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There is big news in Ontario’s Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. Dr. Eric Hoskins has resigned from the position he’s held since 2014 and is moving on to chair a federal government advisory committee on creating a national pharmacare plan.

During his time as the Minister of Health, Dr. Hoskins has been a champion of Rethink and the needs of breast cancer patients. He supported our call to improve wait-times for breast reconstruction in Ontario. He has also been a champion of Rethink’s efforts to end #MBCinthedark and we hope the incoming Minister of Health, Dr. Helena Jaczek, will continue the momentum to bring transparency and accountable timelines into the drug approval process.

As the Chair of the federal advisory committee, we encourage Dr. Hoskins to continue to keep patients and their values and voices at the centre of discussions and decisions about national pharmacare. We also trust he will ensure the unique needs of cancer patients are made a priority as a national plan is created.

Congratulations Dr. Hoskins – we wish you the best as you take on this very important role. It’s an exciting time for Canadians, for patients from coast to coast, and of course, for you.

– MJ

The breast cancer community across Canada recently welcomed some long-awaited good news. The negotiation for Ibrance between the pan-Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance (a committee representing the provinces) and Pfizer Canada has been completed.

This means a letter of intent was signed, which is shared with the provinces and territories to use when they individually fund the drug. It’s now up to each province or territory to list the medication in their jurisdiction. (Read more about how cancer drugs get to market here.)

A new option for women living with metastatic breast cancer is undeniably good news.

But as we celebrate this milestone, it’s important to remember that this one step in the process to publicly fund a cancer drug took 15 months to complete and that thousands of women have been waiting for coverage. (Ibrance was approved by Health Canada in March 2016 and recommended for public funding in November 2016.)

The process takes far too long, especially for women living with MBC who continuously need treatments to keep their disease controlled. When compared to other countries, Canadians are waiting longer for new treatments to be available.

So, while we are a step closer to having public access to Ibrance, there is more work to be done. We encourage the provinces to start funding Ibrance quickly so the patients who need it can access it. But it doesn’t stop there.

We still need to advocate for a system that includes patients’ values whenever decisions about their health are made. We need a system that is open and transparent and has accountable timelines. We need a system that stops leaving #MBCinthedark.

I hope you will continue to stand up with us and add your voice to the call for much needed change. It’s about making change for patients today, but also about making change for a better tomorrow.

– MJ

October is here and along with a welcomed crisp in the air, so is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. As parades of pink hurl forward in their quest for a cure, too often we’ve seen women with metastatic breast cancer (MBC) kept in the shadows. These women, whose cancer has spread from the breast and been found in other parts of their bodies, have unique needs and concerns that too often aren’t represented, understood or acknowledged.

Young women with MBC live with uncertainty, going from scan to scan, no more than two or three months at a time. They try to find a balance between living in the moment, but also struggle making plans for the future. They often live in conflict of achieving their “bucket list” or life legacy while balancing the needs of their families and loved ones, and their health.

Women with MBC continuously need treatments that help keep their disease controlled. Until there is a cure, it’s treatments that give time and help them live a better life longer. And while research continues to show progress, the price of these new treatments continues to rise, resulting in an unsustainable health system. That leaves women with MBC waiting longer for new treatments to be available in Canada compared to other countries.

Right now, they are waiting for Ibrance. It was approved by Health Canada in March, 2016 and recommended for public funding in November, 2016. We were proud to have provided our input during that stage, interviewing breast cancer patients about their experience with Ibrance and their experience living with metastatic breast cancer. We spent many hours preparing the submission so the “patient voice” could be heard and considered. But that was a year ago.

Now women are waiting for the manufacturer, Pfizer Canada, and the pan-Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance (a committee representing the provinces) to negotiate a price and make it available to patients. This is the final step in the approval process. Yet it’s the one that lacks transparency and does not have accountable timelines – leaving women with MBC in the dark.

The status quo isn’t good enough when you are living with the uncertainty of MBC. That’s why Rethink has launched a petition to ensure the voices and values of women with MBC are included whenever decisions about their health are made.

