October is breast cancer month, a month of fundraising, awareness raising and general light shedding on the subject. There are so many amazing organizations working tirelessly to combat this disease and support those suffering from it and their loved ones. One of those organizations that is near and dear to my own heart is ReThink Breast Cancer.
Rethink Breast Cancer’s mission is to empower young people worldwide who are concerned about and affected by breast cancer. It’s the first ever Canadian charity that was geared towards a younger audience, with an aim to foster a new generation of young and influential breast cancer supporters, and to support a younger generation of breast cancer patients. Many people are not aware that breast cancer can affect younger people, which makes ReThink’s work all the more important. Their goal is right in their name: to change how people think about breast cancer, through education, advocacy, fundraising and creating a younger, more savvy community to help the cause.
For this edition of Addicted Inspirations, we’re featuring the woman behind ReThink, Founder and Executive Director MJ DeCoteau. MJ lost her mother to breast cancer when she was only 22 years old. Concerned about the risks she herself faced when it came to the disease, MJ soon discovered that most of the information she found was focused on older women. It was then that she knew she had to change the way people think about breast cancer.
And so, in 2001, ReThink Breast cancer was born.
In its first year, the charity secured the exclusive Canadian rights to the world-famous Fashion Targets Breast Cancer campaign. By 2004, Ms. DeCoteau was featured in Maclean’s magazine’s Honour Roll as one of the top 10 Canadians making a difference. That difference was inspiring people to think differently about breast cancer. Now, MJ and her small but mighty team have spearheaded countless campaigns created ground-breaking new resources, campaigns, curated incredible events, and facilitated research and advocacy initiatives. Their annual fundraiser Boobyball (on tonight in Toronto!) has raised over $4.2 million dollars, and that’s just one of the amazing ways ReThink raises funds to fight against breast cancer.
For all those reasons and more, we are incredibly inspired by MJ DeCoteau.
Learn more about ReThink’s roots and MJ’s story below!
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I thought I would be a figure skating coach and own my own figure skating boutique. I loved drawing very fancy sparkly costumes. I also wanted to write children’s books.
How did you get involved with the work you currently do?
My mom died of breast cancer when she was 53. I was 22. I went seeking information and ways to get involved, to do something. All I found were drab, scary brochures of how to do a breast exam and a whole lot of pink ribbons and pink teddy bears. These materials all targeted ladies over 60 years and weren’t really my style (even though I love pink!). It was time for a new breast cancer organization, one that was relevant to young women. Breast cancer is not just an older woman’s issue.
What is your WHY? (The reason why you do the work you do)
Because the breast cancer cause has come a long way since my mom was diagnosed 30 years ago BUT there is still so much to do. There’s always a new crop of young women who need to be empowered to be breast aware and risk savvy. Also, young women continue to have to face breast cancer and need resources, support, community. These days, I’m very motivated by our advocacy work. We are “rethinking” advocacy to make it appealing and engaging for our audience. Our health care system is complicated and challenging and it’s daunting to try and tackle “system change” but it’s incredibly rewarding when you’ve been even a small part of a policy change that can improve the lives of others. I want to engage more and more young people to participate and share in the feeling. It’s a good one.
What’s piece of advice would you give to someone trying to do what you do, or trying to follow their own dreams?
Your vision is everything. I had a strong vision to create a new breed of breast cancer organization and a lot of passionate about that vision. Passion really does “sell” your idea and I think that’s how I was able to recruit such incredible people to join Rethink right out the gate. Surround yourself with really good, smart people who love what they do. You’ll soak up so much. And don’t over-plan. Get going and learn on the way. Learn by doing. I’m an eternal optimist and tend to plunge in. Things don’t always work, but you learn from stumbles and mistakes and can always course correct.
If you could pick one charitable organization to ask our readers to donate to or volunteer with, which would it be?
Surprise, surprise…Rethink Breast Cancer!
To learn more about Rethink Breast Cancer, visit rethinkbreastcancer.com. To learn more about Boobyball or to buy tickets in your city, click the link below.