Artist and designer Shaney jo Darden has always believed that progressive art brings people together. As a young designer in the skateboard industry in the ‘90s, she was also an active member of the Southern California art community, organizing large art and fashion events called “MODART” with friend Mona Mukherjea-Gehrig.
October 26, 2017
Shaney jo Darden Promotes Cancer Education Through Art
The founder of Keep A Breast creates progressive art to bring people together and create change
Photos courtesy of Keep A Breast Foundation
In 1999, Shaney jo learned that her friend — artist Margaret Kilgallen — had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and that Mona’s mother’s breast cancer had also returned. Spurred by a desire to support both women, Shaney jo looked no further than to art to help bring awareness to the cause. Building on the MODART concept, Shaney jo and Mona worked together to plan a show to specifically raise awareness of breast cancer, featuring plaster-made breast casts of female pro snowboarders, surfers, and skateboarders. The women asked other artists to then paint on the breast casts and auctioned them at the event, donating profits to breast cancer charities. Keep A Breast was born.
“In the beginning, I never intended on starting a nonprofit,” Shaney jo says about Keep A Breast’s inception. “It just happened very organically with the help of friends and supporters, and we were able to scale with the help of those very same people giving us their time and knowledge. Our vision is a world without breast cancer. But until then, our mission is to educate young people about the true risks of cancer, ways of living a healthy, non-toxic lifestyle, and the importance of a ‘self-check’ to ensure early detection.”
17 years and 1,000 breast casts later, Shaney jo’s Keep A Breast (KAB) foundation has grown into a small, but mighty team working globally to encourage young people to be their own health advocates and give them the tools to do so. In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month this year, KAB launched a #CheckYourSelfie campaign to help promote monthly self breast exams. We’re proud to be supporters and friends of Keep A Breast, so we asked Shaney jo to tell us about #CheckYourSelfie and the importance of early detection.
Tell us about the #CheckYourSelfie campaign. How can people get involved?
Teens are on their phones constantly — texting, Instagramming, gaming — and they post over 1 million selfies a day. This October, we are meeting them right in the palm of their own hand. We love selfies here at KAB. We are all about self-love and self-expression, and that’s what inspired us to launch #CheckYourSelfie. We’re asking people to share that you’ve downloaded the app and that you’re committed to being your own health advocate by posting a #CheckYourSelfie. All you need to do is post a picture of yourself, placing three fingers to your breast, symbolizing your monthly commitment to self-check. Knowledge is power. Know your selfie.
Where can we engage with Keep A Breast, beyond #CheckYourSelfie?
By collaborating with popular alternative rock bands and maintaining a presence at festivals like Warped Tour and SXSW, we are able to reach teens directly through an experience that is memorable and authentic. This direct interaction allows us to educate our audience on detection and prevention in ways that have so much more impact than simply posting our message on social media. We hear their stories, concerns, and perspectives, giving us the tools to better serve our mission and provide them with everything they need to lower their risk of breast cancer. They can download our app and share it with their friends and family. They can check their labels and avoid cancer causing ingredients [with sister organization, Non-Toxic Revolution]. They can advocate to change policies that affect their health and well-being. They can be the change. They can make a difference.
What’s the biggest misconception about breast cancer?
The biggest misconceptions we address are that women under 40 don’t get breast cancer, and that breast cancer mostly stems from family history. We always come from a place of love and want to inspire young people to be their own health advocates. The truth is that women are being diagnosed younger and younger, cancers are becoming more aggressive, and only 10 percent of those are attributed to family history.
With women in their 20s and 30s being diagnosed with breast cancer, you really can’t wait to think about it until you’re in your 40s or 50s. I want people to know that early detection saves lives and doing your monthly self-check is the best way to know what is normal and not normal for you.
How has breast cancer education shifted in the 17 years you’ve been actively involved?