If you do one thing during Breast Cancer Awareness Month to help women, I hope you will add your name. Our goal is 10,000 signatures. It’s about women today, and it’s about women in the future. It’s about making our health system better for everyone. And it’s about a commitment from all of us to stop leaving #MBCinthedark.

Sign here.


Over the past year, some of the brightest stars in our community, daring and inspiring advocates for women with metastatic breast cancer, have died. Their loved ones, including very young children, are struggling to make sense and find a way forward, and so is our community.

As an organization that serves a broad audience of young people, it’s always tricky to address these difficult issues.

We want to show the raw, gritty truth about breast cancer, but we also want to make it accessible so people aren’t so scared that they turn away from the reality of the disease.

The fact that breast cancer can kill you is not something that someone who is newly diagnosed wants to hear. And to be honest, there are those in the metastatic community who don’t want to think about this either.

But we have to talk about it. Rethink has been participating in global discussions about metastatic breast cancer since 2013, and in that time, patient advocates from all over the world have agreed that isolation from the non-metastatic breast cancer community, difficulty finding relevant information to address practical and emotional needs and waning support from family and friends were key issues for women with metastatic breast cancer, regardless of cultural and national differences.

We’ve been working closely with our metastatic women to create new resources to help educate the public and empower those living with their breast cancer. But four years later, they still face barriers to support and treatment. And it’s not just that they’re sometimes left out of the breast cancer conversation or pink marketing materials — they’re also not getting access to drugs and treatments that can buy them a little more time or better quality of life.

Rethink’s MBC Workshop

Here’s proof: We recently held a workshop with some of the metastatic women in our network, and the one thing we heard loud and clear is that they want more time. Each one has her own reason—to reach a milestone, or simply to be with her family just a little longer. They need treatments that stabilize their cancer. They need treatments that extend life. And don’t forget, it takes time for new and innovative breast cancer treatments to be approved and listed, here more than in other comparable countries.

When it takes too much time for a patient to get her treatment, how can it be effective?

The newfound value that these women put on time is unmistakable, and it’s obvious that there’s still work to be done to dramatically improve the outcomes for women who get the news that their breast cancer has metastasized. In fact, that’s why we’re launching this campaign. We want to make sure that our community really understands the challenges facing women with metastatic breast cancer, and to encourage everyone to hold government and industry accountable when it comes to considering patients’ voices during the drug funding process.

Recently, I’ve been feeling inspired by the work that the still-young women’s movement did to de-stigmatize this disease in the ‘70s and ‘80s, promoting solidarity, providing support for those diagnosed and, most importantly, demanding more. Women like feminist breast cancer activist Barbara Brenner pushed governments, doctors and researchers and industry to address gaps in progress against breast cancer. The early advocates got angry and called BS where they saw BS. And, they made change.

Rethink’s goal is to build an inclusive network where women who are metastatic feel supported by those in the early stages, especially since becoming metastatic is a reality 30% of women with breast cancer will have to face.

It’s clear: to solve the problem of metastatic breast cancer, we need the entire community involved and engaged in the issues.

It feels like the time is right to shake things up in the breast cancer movement again, doesn’t it?

To find out more about Rethink’s advocacy initiatives and what we’re doing to support young women with breast cancer, sign up HERE!

International Women’s Day feels extra inspiring this year. Coming so soon after January’s Women’s March, which saw millions participate, catching the world’s attention and filling our social media feeds, I am excited for the future. This year’s IWD theme is #BeBoldForChange and the campaign is calling on us to help make the working world a better place, a more gender inclusive place. The Women’s March organizers are calling for participation in the #ADayWithoutAWoman strike to highlight the economic power that women have and also call attention to the economic injustices women continue to face. As a feminist, I will continue to strive for gender equality.

At the same time, all this powerful marching and resistance by women, does have me reflecting on how important the early women’s movement of the ‘70s and ‘80s was to the breast cancer movement. Feminist breast cancer activists, like Barbara Brenner, who led the early breast cancer movement helped de-stigmatize this disease, promote solidarity, and provide support for those diagnosed. But they also “demanded more”—to push governments, doctors and researchers and industry to address gaps in progress against breast cancer. Feels like the time is right to shake things up in the breast cancer movement. The early advocates got angry and called b.s. where they saw b.s. And, they made change.

