1) How is The Breasties changing the way we think about breast and reproductive cancers?
The Breasties was born out of necessity. When the four of us were going through our own journeys surrounding cancer, we found personal comfort in dreaming up a group that made all young women dealing with a high risk or diagnosis feel as if they were not alone.
There are so many organizations that exist that focus on research and medicine, which is fantastic, but we each noticed a huge gap out there for support. We all felt a huge need to connect with other women that “get it” - it’s how the four of us met - to not feel alone, to feel welcomed, to find a sense of belonging.
About a year and a half ago, the four of us met and hosted the very first wellness retreat. We have since incorporated as an official 501(c)3 organization. To date, we have hosted 10 free weekend wellness retreats for over 200 women, our first annual Camp Breastie for nearly 500 women, a Move Mountains Gala and have 45 (and growing) chapters in cities around the world. In 2020, we plan to host our very first international retreat!
Our mission and greatest passion is for all women to know that they are not alone. We want to empower women through community and a sense of belonging. There are so many women out there going through the same if not similar experiences, thinking that they are the only young person going through this. We want to show them that not only is there an incredible community online for them, we are also here creating spaces for them to find their tribe and meet their breast friends in person!
There is a misconception that breast and reproductive cancers are diseases for older women. Being diagnosed with breast cancer in your twenties, it’s hard not to feel like the only young woman facing this battle. The Breasties community combats that loneliness - we are a group of young women, some dealing with cancer diagnoses in our twenties and thirties, some taking preventative measures to decrease their risk of cancer, some of whom have lost loved ones to cancer. We are women who are young and active, women who are navigating our careers and figuring out dating and family planning - while at the same time navigating what it means to be a cancer survivor/previvor/thriver/etc.
2) What was the turning point in your life or career that helped you identify #WhyYouAlter?
The four of us have each spent our young adult lives being impacted by cancer in some capacity. Allie was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 28, Paige had a preventative double mastectomy at age 25, Bri lost her mother to breast cancer and is navigating preventative options, and Leslie was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 23. When we each came together, we realized that there really wasn’t a space that welcomed all of us and quickly we learned that we had to create it.
For many years, breast cancer has been portrayed as pretty and pink. It has been understood as a cancer that doesn’t affect young, healthy twenty-something year olds.
When going through our individual journeys, we struggled to find a place that represented us. Young women who felt alone. Young women losing hair, navigating surgery, being forced to make life changing decisions. We struggled to find a place where we belonged.
There are so many amazing organizations out there that do research, provide financial assistance, etc. - but we saw a huge gap in organizations that provide support and friendship for women affected by cancer. We hope to be the space that ensures everyone feels welcome, seen, and like they are not alone. A space (virtual and in person) for women to come together and empower one another to move mountains.
3) How is The Breasties challenging the status quo of traditional support groups?
We are not your average support group. Some of us tried going to different groups prior to meeting each other and had a hard time feeling accepted. The Breasties community is a safe space - it is friendship for those dealing with cancer in any capacity.
At diagnosis, it is so isolating. We each felt desperate to feel like our old selves, and find others who understood. Being in a sterile room (usually in a hospital or community center), sitting in a circle, talking about cancer was not what we needed.
We wanted to create a place where women could find community and friendship while doing the things they want to do - workout classes, potluck dinners, paint and sip nights. Bottom line, we are bringing together women who are connected by cancer, but are so much more than that. Breasties are everyday women - women who want to experiment with new healthy recipes, try the latest workout class, read the latest fiction book, and sip refreshing cocktails. So we host events doing just that. We host retreats and events that are fun, yet create the space to feel safe to talk through the hard stuff - losing your hair, making surgical decisions, navigating relationships, and dealing with this “new normal.”
4) What has been the biggest challenge in forming and managing a 501(c)3?
Kind of everything -- hahaha. The four of us each work full-time jobs and had very limited knowledge of what it takes to run a nonprofit organization. We’re figuring it out day-by-day and learning to be more patient and gentler with ourselves.
The hardest thing to date, has been navigating our own journeys in addition to trying to help others. We really immerse ourselves in every part of the nonprofit and sometimes it can be to a fault, so we’re learning how to find balance, set boundaries and support one another.
5) What has been one of the most inspiring parts about founding The Breasties?
The most inspiring part about founding The Breasties has been to watch women connect on their own with each other, both online and in person. Our goal with the Breasties is for everyone to find their person, their people – and this is happening for thousands of women because we are simply creating a space. It’s really the most beautiful and special thing to see. One of our biggest A-ha moments happened at camp this past spring where nearly 500 Breasties came together to sleepaway camp in the Poconos. Walking around camp and what felt like a village of Breasties celebrating one another and their journeys was truly awe-inspiring. We even overheard one woman calling her mom excitedly, “Mom! You don’t understand… there are like 500 MEs here!”
6) Best and worst advice you’ve ever received?
Best advice: Advocate for yourself, you know you and your body best. If something doesn’t feel right, speak up. If you don’t feel like a doctor is addressing your concerns, find a doctor who will – they are out there!
Worst advice: Wait it out and see if it gets better. Most of the women in our community have found their cancer on their own and due to the stigma that cancer only affects older women, they had to really fight to have mammograms, sonograms, biopsies, genetic testing, etc.
7) What’s in store for the Breasties in 2020 and beyond?
We really pride ourselves on taking things day-by-day and listening to what the community needs – this is how The Breasties has grown so far – but a few things we hope for in 2020 are; to have an international retreat, to really ramp up our ambassador program (we currently have 40+ chapters across the world and growing), and to have many more impactful events like Camp Breastie and the Move Mountains Gala. Above all, we hope to show more women impacted by cancer, wherever they are, that they are not alone – there is a place for you.