Juliana Cochnar learned that her mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer while Juliana was out traveling the world for two years. When she stopped in Australia, she called her mother, Barbara, who shared the news. The first thing Cochnar said to her mother was, “I’m coming home to help you,” but her mother had a different outlook. “Oh, no you’re not. You’re staying and doing what I can’t do.” Months later, when her travels were finished, Juliana returned home to her mother’s side.
What happened to Cochnar from her travels and witnessing her mother’s challenges made her aware of life’s bigger picture. “I had to give back,” she said, seated across from me at a San Francisco sidewalk café. “More women were going to struggle with this disease.” It’s not an uncommon path, individuals moved to make a change in the world when someone they love is struck with adversity. But what Cochnar found when she set out to make a difference was that things took on a life of their own.
That next fall, in September of 2003, Cochnar began her work. She reacquainted herself with the same charity that she had volunteered with while in her sorority at college, Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. Race for the Cure started as a promise from a younger sister to her older sister to find a way to speed up the breast cancer research process in finding a cure to honor older sister, Susan G. Komen’s life. Twenty-five years later, Race for the Cure is the most successful fundraising event for breast cancer, and, as of 2007, has raised nearly $1 billion in research funds.
Cochnar formed the team with her women friends, called Barbie and the Boob Brigade, in honor of her mother, of which I was a part. We dressed in all pink (I wore a hot pink Marge Simpson wig) and wore t-shirts made by Cochnar with the names printed on the back of those we had loved and lost. When we walked along the San Francisco Bay, I marveled at the amount of people who had been touched by this disease.
Cochnar invited her mother in from Baltimore for what her mother believed would be a mother-daughter weekend. Barbara arrived in San Francisco, not only to the surprise of joining Barbie and the Boob Brigade for the race, but also to a huge pre-party that her daughter had created called Beats for Boobs, that was also in her honor. Juliana presented her mother with a pink-sparkled scrapbook and filled it with photos and letters from friends and family, all who had pledged money, love, and support.
For event planning, Cochnar reached out to her already active social circle. “I thought, ‘Wait, I know so many people, I should make this larger.’” And her friends reached back. “My friend, Radhika, had lost her aunt to breast cancer, so she said, ‘We can do this to raise community awareness,’” which got the ball rolling to decide that Beats for Boobs would be an event that would also share women’s talents. Art and collaboration blossomed. Fashion designers put on a fashion show to strut their creations down a runway. Other women were in charge of the background visual art. A female DJ spun butt-shaking House music records and other women showcased and sold their art. Another woman friend of Cochnar’s had worked with the Komen foundation in college, so she spearheaded marketing for donations while four other women followed her lead. Four years later, the committees have multiplied, with sixteen women spearheading different areas of focus for the event.
As Cochnar continued to stretch herself, she was amazed to learn that everyone who offered to help out in some way had been personally affected by breast cancer. San Francisco’s Sauce restaurant donated food for the last two years—the mother of the two brothers who owned the restaurant was also a breast cancer survivor. Sauce sent one of their top chefs to the event in order to serve up dinner directly from their hearts. The event was held at the swanky open space, 111 Minna, an art gallery and club that held all six hundred guests. When the manager of Minna donated the space, Cochnar was blown away, but when he asked if he could set up a table to sell “Tough Titties” t-shirts from his own self-created breast cancer organization, Cochnar was thrilled. “Each person who donated a large chunk to our event had been touched by breast cancer, either by their mother, sister, grandmother, or aunt. I had so many people’s stories to share.”
The highlight of last year may have been the Naughty Nurses. Cochnar gathered a group of actual registered nurses who dressed in pink wigs and pink bathing suits under their nurse uniform. They served specialty pink shots complimentary from the bar and then started the fashion show with a strut down the catwalk. When they reached the end, they took their three forefingers, worked their way around their pink bras, and instructed the audience on the proper way to do a breast exam.
The first year, Cochnar was able to raise $6,000 in donations from her mother’s family and supporters, which was matched by Charles Schwab & Co. And three years later, by 2006, donations nearly doubled to $11,000.
Last year, Juliana saved $600 to put back into her new organization, in order to get business cards and have a little leftover for extra costs for the 2007 event. This year, she was offered a job as the Participant Representative at Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. Her task was to do outreach to corporations and individuals to get them signed up and participate in the walk or through corporate funding. On the day that she was offered the job, Cochnar was trying to decide if she could afford the cut in salary to take the position. The $600 leftover from Beats for Boobs and a sign helped her make the decision. “This woman called me from Marin [County]. The woman had heard about me from all of the money I had raised for breast cancer, and she had just been diagnosed the day before, so I took it as a sign that I should accept the job.” She then used part of that $600 to send the woman in Marin a gorgeous floral arrangement of pink flowers.
When Cochnar now goes to Avon recruitment events, she incorporates her story. “At my first event, some women lingered afterward and said, ‘Oh my god, you have to weave in your personal story [about her mother and Beats for Boobs].’” It’s what inspired the women to fundraise and create their own team for this year’s walk. It’s what inspired another woman to do the walk because a smaller service within Avon brought her mother a beautiful wig to her home just when she needed it. “I want to be able to reach out to individual women and give them what they need, just like that.” And if Cochnar continues with the way she’s been doing it, I’m sure she won’t have any problem making that happen. ----------------------
October is Breast Cancer Awareness month.
Avon Walk for Breast Cancer is July 7-8, 2007 in San Francisco. For other cities, check their website.
Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure is September 21, 2007 in San Francisco. For other cities, check their website.
Beats for Boobs will happen again this year on September 27, 2007. Check the website for further details.
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