This Pageant Queen Is Shedding a Light on Cancer Caregiving

November 16, 2023
Cassie and her mom smile and embrace side by side outside on a patio

Cassie with her mom

Caregivers can provide emotional and logistical support throughout a loved one’s cancer experience. Some do this while living hundreds of miles away from their loved one. During her reign as Miss DC USA 2023, Cassie Baloue has committed to bringing attention to this critical role and the importance of caregiver support.  


No one is ever quite prepared for the news that a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer. It can be equally distressing to hear that a loved one’s cancer has come back.

Cassie Baloue was getting ready to step onto the stage as a contestant in the Miss District of Columbia USA competition — the pageant that selects Washington, D.C.’s representative in the Miss USA pageant — when she learned that her mother’s brain lymphoma, first diagnosed in 2021, had returned. It was June 4, 2022. 

“It was pretty devastating, because two weeks before, we had the green light from her doctors and we thought things were better,” Cassie recalls. “Her tumor is just very aggressive.” 

Cassie had little time to process the news. “I tried to run away. I was ready to quit. I was just sobbing backstage.” 

Instead of leaving, she summoned the strength to continue and upheld her commitment to the pageant. She placed second runner up, and for Cassie, that was enough. “My mom and I share this passion together, so I did it for her,” she said. 

Making it to the top 3 also gave her hope. “That’s when I was like, ‘Okay, we’re coming back next year. We’re coming back stronger.’”


Caregiving from a Distance

Despite living on the opposite side of the country, Cassie was able to provide support to her mom throughout her chemotherapy treatments in the months that followed. Cassie works on Capitol Hill as a digital press secretary for Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA). Her mother, who lived with Cassie’s sister in Ohio for a while, moved back to the family’s California hometown after her cancer recurrence. 

“Although she loves my sister and her grandchildren, I think she just needed to be around her community,” Cassie reflected. “She was going to continue her treatment at UCSF [University of California San Francisco], and they’re world-renowned for their cancer research. So that was another reason that she moved out there.”

From D.C., Cassie supported her mom in a variety of ways. During her mom’s hospital stay, Cassie set up a schedule of helpers from their family’s church community to drop off food and visit with her mom. She made temporary living arrangements for her mom at a skilled nursing facility to help during her recovery. She also communicated with her mom’s doctors and attended medical appointments virtually whenever possible. 


“The thing about cancer that people don't realize, unless they're involved in it, is that it does put a strain on the family, a strain on your relationships — especially the people who are caregiving.” 


On average, caregivers spend 24 hours a week providing care. Even with the help of technology, providing caregiver support from afar comes with unique challenges. The National Alliance for Caregiving and the AARP Public Policy Institute found that 7% of caregivers live more than 2 hours from the care recipient’s home (Caregiving in the U.S. 2020 Report). For some caregivers, that physical distance includes a time zone change. 

Since Cassie’s mom moved to California, the mother and daughter have been navigating a 3-hour difference between them. “The time zone thing is harsh, because she will be planning times to meet with the doctors, and I'm in the middle of work, so sometimes I miss them,” Cassie noted. 

Physical distance aside, there are also common frustrations that many caregivers face, like trying to understand medical jargon. “I'm not in healthcare, and the way doctors talk isn't always comprehendible to an audience that doesn't have a medical degree,” Cassie said. “So, trying to understand things — and then trying to know what questions to ask — is probably the hardest part.”

Balancing caregiving responsibilities with work commitments and everyday life can be challenging too. “It’s a struggle because your life doesn't stop just because you or your loved one gets sick,” Cassie said. “You have to keep going.”

Caregivers of adults are, on average, 49 years old (Caregiving in the U.S. 2020). But many younger people — including Cassie, who is 26 — are taking on caregiving responsibilities, too. 


Self-care Is Key

“The thing about cancer that people don't realize, unless they're involved in it, is that it does put a strain on the family, a strain on your relationships — especially the people who are caregiving,” Cassie shared. 

In our own research, one-half of caregivers who responded to our cancer experience survey reported anxiety levels that were substantially worse than the national average. Some caregivers reported providing over 100 hours of care per week. These findings demonstrate how critical it can be for caregivers to find support.


"We're all human, and at some point, you’ve got to find your own outlet, something that you lean on.”


To support her own mental wellness, Cassie’s coping strategies include going to therapy and taking time to decompress whenever possible. While her mom was still living in Ohio, after her initial brain lymphoma diagnosis, she and Cassie took a cooking class together via Zoom through CSC Central Ohio. The support center is part of our network of CSC and Gilda’s Club locations across the country that provide free professionally led programs and services for people impacted by cancer, in person and virtually. “It was just something fun to do to take our mind off what was going on,” Cassie said.

Cassie’s mom completed her chemotherapy treatments and is doing well. “She sounds like herself,” Cassie said. “We feel very confident in her remission, and that she hopefully will have a longer, stable remission now.”

In April, Cassie competed once again in the Miss District of Columbia USA pageant. This time, she was crowned Miss DC, and she chose cancer and caregiving as her cause. She wants to use her platform to inspire caregivers and to let people know that caregivers need support.

“Talking about being a caregiver is so important for me because sometimes caregivers need someone to lean on,” she said. “You can't just take all the burdens and all this stress — on top of whatever is happening in your own life — and not crack. We're all human, and at some point, you’ve got to find your own outlet, something that you lean on.”


Did You Know?

Our Cancer Support Helpline provides free, personalized navigation for patients, caregivers & families, including emotional support, coping strategies, and referrals to local and national resources.  

Call Us Now at 888-793-9355

We caught up with Cassie in October at our Annual Celebration, a benefit event that raises vital funds. Watch this short video to hear more about Cassie's caregiving experience and the power of connection during difficult times.

What I love about CSC is that not only does it support cancer patients and survivors, but it also supports people like me — caregivers.

Cassie Baloue
Miss DC USA 2023