Campaign launched to raise funds for triple-negative breast cancer research

Click to play video: 'Breast cancer awareness campaign with a twist of humour targets Black women'
Breast cancer awareness campaign with a twist of humour targets Black women
WATCH: A tongue-and-cheek approach to a serious health issue is shedding light on a rare condition. A new breast cancer awareness campaign is underway and it focuses on Black and racialized women. The goal is to raise awareness about a subtype of the disease that disproportionately affects young women of African descent. – Feb 15, 2024

As a comedian, it’s easy for Dorothy Rhau to see the funny side of anything, no matter how serious the project.

“Because I’m funny,” she laughed while speaking to Global News about her latest project — a cheeky online breast cancer fundraising campaign called Téton Ben Drôle, featuring cartoon-type drawings of breasts, some with mastectomy scars, many sporting smiley faces.

“Happy boobs, yeah, why not,” Rhau translated, grinning. “Happy boobs.”

The former standup comedian launched the project for more sobering reasons, though. Her mother, Anéla Moïse, died seven years ago of triple-negative breast cancer, a subtype of the disease that typically grows and spreads rapidly. In exploring existing breast cancer campaigns after her mother’s death, Rhau realized that there weren’t many campaigns that targeted Black and other racialized women.

Her campaign is meant to address this.

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According to health experts, triple-negative breast cancer disproportionately affects young, Black women, is difficult to treat and patients are less likely to survive. Why more Afro-descendent women get the disease, though, is still a mystery.

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“I think there’s now a deeper sense and appreciation and understanding in Canada that this is one breast cancer subtype that has been overlooked,” said Dr. Juliet Daniel, a cancer biologist at McMaster University who’s Black. “We cannot and should not sit back and do nothing about this, especially if it’s disproportionately affecting one demographic more than others.”

She has been studying the issue for years. In 1999, Daniel, who was born in Barbados, discovered a gene that she named Kaiso, after calypso music.

“What we found was that Kaiso is highly expressed in Black women with triple-negative breast cancer compared to white women with the same disease,” she told Global News.

To find the gene’s connection to this and other cancers, like prostate cancer, she said much more research is needed. Daniel also wants federally mandated race-based data collected to track triple-negative cancer in this country, “where every hospital is collecting demographic data on every patient that they see and they treat.”

Daniel also pointed to another problem.

“We need a lot more Black researchers in Canada,” she said. “A lot more.”

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She added that current researchers like her have trouble getting funding sometimes. She says when she first applied for funding in Canada to do research into triple-negative breast cancer, she was rejected.

“One reviewer said studying triple-negative breast cancer in Black women in Canada was not relevant to the Canadian context, ” she recalled.

It’s because of these challenges and others that Rhau, through her organization Audace au Féminin, wants to raise $200,000  this year alone for triple-negative cancer research.

“Even in (the medical) field we have inequities,” Rhau, who is Black, pointed out. “With this campaign, we want to wake up and shake up people and the government and the medical world, that we are also part of public health.”

Some of the funds will come from the sale of artwork by Stéphane Senghor who, upon learning that the cancer mortality rate in Sub-Saharan Africa can be up to 50 per cent, noted that the cancer problem is global.

“I think that it is very important that we use our leadership as Montrealers to reach the world, and I think that is something that this campaign is trying to achieve as well,” he said.

The fundraising campaign launches Thursday with a vernissage of Senghor’s work at the Maël Gallery in Old Montreal.


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