Ellyn Winters-Robinson used to tell her husband, “God forbid I get breast cancer.”
A health-conscious mom, president, and CMO of Ignition Communications, and marketing and communications mentor to the Accelerator Centre, Ellyn simply didn’t know what she would do if she became one of the 1 in 8 women affected by breast cancer.
So when she felt a lump in March of 2022, she was in disbelief. A mammogram and biopsy later revealed that Ellyn had 3 tumors, the largest 4.5cm in size.
In the months that followed, Ellyn would undergo a double mastectomy, months of chemotherapy, and radiation sessions.
“After the initial shock of learning I had cancer, I experienced crippling fear and anxiety. But I had a choice: to let fear immobilize me or to act. Instead of succumbing to fear, I took charge of what I could control: my physical health, my mental well-being, and my attitude towards this unexpected journey.”
Turning fear into action
Ellyn took action indeed, putting her experiences to paper as a form of therapy for herself and, later, a comfort to others. Published in September 2023, Flat Please: Hold the Shame is a companion for those navigating a breast cancer diagnosis and their loved ones.
“It was important to me to tell my story in a way that was relatable, while also giving breast cancer patients the sense that there was someone right there with them who truly understood what they were feeling. I also included curated links to resources that I’ve found helpful throughout my journey to accompany each chapter.”
Birthed out of the now bestselling book is AskEllyn: a virtual companion designed to help individuals navigate the difficult journey of breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. After hearing Ellyn tell her breast cancer story during an AC mentor call, Pat Belliveau, CEO of Catalyst Entertainment, saw the opportunity to transform Ellyn’s thoughts and experiences into a powerful conversational AI that would apply the technology for the goodness of humanity. Pat recruited marketing pro Ryan Burgio and software developer Christian Silvestru to the project, which marries the power of OpenAI and ChatGPT with the lived experience of a survivor. The result gives users an authentic chat with Ellyn any time, anywhere, and in any language.
Available as of October 26, 2023, askellyn.ai/ allows users to ask Ellyn anything without fear of judgment. She’s able to sense language and tone, responding more simply to a child, for example, than to a spouse, making her more of a chat person than a chatbot. Ellyn and her team are committed to ensuring her digital twin remains available free to whoever needs her, and they are in the process of forming a nonprofit to make that mission a reality. And a strong code of AI ethics has been ensured. AskEllyn requires no registration, never shares or stores data, and never dispenses medical advice.
Ellyn and co-creators hope that AskEllyn is a clear example that using AI doesn’t mean eliminating humanity. In AskEllyn’s case, she simply allows individuals from all over the world to ask a real person their burning questions about breast cancer whenever they need to talk to someone who gets it.
“I hate the phrase ‘You got this.’ That’s not how you feel when you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer. AskEllyn won’t tell you that: instead, she will say she is here to hold your hand, with knowledge that comes from someone who understands first-hand what it’s like.”
A whole new genre of care
From the beginning, Ellyn’s vision has been for AskEllyn to have siblings—an AskRob for lung cancer and AskHelen for COPD, for example. Through others’ lived experiences, AskEllyn can be the start of a whole new kind of healthcare called Conversation Care—so that no one diagnosed will ever walk alone.
“Breast cancer has more terminology than Starbucks. AskEllyn is there to answer the thousands of questions patients have that doctors simply don’t have the time to answer.”
From mentor to founder
A core mentor to the Accelerator Centre for the last 15 years, Ellyn is now experiencing the AC’s programming and mentorship as a founder. AskEllyn will journey through the AC:Incubate program to access our mentorship, tactical support, industry experts, market research, and more.
“I’ve never been a tech founder myself, so being on the other side of the mentor desk is pretty cool, but also really daunting. I will need to learn how to build a product roadmap, hire development talent, stay on top of AI trends, and remain on the leading edge of this very new and rapidly evolving space, while building a financially stable and successful business. So I am sure to be tapping into the AC’s technology, product and financial mentoring expertise, enterprise sales expertise, and network of partners to support me in realizing my vision to bring this technology to the world and help millions.”
Ask Ellyn your questions and learn more at https://askellyn.ai/.