Many positive advances in breast cancer have been made over the past few decades. But we need more, especially for our young and metastatic women.

The past few months have been exceptionally tough. Two of our brightest stars in our community, daring and inspiring advocates for metastatic breast cancer passed away, leaving their loved ones, including very young children, as well as our community, struggling to make sense and find a way forward.

It’s clear that more needs to be done to dramatically improve the outcomes for women who get the news that their breast cancer has metastasized.

We cannot be content with tiny improvements. We need dramatic gains to raise the bar. We need to “be bold for change” in our thinking about metastatic breast cancer.

Rethink Breast Cancer strives to be positive. We want to empower women dealing with breast cancer and inspire them to work together and with us to make change. As an organization advocating to improve services and access to treatment for women with breast cancer, our approach and positioning involves coming to the table as a helpful “partner” with recommendations to Government on key issues. We are also “Rethinkers,” what the marketing gurus call a “disruptive” or “challenger” brand. And in the way the Women’s March channels a spirit of love, freedom and unity in order to challenge issues that threaten and hurt, especially the most marginalized, there is an opportunity for this approach in the breast cancer community.

Women with metastatic breast cancer have often felt marginalized by the broader survivor movement.

I see that changing as awareness of metastatic breast cancer increases. Women with several years of survivorship are putting aside their own deep fears regarding their health and are reaching out to support those who are dealing with recurrences and metastasis.

To solve the problem of metastatic breast cancer, we need the entire breast cancer community involved and engaged in the issues.

I will be engrossed in today’s activities for International Women’s Day and, as with almost everything I do, I will be looking for lessons and inspiration to bring back to Rethink Breast Cancer.


For more information or to get involved with our metastatic work click here.







Women in our network with metastatic breast cancer have played a huge role in helping us expand the breast cancer conversation to include metastatic voices. Through your participation in forums, blog posts and our Live Laugh Learn metastatic resources, you’ve helped us empower more metastatic women to have their voice heard and to fully participate in their treatment planning.

I think it’s working.

The metastatic breast cancer community is gaining traction; the voices are getting stronger; women are clamouring to be understood and they are pleading for increased research funding into metastatic breast cancer.

Traditionally, academic researchers and pharmaceutical companies determine what topics are worth investigating. There is a growing shift to invite patients, their family and patient organizations to help identify, discuss and prioritize issues for future research. Incorporating patients’ point of view can make research more relevant and valuable for those most affected. Metastatic breast cancer is incredibly complicated and many areas of research need to be pursued – from psychological and social impacts (quality of life, better communication between patient and healthcare team) to tumour biology and non-tumour biology issues that may cause or prevent metastasis.

Rethink is pleased to be a part of the Metastatic Breast Cancer Priority Setting Partnership, which strives to give Canadian patients, caregivers, clinicians and researchers a voice in identifying the research priorities of those most affected by metastatic breast cancer. You can participate in the survey at: 

Research is a vital part of the puzzle when it comes to metastatic patients having more options, more new “tools in their toolbox.” And accessing those new tools is of vital importance too.  Stay tuned for our #MetsMonday posts to learn about what Rethink Breast Cancer is tackling next when it comes to improving Access to Treatment for Metastatic Breast Cancer patients.

Click here to join our community and learn more!

I became a “motherless daughter” at age 22 when my mom’s breast cancer metastasized to her liver and treatments options ran out. I was an only daughter (with three older brothers) and our mother-daughter bond was strong. My mom was smart, classy, warm and just very easy to be around. My heart breaks knowing how much my own daughter, Annie, has missed out on having my mom’s gentle, calm and generous spirit in her life. Although, I do see and feel my mom shining through in Annie every day. And, I’m grateful that Annie and I enjoy the same easy, close bond I had with my mom. Well, for now. Annie turns 13 in a few weeks.



Instead of having a big birthday party this year, Annie is teaming up with her friend Eloise to throw their own “Junior” version of Boobyball, our flagship, annual fundraiser.



