by Yael Cohen
So in case you haven’t noticed, I’m a lady.
Not an I-drink-tea-with-my-pinky-extended lady, but more of an I-have-boobs-and-like-romantic-comedies lady.
Why mention my chest, you ask? Because it’s great, and because boobs pretty much changed my life.
Obviously, growing a set of my own changed my life — I felt like I was officially a woman and was excited for all of five minutes — but my mom losing hers is what really changed my life. When I was 22, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, and my life has been fundamentally altered since then.
I took on the role of researcher, caregiver (along with my wonderful dad), confidante and nurse. My role morphed from daughter to rock. I read every book, blog and article I could get my hands on. I wanted to make sure I knew everything — that we made the right decisions, chose the right doctors and ate the right foods. In reality, I was trying to override the fact that I felt utterly helpless and still wanted, so desperately, to help my mom and save her life.
My experiences over the next days, months and years have shaped me, as well as the ongoing evolution of FCancer (FC). One thing I found striking in the cancer space was that for something we talk about so much, we don’t like to hear the truth, and talking about cancer makes us really uncomfortable.
We as a society want patients to smile and wear headscarves and tell us about the silver lining of their disease. Words like, “I appreciate life so much more now,” and “I found purpose in my pain” are often more for our benefit than theirs.
While these can be very emotive, true and real responses, there is always more to it. FC has created a safe space for people to have an authentic and emotional cancer response; where it’s okay to say that you miss your dad or that it sucks that you had to shave your head or that you approach life differently now. We wanted to create a raw, authentic forum for people to experience cancer, whatever that experience may be. A cathartic place.
Beyond the lack of desire to really discuss cancer, there lies another problem — the fact that we don’t know how to talk about cancer. I mean really talk about cancer, not around it. We feel guilty, confused, uncomfortable and a million other emotions. Although this is natural, it means we often ask empty questions (“How are you?”), give hollow support (“I’m here if you need anything”) or give vacant answers (“I’m good”).
We wanted to create a shift in how we talk about cancer and how we show support. FC created resources to help people learn to navigate the part of cancer we sometimes forget to teach. Things like how to tell your mom you have cancer, how to tell your partner your child has cancer, how to explain to your 5-year-old what’s going on in their body, how to support a sibling with cancer and — if you’re the patient — how to ask for the help you need and really discuss what you’re going through. We wanted to help teach people how to have meaningful conversations and give valuable support. Cancer isn’t going anywhere soon, so we need to learn how to discuss it authentically and really support each other in a significant way.
So no, I’m not going to bang the drum about how being a woman has made things so hard in the business world, or how women need to support each other more (which they do – my favorite Madeline Albright quote is, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t support other women.”)
Instead, I’m going to continue to do what we are doing and talk about how being a women has not only changed my life, but it is also allowing me to change the lives of hundreds of thousands of others.
Being able to balance my so-called masculine tendencies and abilities (like running a business, dealing with legal and strategic issues and thinking pragmatically) with my so-called feminine tendencies (like being considerate of people’s feelings, actively working for open communication and admitting when I need help) has allowed me to make FC what it is today.
We’re not your average cancer charity; we don’t fund research, we’re not fear-based, we’re people-based. We strive to teach in a way that is meaningful and appropriate, and support in a way that is much deeper than what society has taught us. We aim to care for people, which I guess is a pretty womanly thing to do.
So ladies, thank your lucky stars, because we get to balance our hearts, souls, AND brains instead of pretending that “The Notebook” didn’t make us cry.
Yael Cohen founded FCancer in 2009 after her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Determined to make a real impact within the cancer space, Yael created an organization that activates Generation Y to engage with their parents about early detection, and teaches supporters how to look for cancer instead of just find it.