We have seen some progress in organizations speaking on prevention, but we are still the primary organization talking to young people about prevention. The conversation doesn’t start soon enough, even today. People are still blown away when they hear that young people get breast cancer and that family history only accounts for 10 percent of breast cancer cases. There are more and more studies coming to the forefront addressing the environmental causes of breast cancer, and we hope that will shift part of the conversation to focusing on what is making people sick. We have a saying here at KAB, prevention is the cure, and that’s how we believe the rate of breast cancer diagnosis will decrease. So, we will continue to educate young people, partner with other NGOs who want to further this message, and empower people to take their health into their own hands.
Tell us about some of your favorite breast casts from over the years.
I’ve casted over 1,000 women in the last 17 years, and I love them all, but I do have a few that I hold near and dear to my heart.
I casted a young woman, Amanda Nixon, many years ago after she had one breast removed. It was the first time I ever saw someone with only one boob. I mean literally flat on one side, nothing there. She had no hair at the time and I was so honored that she trusted me to cast her at this very vulnerable time of her life. The cast was painted with black and white roses by world famous tattoo artist, Mike Giant. There is an inscription on it that says “no gain. no loss. only change.” These words have a constant place in my mental bank of mantras. If I’m feeling a little stuck and need a little nudge, I draw from that phrase. I’m one of those people that likes change. It’s necessary for your own physical and spiritual growth.
There are so many casts, I could write a book about each one and the special meaning behind them. Another one of my favorites is one of Tura Satana, the star in the movie Faster Pussycat Kill Kill, that an artist named Mitch O’Connell painted with a classic tattoo style. Another special one is a cast of Jan Sunn, the daughter of Rell Sunn, the Queen of Makaha. [Jan’s mother] “Aunty Rell” brought the love of surfing all over the world, and artist Phil Roberts painted her cast with a portrait of Rell surfing and a lei with vintage family photos attached.
Keep A Breast spurred sister org “Non Toxic Revolution” in 2010. Tell us about the movement that started a movement.
When I was a kid, my mom was always having us eat sugar-free this and that. She put jicama sticks in my lunchbox and generally instilled the idea of eating healthy, whole foods. After I started Keep A Breast in 2000, I became part of the world of breast cancer news, research, and facts. When I learned that most cancers were not related to family history, I started to ask myself what can a cancer diagnosis be attributed to? I began studying more information about the environmental links to cancer. I came across a report on The Breast Cancer Fund website (now Breast Cancer Prevention Partners) called “The State of The Evidence” written by Dr. Janet Grey. It was the scientific evidence of the environmental links to cancer. This changed my life. After realizing that breast cancer diagnosis was only 10 percent genetic and 90 percent our environment, I knew there was an even bigger conversation that needed to be had.
I started Non Toxic Revolution (NTR) to open a direct dialogue about the food we eat, the products we use, and the toxins we are exposed to that could increase our risk of breast cancer and many other diseases. NTR uses art, music, and creative messaging to inform, educate, and inspire young people to revolt against the dangers of toxic chemicals in their everyday environment and personal care products — especially those linked to the initiation of breast cancer. Moreover, it also teaches young people to become their own health advocates, both personally and through activism. The NTR program is both an informational resource and a call to action, backed by its own website, www.nontoxicrevolution.org.
Personally, how do you talk about the importance of non-toxic products to your family and friends? Do people listen?
Actually, young people are so excited and eager to get information about these things they can have the power to change. They light up when they learn something new. It’s the older people that are harder to change. They may be stuck in a rut of using the same old toxic deodorant they have been using since they were a teenager, and they may not even believe this message has any merit. I generally start with the facts, send them some resources, and open a dialogue about how using several products a day with harmful ingredients is the problem. Then I give them recommendations of some of my favorite non-toxic personal care products. The best part is getting a message from them about how much they love the products I suggested and how much better they feel because they know they are doing something good for their health. It makes the tougher conversations worth it.
Learn more about Keep A Breast’s mission and how you can get involved with #CheckYourSelfie at keep-a-breast.org.