Annie has grown up with me raising my other baby, Rethink, alongside of her. Annie was born just two years after I started the charity. She’s sat in the back seat of the car listening in on conference calls, overhearing the trials and tribulations of the business side being discussed, as well as all the wonderful wins too.

02/08/2006 TORONTO .. Annie, 2 - year-old daughter of MJ deCoteau, who is exec director of Rethink Breast Cancer, shopping at San Remo boutique February 08 2006 preparing for the weekend's "Sweetheart Ball", a fashion and cocktails event for parents and tots.. .... .... .. ...National Post staff photo / Peter Redman. For Toronto Weekend story by Dayle Parker
02/08/2006 TORONTO .. Annie, 2 – year-old daughter of MJ deCoteau, who is exec director of Rethink Breast Cancer, shopping at San Remo boutique February 08 2006 preparing for the weekend’s “Sweetheart Ball”

And she’s a sensitive kid, taking in the stories of the women and families we serve and sometimes getting to know them. She is always asking questions, always following up on people or things she’s heard me say.


Annie is also following in my footsteps when it comes to a passion for events. The Boobyball theme reveal is a big deal for her and she always weighs in on my outfit choice. Year after year, she asks if she can come. She has had to make do with visiting on set up day the past few years. This year, she’s getting to a Boobyball of her own.


She’s made props for a photo booth and a giant tic-tac-toe activation. She’s rallied her friends. She’s also learned that events are “a lot of work.” And, what I also love is that she’s been checking her fundraising page, keeping a sharp eye on the thermometer and her goal.


I couldn’t be more proud of her.


For more info on how to throw your own #Myboobyball party click here.

Talk about surprise and delight! A few weeks ago, I was asked to attend the Avon national sales gala in Montreal as a special guest to share a bit about the impact of the $100,000 grant Avon Foundation had given us in early 2015. What a night. I think the photo of me holding a big check with my mouth open kind of gives it all away!

My night at the Avon gala was more than just another party, another speaking gig. I jump at any opportunity to get in front of an organization that has generously given Rethink vital funding—sharing the impact of a donation is beyond important to sustaining our organization. This invitation, though, had me jumping extra high because our Avon grant has had personal significance for me: Avon got behind the new Rethink Breast Cancer. They were a huge part of making it possible.


Today, the “new” Rethink, the new logo, the new programs are just who we are. They are Rethink. But anyone who has gone through organizational change knows what’s involved: anxiety, excitement and lots of extra work too.

A bit of background on the evolution…

We spent years building thoughtful in-person support programs for young women with breast cancer, programs that were much loved and gratefully appreciated by those who attended and participated. Avon Foundation had given us funding to start our in-person LiveLaughLearn education and support evenings for young women with breast cancer and we were getting fantastic feedback from those who attended them. However, there were some challenges with the model. The needs of the young patients we serve are very high but their numbers are quite small and they are spread across this huge country. We would gather 30 young women in Toronto and a dozen or so in cities like Calgary and Montreal but what about all the young women in smaller cities and rural areas? It’s hard to run an education evening for two or three women. We also knew that young women’s busy lifestyles – juggling cancer treatment with careers and young families made it hard to get to in person programs.

As we grappled with these program challenges, it was impossible not to notice how much the world was changing around us. When I started Rethink 15 years ago, we had the internet, of course, but there was no social media, no youtube, and smartphones hadn’t been invented yet. Smartphones were introduced in 2007 and by 2012, over a billion were in use worldwide. As an organization that prides itself on staying relevant to young women, it was a no brainer to ramp up our digital focus. We also noticed the tremendous popularity of short “how to videos” in the fashion/beauty/lifestyle realm and envisioned an opportunity to use that format to help young women with breast cancer. We could re-launch our YouTube site as the first “breast cancer digital channel” and populate it with fantastic, helpful short videos that young women could relate to and easily share with others. So, we had the vision, we had the ideas, we just had to figure out how to make it all happen – or more importantly, how to fund it!

