Heather Taylor
August 30, 2013 8:00 am

How do you begin talking about cancer? And I mean really talking about it – not skirting around the topic with a euphemism in its place, but an honest and informed conversation that cuts to the bone? The answer is that you don’t. Not until it happens to you or someone close to you. When Yael Cohen was just 22 years old, her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Through early detection, she was able to surgically treat it and Yael treated her mother with a simple, supportive t-shirt with the words “F**k Cancer” in bold across the front. The shirt was happily, and publicly, worn and just like that, a movement was born. I was very lucky to get to interview the founder of F**k Cancer (found at letsfcancer.com), Yael Cohen, on how she got her charity up and running, how the site works to educate its community and beyond on cancer, and whether or not she’d ever change the name of the charity if given the chance. (Spoiler alert: she won’t. Air five, sister, air five!)

Heather Taylor: How did “F**k Cancer” get started?

Yael Cohen: Four years ago, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer and through early detection, the doctors were able to find the cancer early on and treat it. I don’t have a medical background and didn’t intend on starting a charity, but my biggest “holy sh*t” moment came when I learned that 90% of cancers can be prevented if they’re caught in stage one. That changed the entire experience for me – it was definitely a bad year, but it was a year and not the rest of my life. Nobody ever talks about cancer, especially to the younger generations and they need to know about it, specifically when it comes to early detection. If you want that to change, you have to know how to reach them! Go online and speak their language with an edge and work on building a beautiful community where the knowledge of prevention and early detection is power.

From day one, people were drawn to us because of our name. Everyone has a very visceral reaction to it – to say it is to be brave. We never told our community what to say or do either. Instead, we humanized it. We broke cancer down with infographics for men and women on warning signs and self exams for early detection, and prevention through the types of food you eat and how foods packed with antioxidants seek out imbalanced cells to replace electrons your body needs. There’s also a F**k Cancer Encyclopedic “F**ktionary” that goes in depth about cancer terminology like radiation, adjuvant therapy, and chemotherapy.

It’s important to remember that you’re not a cancer patient, but a human being. Your body may have cancer, but that also affects your heart, soul, mind, and relationships too. And everyone needs help adjusting to the situation because absolutely nobody is prepared for cancer.

HT: You became a CEO when you were 22 – were you nervous about starting up your own company?

YC: Not as nervous as I should have been! Starting up F**k Cancer felt like something I needed to do and was natural to me. I was so passionate about the cause that I didn’t even consider failure as an option – I didn’t feel like I would fail at this. One thing I did do a lot of (and still do) was ask for help when I needed it. I have a great team that works with me – not for me, but with me – and together we’re all building something so much stronger than I ever could have done by myself.

HT: Social, digital, physical, and donations are all areas that you can help the cause in – can you explain a little more about each area?

YC: Traditionally, charity is thought of as just asking for money but that’s the last thing we ask for. Learning and sharing is our goal to grow the community when it comes to cancer awareness and anyone can make this meaningful.

1) Social. You can raise awareness in something as simple as a tweet (mention us @letsfcancer), a post on Tumblr, or through a video. It’s all about spreading the word – all you have to do is open your mouth and start talking!

2) Digital. Sharing is caring especially within our community so why not sign up as a member or submit a personal blog post?

3) Physical. Get one of our F**k Cancer t-shirts and wear it with PRIDE! Throw a party, open up a local FC chapter in your area, and even have a heart-to-heart with your parents on cancer so you know they’re being safe too.

4) Donations. This can be in the form of money or you can send over airline miles. The miles are extremely beneficial if medical treatment is needed but cannot be done locally and travel no matter where you’re headed, from a roundtrip flight to hotel stays and car rentals, it all adds up FAST.

HT: You’ve said that nobody talks about cancer until they have it. What’s the best way to start discussing cancer?

YC: It all depends on who you’re talking to – whether that’s a patient or a friend or a family member – but openness and honesty is the best place to start. You need to begin with trust and love. It sounds so simple, but there’s no better way to get talking than from there.

HT: Does you have advice on the site on how to discuss cancer with children, whether you’re a parent or a sibling to someone younger?

YC: Absolutely. We have infographics created just for that purpose – things to say and what not to say and how to set an example of being open together. It’s important to remind children that they were never the cause for cancer and to stay positive with them. If they want to wear a superhero costume to the doctor, go for it. Be Batman or a ballerina! Let them pick out their juice for chemo or make their own “magic wand” to help them feel more secure during the process. Creating those infographics was so special to F**k Cancer because they’re actionable items and concrete examples to get started and take care while doing too.

HT: Do you ever get to meet fellow members of the FC community?

YC: More frequently I’m starting to see people wearing the shirts while they’re out and about which is crazy to me because even though we’ve sold hundreds of thousands of t-shirts, I never know where they all wind up going! I also get a lot of recognition on airplanes too – people will come up to me and thank me for what we’re doing or they’ll share a story with me. And I love that! I love that people are comfortable enough to open up about cancer more and more. What started as a sh*tty experience in my life is now working to transform the lives of others.

HT: Where do you see the F**k Cancer movement heading?

YC: We have so much further to go and to keep building on. We always want to keep on listening to our community and build to what they need. What started as an edgy start-up is really growing up and it’s important to us that we stay cutting edge while analyzing and collecting community data and continuing to share it and interact with the community through social, digital, and physical outlets. We’re so grateful for our community – it just can’t ever be said enough.

HT: How is your mom doing these days?

YC: Very well. She’s a radiant little cookie – a real fighter!

HT: I’m sure you’ve been asked to change the name of your company to something without a word that can be bleeped out. Would you ever do it?

YC: F**k no! [laughs] Our name can be a hurdle sometimes, but it’s also one of our biggest assets and it evokes such a raw and authentic response from our community. Changing it would ultimately defeat the purpose.

HT:  If you could get one influential figure to star in a F**k Cancer commercial with you that would be aired all over the world, who would you pick and why?

YC: That’s a great question! I’d want it to be somebody who has heard about us and believes in the cause, but if I had to pick someone right now it would be Angelina Jolie. With her double mastectomy, she started a dialogue for a conversation that needs to be discussed. She has such an authentic personality and soul, plus she’s edgy as sh*t!

Headshot courtesy of Sam Walker.

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