Finalizing our Breast Cancer Awareness Month series, we interviewed Shaney Jo Darden from the Keep A Breast Foundation, which she co-created almost 15 years ago. Shaney talks about why she felt compelled to try and make a difference, and how she managed to turn the foundation into a global youth-based breast cancer prevention organization.
● How did Keep a Breast get its start?
The Keep A Breast Foundation (KAB) was founded in response to the growing need for breast cancer awareness programs that focus on educating young people. In 2000, my friend Mona’s mother was experiencing a returned case of breast cancer, and another friend of ours – who was our age – had been recently diagnosed. Mona and I were looking for some way to give back and we couldn’t find anything interesting that spoke to us. We were in the process of putting together large art and fashion events at the time called MODART, and we thought, “Why not create an art show to raise awareness of breast cancer?” We asked all our artist friends to paint on breast casts and the initial incarnation of Keep A Breast was born with boobies!
● What do you do to help those affected by the disease? What’s your mission?
Keep A Breast is not a typical breast cancer organization. We have done the impossible: engaged, educated, and mobilized an entire generation of young people through our unique approach. Never before has the generation just beginning adulthood been this educated about breast cancer prevention. This generation’s level of knowledge will lead to a decrease in future deaths from cancer. Through our programs, Keep A Breast exists to change the global conversation around breast cancer among young people by empowering them with breast health education, which we hope will ultimately inspire them to adopt healthier habits. Our vision is a world without breast cancer. But, until then, our mission is to educate young people about the true risks of cancer, ways of living a healthy, non-toxic lifestyle and the importance of a self check to ensure early detection. Through grassroots campaigns over the past 14 years, Keep A Breast has grown into the leading global youth-based breast cancer prevention organization, with global affiliates in Japan, Canada, France, UK and Chile.
Constantly pushing the boundaries of the pink ribbon status quo, we have always encouraged young people to love their boobies, get to know their bodies and be aware of changes. We want to be able to turn breast cancer awareness into action.
● What has been the largest obstacle you’ve had to overcome so far? In turn, what has been your greatest accomplishment?
My biggest sadness is that I have lost so many young friends from this disease and have seen so many young women have to deal with breast cancer in their 20’s when that is NOT at all something you should have to do, and it’s just not right. It’s frustrating that we are constantly exposed to harmful chemicals that are linked to breast cancer. It’s hard to be in a world where young women are dying all the time. As far as accomplishments go, there are so many. I’m VERY proud that, in 2015, we will be celebrating 15 years of Keep A Breast. I like to push boundaries, I still can’t believe that a little bracelet that says “I love boobies!” became a freedom of speech issue in our country, got countless teens suspended from school and was taken all the way to the Supreme Court in a school vs. student battle in Pennsylvania. I love all teens that come up to me at the warped tour and tell me “thank you, I met you last year, I found a lump in my breast because of what I learned from you, I’m OK, you saved my life” #feels. We save lives just by being ourselves and showing up, and that’s GOOD.
● What has been key to spreading the word and raising awareness on the web?
Our first website was a Myspace page! It’s amazing how far the web has come since 2000 when KAB began. Our web and social media presence is of course vital for communicating our mission and engaging our core audience.
Because October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it’s our busiest time of the year and we are in full swing all month long. We just launched our biggest movement to date, the #CHECKYOURSELFIE global campaign, a viral movement that turns awareness into action, where we directly encourage young women to check themselves on a monthly basis. To help spread the word, we are asking participants to upload a photo of themselves via social media, and hashtag #CHECKYOURSELFIE.
We are also trying to reach people via the mobile platform and are celebrating our free Check Yourself! app, which is now available globally in multiple languages both for Android and iOS. It’s a super easy-to-use, cool app that shows young women how to do their breast self check, and allows them to set a push notification as a monthly reminder.
● What’s the best way for people to give you a hand?
Start with yourself. Be the change! Changing behaviors can change attitudes and save lives, download our Check Yourself app and start your regular self-check routine. Men can certainly get involved in the conversation too! You may have a mother, partner, sister or a female friend who should know about breast health! Talk about it, talk with your friends about your boobies!