Out of the blue, and literally days later, we found out about the Avon Centennial Grant. In celebration of their 100th birthday, the Foundation invited charities to submit a proposal to be considered for 10 grants of $100,000 to improve the lives of those affected or impacted by breast cancer. We put together a proposal for funding to evolve our in-person LiveLaughLearn support gatherings into an on-going video series offering practical tips for young women with breast cancer.  We eagerly submitted, crossing our fingers and hoping and praying Avon Foundation would see the value of a totally new mission delivery format.

Avon got behind our idea. Big time!

Thanks to the Avon Centennial Grant that we received, we’ve really established our digital focus and our reach has exploded. Our new direction is working and we are seeing more women supported. We are able to reach 1000s of more women than we did in the past. For example, a few years ago, we had an in-person LiveLaughLearn gathering in Toronto with about 30 young women with a young make-up artist who had gone through breast cancer. She shared her best tips and did a make-up demo. It was really wonderful. We featured that same young make-up artist in our LiveLaughLearn Beauty video series, which now has 22,000 views. Our total views for the Avon funded videos is 69,000 and growing! We are also forming deeper connections with many of the 400 plus women in our Rethink Young Women’s Network. We are working directly with young women to create resources, tools and campaigns. The videos feature their ideas. They get a chance to give back and pay it forward to help other young women.

Rethink continues to host in person events like forums and retreats from time to time but we did wrap up our regular, on-going in person support services. And this was a scary and sad change. As I said, anyone who has experienced organizational change knows how difficult the process is. Even when you know change is necessary, even when the change is exciting, there are always mixed emotions. Some nostalgic feelings, some sadness about something good ending. I was closely involved in creating our support programs so felt much attachment. And, of course, there is fear too. Will it work? Is it the right decision? I had many fitful sleeps as we made decisions about changes to our mission.

The Avon Centennial Grant gave us the confidence to fully embrace our new direction. The funding allowed us to launch our digital breast cancer channel with 20 very special videos, beautiful “hero” content.  I believe it’s been an enormous part of our successful evolution.

When I attended the gala in August, I learned that Avon, an organization that had been around for decades and decades had recently undergone a lot of organizational change too. They are ushering in a new era and the future is unwritten, as it is for all of us. One thing that is not changing at Avon is their incredible commitment to the breast cancer cause. And, that commitment to the cause is pervasive throughout the organization.

What I mean is that the funds Avon Foundation distributes to charities like us are raised by the reps themselves and through the relationships they cultivate with their clients, many of whom have been affected by breast cancer. So, as I stood on stage describing the impact of the Avon Foundation donation, I realized that the audience of 200 district sales managers and representatives in the room all had serious “skin in the game” when it came to the donation; they had all helped personally raise the funds given to our organization. Our impact is their impact. Both the incredible reach of the videos, which has surpassed what we ever imagined as well as the kinds of beautiful testimonials we’d received…this is only possible because of generous funders like Avon and in this case, it was possible because of the women in the room.

It was quite transformative for me to experience the energy and commitment to the cause. You could hear a pin drop as I described the experiences of our young women dealing with breast cancer and the incredible feedback we’d received from the resources funded by Avon. When I finished speaking, I received a standing ovation that soon turned into a rhythmic clapping, signaling to me that I needed to wait up there on stage because something was about to happen. But what?


Goran Petrovic, the President of Avon Canada, and Roberta Lacey, President of the Avon Foundation for Women Canada surprised and delighted me with a cheque for $25,000. For me, it was more than an extraordinary unexpected gift of additional funds to educate, empower and advocate for young women with breast cancer; it was a signifier that change is good, that Rethink Breast Cancer is headed in the right direction and that we have supporters that believe in our future vision and are excited to be a part of it.


Thank you Avon for getting behind our evolution!

To watch some of the Avon sponsored LiveLaughLearn videos click HERE.

I took on this blog post assignment and I tried but I failed. We’ve had too much help from too many women and men. The whole thing brought on flashbacks of wedding invite stress.

My first struggle was not including men. I would NOT have even started this charity without the support of my husband, my three brothers and especially my dad. I decided I could save men for a completely separate post at another time of year and focus on women.

