Rethink Revolution: Building a New Breed of Breast Cancer Charity
When I started Rethink almost 17 years ago, working off my dining room table in a tiny one-bedroom at the top of an old Victorian, I don’t think I had a clue what I was getting into. Not really. I just saw a problem to be solved and an exciting opportunity to solve that problem. I had lost my mom to breast cancer when I was in university and I was hard-pressed to find relevant information about my own risk factors that wasn’t scary and overwhelming. Back then, young women were not included in the breast cancer conversation at all. Education messages targeted seniors and everything to do with breast cancer involved drab pamphlets using startling statistics or pink ribbon and teddy bear fundraising appeals.
There was a huge opportunity to build a new breed of breast cancer charity—one that would be relevant to a younger generation.
I was fortunate to recruit some of the smartest, most creative, and passionate people to back my vision and help me launch Rethink! We agonized over naming the charity and landed on Rethink Breast Cancer, a name that spoke to our desire to change the conversation and re-energize the breast cancer movement.
We launched with some fun, cheeky education materials and our launch party, itself, instantly created an awesome way for young people to champion the cause.
We were on our way with a successful awareness movement that had young people raising funds to recruit innovative, young scientists into breast cancer research. And then, in what is now typical of Rethink, the unexpected happened. Almost immediately after launching, young women with breast cancer reached out. They were drawn to our look and feel and we, although lacking the resources to “serve patients,” were moved by their challenging stories of falling through the cracks.
The name didn’t include a mention of “young women” and, in retrospect, I think that our non self-referential name may have been because we were simply a small group of young women instinctively creating a movement we felt comfortable with.
As we grew, we started to developed innovative ways to offer support, build community and make changes to improve the lives of those young women dealing with a diagnosis themselves. It was the first of many evolutions for our small, revolutionary charity. I think the success of our support, education and advocacy program comes from working directly with young women with personal experience of breast cancer, getting their feedback, input and putting them at the centre of making change for other young women.
It’s the constant evolution of our revolution that’s kept things fresh for me. I am so proud that over 16 years in, we are a thriving national organization that is engaging young people and supporting young breast cancer patients and our flagship fundraiser Boobyball is officially coast to coast! Moreover, thanks so social media and digi culture, we are also now a movement with global reach. Boobyball Berlin, anyone?
I rarely “look back” except when doing these kinds of retrospective blog posts. I have to say, it’s been amazing to build something from scratch and work with all the incredibly talented, creative and dedicated people who came on board to bring my idea to life. With a small but mighty staff and a tight budget and a growing base of “Rethinkers” behind us, I marvel at what we’ve been able to do. And, I’m excited about doing more!
By MJ DeCoteau