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Why black women, men, and non-binary people need to check their boobs and chests

23 Jul 2019

Photography by Eloise King

Talking about cancer can be daunting, if not terrifying. But with one in eight women experiencing breast cancer in their lifetime and 400 men diagnosed every year, honest, opened conversations are needed more than ever. Anyone can get breast cancer regardless of age, ethnicity or gender.

Thankfully, Grab Life by The Boobs a new campaign by London-based breast cancer awareness charity CoppaFeel! and Fold7, is set to change the narrative. It’s targeting the groups of people who have the least breast cancer awareness: young women, cis black women, cis men, the trans community and non-binary people.

The Grab Life By The Boobs ad, written and directed by Eloise King, shows a variety of different people from all walks of life checking the breasts or chests with the tagline: “Life can be a handful, but what do you do? Back down when things get tough? Or confront them, breasts on?”

CoppaFeel! was first set up by Kris Hallenga in 2009 after she was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer age 23. She, along with her twin sister, set out to educate young people on the disease and illustrate that breast cancer doesn’t just affect women in their 50s. Currently, the age women are invited for breast cancer screening in the UK is 50-70.  

Ten years since CoppaFeel! launched, the charity now wants to focus their efforts on getting people who are less likely to have breast cancer awareness talking. Black women, for example, are more likely to have high-grade node-positive tumours (cancer that spreads to the nodes). Breast cancer awareness, unfortunately, is still is not reaching black people. A 2016 study by Cancer Research UK and Public Health England estimated that black women were twice as likely to be diagnosed with advanced breast cancer in comparison to white women. 

Those featured in the campaign are real people working towards breast cancer awareness with real stories to tell like Leanne Pero. She is the creator of Black Women Rising: The Untold Cancer Stories, the UK’s first all-black women cancer portrait exhibition. The emotive black and white images in the exhibition held in Copeland Gallery, Peckham is giving visibility to black women whilst getting a much-needed conversation started in the community. “I got involved as it’s important to represent the different ethnicities affected by breast cancer in the UK – something that often goes amiss in the mass cancer advertising campaigns nationwide.”

For Leanne, this campaign is an opportunity to normalise conversations around a topic that can still feel like a daunting one to approach. “I hope that people will look at this campaign and realise that cancer doesn’t have to be scary. There are people living with it and doing well and that boob checking is a normal part of life now,” she says.

“‘Normalising’ early detection of breast cancer saves lives, I’m a living example of that. I’m all for doing whatever we can to normalise boob checking on a regular basis – it’s essential now that the number of people affected by cancer keeps rising and rising each year.”

The campaign also aims to bring breast cancer awareness to the trans community. Research by Breast Cancer Care suggests that transgender women undergoing hormone treatment have had an increased risk of breast cancer. Awareness also needs to reach trans men. Understandably, whilst these conversations could cause dysphoria for trans men and trans-masculine people, education around chest cancer is crucial, something Theo Sterngold, a bar manager who also appears in the campaign acknowledges.

“Trans people are acutely aware of our bodies and I think for trans men, even if it causes you dysphoria, it’s really important to look into what’s going on with your chest. Taking control of your own body, even if you are gender queer, feels very empowering and I think the message of this campaign is one that trans men could definitely relate to and hear more of.”

Grab Life By The Boobs is truly helping to normalise these conversations which will only help with greater recovery for all people. The ad ends with an affirming call to action: “grab your dreams. Grab big and squeeze plenty. It could save your life.” 

Find out more about breast cancer awareness here or contact your GP