A first attempt at culling: could there be a “woman for each year?” Nope, too many gave too much each year. What about two lists of 15? Like 15 that really helped on the branding, marketing and fundraising side, such as helping plan all our events and sell all the tickets, or helped convince their CEOs that their company should fund us, and then 15 women with personal experience with breast cancer who shaped our support, education and advocacy work. Women who put themselves out there in our films, videos and panels, joined us in meetings with government to fight for access to treatment, who spent hours being trained by us to give support to other young women and then spent many more hours helping other young women. But, then, I started thinking about all the oncologists, surgeons, psychologists, oncology nurses and child life specialists who advised us too. A number did more than just advise; they really threw themselves into getting our programs off the ground and gave hours to their success. And, what about the incredible staff, past and present, who put a mark on Rethink? What about our friends at other breast cancer organizations?  When it got to 15 categories with groupings of multiple women (and some men) in each category, well, I will save that for my memoirs.

Instead of fitting the blog post into our anniversary structure of “lists of 15,” I’ll just say this: THANK YOU!

Thank you to the early adopters who got excited about the power of a simple idea. Who jumped on board and supported us and championed us when we were not much more than an idea. Thank you to those who gave us deep insight into patient needs, public health and challenges in our healthcare system as we evolved from an awareness movement into a more mature organization with true expertise and experience in education, support and advocacy. Thank you to those advisors and supporters who encouraged us to “stay Rethink-y” as we matured. And, thank you to all the “recent adopters” who are responding to our new approach as we evolve to stay relevant to the next generation.

Rethink Breast Cancer started with my personal story but it’s the women we serve, and their loved ones, that are shaping our organization’s future.

Thank you for being a part of something special!



Be part of helping us shape the next 15 years here.



When I started Rethink 15 years ago, working off my dining room table in a tiny one-bedroom at the top of an old Victorian, I don’t think I had a clue what I was getting into. Not really. I just saw a problem to be solved and an exciting opportunity to solve that problem. I had lost my mom to breast cancer when I was in university and I was hard-pressed to find relevant information about my own risk factors that wasn’t scary and overwhelming. Back then, young women were not included in the breast cancer conversation at all. Education messages targeted seniors and everything to do with breast cancer involved drab pamphlets using startling statistics or pink ribbon and teddy bear fundraising appeals.

There was a huge opportunity to build a new breed of breast cancer charity—one that would be relevant to a younger generation.

I was fortunate to recruit some of the smartest, most creative, and passionate people to back my vision and help me launch Rethink. (And, I have lots more to say about some of those special people in my next post!).

MJ and Alison

We agonized over naming the charity and landed on Rethink Breast Cancer, a name that spoke to our desire to change the conversation and re-energize the breast cancer movement.

The name didn’t include a mention of “young women” and, in retrospect, I think that our non self-referential name may have been because we were simply a small group of young women instinctively creating a movement we felt comfortable with.

We launched with some fun, cheeky education materials and our launch party, itself, instantly created an awesome way for young people to champion the cause.

Carlyn and MJ Burlesque

We were on our way with a successful awareness movement that had young people raising funds to recruit innovative, young scientists into breast cancer research. And then, in what is now typical of Rethink, the unexpected happened. Almost immediately after launching, young women with breast cancer reached out. They were drawn to our look and feel and we, although lacking the resources to “serve patients,” were moved by their challenging stories of falling through the cracks.



As we grew, we started to developed innovative ways to offer support, build community and make changes to improve the lives of those young women dealing with a diagnosis themselves. It was the first of many evolutions for our small, revolutionary charity.



It’s the constant evolution of our revolution that’s kept things fresh for me. I am so proud that 15 years in, we are not just a thriving national organization but also now a movement with global reach (thanks social media + digi culture!). It’s been amazing to build something from scratch and work with all the incredibly talented, creative and dedicated people who came on board to bring my idea to life. With a small but mighty staff and a tight budget and a growing base of “Rethinkers” behind us, just look at what we’ve been able to do!


Stay tuned for more #XOXV love….