No Pink Ribbons Required

This entry was submitted by MJ DeCoteau, executive director and founder of Rethink Breast Cancer:

Most of us in our 20s and 30s are far too busy building a life, a home, a family, a career to think about breast cancer. And when it does strike a young woman, it’s a complete and utter shock. Rethink Breast Cancer was created by young women for young women. We’re working hard, creating savvy support, awareness, education and research programs that speak to the unique needs of young (or youngish) women busy balancing full lives.

I was just 18 years old when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and 22 when she died. My grandmother also had breast cancer so I felt like a bit of a ticking time bomb. When would I get it too? I picked up breast self-exam pamphlets at my doctor’s office, but they all featured a senior citizen on the cover and were very medical looking, even a bit scary. I remember one featured a water-color illustration of the naked back of a woman turned into a dark, shadowy corner to check her breasts. I opened it up and it was a three page fold-out of tiny black type—a thesis dissertation on how to check your breasts! Needless to say, I tucked it in a drawer and eventually chucked it out.

These drab brochures weren’t inspiring me so how would they motivate my friends and other young women who didn’t even have a family connection to breast cancer? Another challenge: I wanted to raise funds to fight breast cancer but pink ribbons, angel pins and traditional galas and golf tournaments weren’t for me. I saw the need for a breast cancer organization that was relevant to my generation.

In March 2001, with the help of an incredible group of passionate, energetic and creative people, Rethink Breast Cancer was born. Our mission: to help young women (and men!) concerned about and affected by breast cancer.  I was really inspired by the AIDS movement of the early 90s—with its bold, in-your-face messaging and hip and cool fundraising events. Why did breast cancer always have to be wrapped in a pretty (sometimes even tacky) pink ribbon?

By working with the fashion, music and design industries, we aimed to tackle the serious issues of breast cancer in a bold, creative, upbeat way. Today, Rethink Breast Cancer has a roster of events and initiatives, everything from Boobyball to Breast Fest, the world’s first breast cancer related film festival.

What’s also exciting, Rethink Breast Cancer has evolved from an awareness movement and funding cutting edge breast cancer research to also providing much needed emotional and practical support for young breast cancer patients.

Young women with breast cancer can face unique challenges—delayed diagnosis, aggressive treatment, fertility, child care and financial obstacles. Yes, the numbers of young women diagnosed each year are a small percentage of the total number of breast cancer cases. But, the needs are very real and Rethink is all about filling the gaps. We see ourselves as specialists. The message we send to the women we serve: We act your age! Often it’s the small details that make a difference. We’ve taken support out of the hospital setting and have tried to create support environments that have a young woman in mind—sunny lofts, cool retail spaces etc.

Over the years, and with incredible help from partners and volunteers, we’ve been increasing the number of support programs we offer to young women.

When I think back on how Rethink began almost ten years ago, I realize how far we’ve come. But we still have a long way to go. The explosion of Social Media spaces has made it easier than ever for people to share their stories, have their voices heard and be a part of an on-line community. We are very busy right now revamping our website, blog and Facebook fan page. It’s all about staying relevant and current, right?

Rethink started from my own personal experience but  it’s the hundreds of young women that have gotten involved that are driving our organization. It’s their stories that are shaping Rethink’s future. Please share yours with us at

In essence of graduation season, LBBC is highlighting young women and students who are in some way affected by breast cancer. Could you benefit from programs that are dedicated to young breast cancer survivors? Are you a young woman who is a loved one of someone affected by breast cancer? Share your thoughts on our facebook page.

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