On the eve of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I thought it would be interesting to chat with Shaney Jo Darden, the woman who has prominently displayed the phrase, "I love boobies!" across everything from bracelets to T-shirts in her endeavor to help eradicate breast cancer by exposing young people to methods of prevention, early detection, and support. Her organization, Keep A Breast, works to use art events, educational programs, and fundraising efforts to increase breast cancer awareness among young people so they are better equipped to make choices and develop habits that will benefit their long-term health and well-being. She is, in short, inspiring our youth to care about their health.
Why are your "boobies," as you call them, everywhere?
We've seen such amazing support from people all across the globe who really want to support a prevention-based breast cancer campaign. I think many people appreciate our approach, being focused on teens, and reaching them through art, music, and fashion. The "I Love Boobies" campaign has helped enable our reach to people everywhere by resonating with the language we use and the information we give them.
Why breast cancer?
Keep A Breast started over 10 years ago because of the need to educate and inspire a younger generation about breast-cancer prevention. I've had several people in my life and in my community who were struggling with the disease and I felt there was nothing out there for my generation to feel connected to. I knew I needed to do something that really resonated with a myself and my friends...and that’s when the first Breast Cast exhibition (pictured) was born then it just grew from there.
What's your end goal with Keep A Breast?
To eradicate breast cancer and stop the suffering and deaths that it creates. We want to educate people about how and why we get breast cancer and make a positive change in their lives to really lower everyone’s risk.
Where did the ideas from the bracelets come from?
We had been using the "I Love Boobies" campaign on tees and when the Livestrong bracelets started becoming popular we saw a need for people to support their charities with an everyday item. Since the "I Love Boobies" campaign was really resonating with people we saw it natural to be on the bracelet as well.
Where did the idea for the plaster casts of breasts come from?
When I decided to do a breast cancer fundraiser I wanted to do something that I knew how to do – throw art events. My background is in art and fashion design so the idea just came naturally.
What are some of the most moving stories you've heard along your mission?
I hear moving stories every day. It's challenging to be present and to hear each story with a clear and open heart. All the stories are moving in their own way. I love when we are able to support entire families that are going through a diagnosis of a loved one, just as much as I love the story about just helping one person. I think the stories that I connect with the most are from the young survivors that we cast. Casting the breasts or non-breasts of these women is a very intimate, personal and vulnerable experience. I honor that they trust me and are able to bear all for me. I love to see their faces when we are done, and the overwhelming feeling that I've given them something that has helped them through their breast cancer journey in some way.
What was your motivation for opening a nonprofit?
The motivation just came from the people. Keep A Breast was going to be just one event 11 years ago; people's interest keep it going year after year. KAB grew all on its own with the support of the community of artists and activists that created it. The need for more information is the motivation.
What's the most innovative thing you have ever done?
Everything has been done. I have not had any new ideas. "Boobies" have always been around and they have always been loved. The innovation is our approach. I look at everything we do, and I automatically research and see what's been done before, I drive my team crazy sometimes, because I turn everything that exists inside out, and I'm not afraid to question the status quo and stick my neck out there for my beliefs. We innovate in our unique approach to educate teens in their own voice through avenues they are passionate about.
What is the biggest impact you have made?
The testimonials we have from young people across the globe. If it was an email saying they were able to talk about a family member’s diagnosis, they found a lump early, or found an ally in their personal struggle with breast cancer through Keep A Breast. Each one is what gets me up in the morning.
How do you measure your impact?
We have been working on a research study that we will publish this year on the youth perceptions of breast cancer. I'm excited to share this information with the world and I hope that other organizations, corporations, and the medical community will be able to use the data to help address the needs of young people affected by breast cancer. I also know, that I have touched the lives of millions of teens, through our events, traveling education booth and our cause merchandise. The generation of teens right now is extremely more informed than any other generation before them, with information that will save their lives.
What are you passionate about?
I'm most passionate about truth and fairness. I believe everyone has the right to eat healthy food free of pesticides, hormones, and chemicals. I believe that products on our shelves should have higher standards and should be safe to use in our homes and on our bodies. I believe that true love always prevails. It's not fair that we are plagued by disease because our government does not protect us.
What values do you live by?
My core values are family, friends and living my truth. I learn a lot from my mom and I'm inspired by her mantra "come from love." I try my best to always come from a place of love with everything I do. I'm not perfect, and I stress out because I have so much responsibility in this world to all the people around me and to the public in general. I've chosen this path that some think is crazy, but I know I have the full support of so many people and the universe to succeed in my mission. My mom's other mantra is "choose love over fear." I live by this, because I would always rather make a choice from love and get hurt and learn a hard lesson than not have made that choice in the first place.
Best advice you were given?
Nothing groundbreaking—the usual stuff. "It's not about you" and "Don't take it personally." KAB is known globally as the largest-youth based breast cancer prevention organization. I have had to put myself out there publicly, for all to judge. Some people consider KAB to be controversial; I've received hate mail before. I can't say it didn't hurt or make me question what the hell I'm doing, but I have good people all around me, reminding me to follow my heart and stick to my guns.
Best advice you ever gave?
I like to help people come to their own conclusions so they end up taking their own advice. I love problem solving and talking through things. I usually stray away from giving advice.
What advice did you give corporations who want to get involved with a cause?
Do it for the right reasons, and be authentic about it. Email me!
What rules or principles allow you to run, lead, and inspire Keep A Breast?
Just making sure I am still able to live a balanced life full of yoga, shoe sales, and lunch breaks with my dog Camper. Although a day is never the same between casting young survivors in their Treasured Chest Program to traveling across the globe with our Traveling Education Booth or developing the ever-expanding Keep A Breast Foundation's line of cause merchandise that allows young people to give back. We keep it balanced with our the "Let My People Love Their Life" policy, which allows each employee a flexible work schedule, as long as their work gets done with no negative impact to others. This policy is intended for events and circumstances that will increase the richness and quality of your life.