrier that stands between breast cancer and discussion. Spectrum Health Betty Ford Breast Care works relentlessly to create the opportunity for everyone to approach breast cancer through available resources and all-inclusive events like Candid Conversations. The event provides onsite mammogram sign-up regardless of health insurance and primary health service, and the iconic mobile mammography bus is there to showcase its full screening services.

The come-as-you-are atmosphere provides a comfortable space to dive into a full explanation of breast cancer, reaching people with varying levels of diagnosis and those interested in preventing cancer. Survivors, fighters, friends, family, experts and novices find immense value in each conversation and leave as
a strengthened warrior in the fight against breast cancer by exploring the health care sources available in their neighborhood.

“We’ve had people who were compelled to get a mammogram because of the event and found they had breast cancer.” — Kelsey Haynes, Spectrum Health Community Relations Specialist

A number of nonprofits engaged in breast health provide instant information and benefits at their community partner booths, which attendees can visit during the social hour before this year’s featured speakers take the stage. Betty Ford’s daughter, Susan Ford Bales, shares insight on how her mother’s experience motivated her to serve as a powerful breast cancer advocate. She then introduces Emmy Rickert, who was 24 when she received her breast cancer diagnosis. Listeners hear Rickert candidly tell her story, unfolding from that dreadful diagnosis to becoming a survivor and mother of two.

Candid Conversations exposes more than breast cancer statistics; it showcases the incredible breast health care services our city offers. From community health experts explaining how genetics and diversity affect risk and survivorship to nutritious refreshments provided to promote a healthy diet and educate guests on nutrients that increase breast health, this community discussion equips attendees with the know-how they need to continue the conversation.

Spanish versions of the program are available along with audio translating headsets and a live translator. Through the many languages Spectrum Health services can be translated into (from Spanish and French to Amharic and Kinyarwanda), a language barrier never prevents a patient from receiving top care. Even their contact page links to contact information in over a dozen international languages.

Making your health a priority is one of the best gifts you can give yourself and Candid Conversations invites you to take an afternoon to put it at the forefront of your mind while celebrating the openness we’ve maintained about breast health. Visit to register for Candid Conversations and learn more about Betty Ford Breast Care Services and Spectrum Health’s Breast Cancer Program. Registration is free and open to everyone.

Now, let’s get candid and casual, and talk about cancer!


What: Spectrum Health Candid Conversations

Where: East Kentwood High School Fine Arts Auditorium, 6230 Kalamazoo Ave. SE

When: October 18, 4-6:30 p.m.

Cost: Free. Register at

Bri Kilroy

Bri Kilroy is a Grand Valley and AmeriCorps alumna who learned to type through vigorous Mavis Beacon trainings. She also passes as an artist, illustrator and author of this bio.



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