About the author: Model, actress and activist Elizabeth Hurley writes about her journey as part of The Estee Lauder Companies' Breast Cancer Campaign and losing her grandmother to the disease.
I joined The Estée Lauder Companies as an Estée Lauder model in 1995, shortly after Evelyn Lauder co- created the Pink Ribbon and started The Estée Lauder Companies’ Breast Cancer Campaign. Evelyn recognized that women around the world were dying from breast cancer, and no one was talking about it, and she wanted to change that.
Ironically, it was around this same time that I had just lost my beloved grandmother to breast cancer. When Evelyn asked me to get involved, I immediately said yes, knowing how close this was to me and my family. I could never have imagined the journey I would embark on with Evelyn and The Estée Lauder Companies for more than two decades would take me to where we are today.
My grandmother kept her breast cancer a secret from us all and we did not know...until it was too late.
My grandmother was a wonderful woman. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in her late seventies, at a time when women did not speak openly about the disease and far too many suffered in silence. There was no pink ribbon, no media covering it every October and we knew so little about it. In fact, my grandmother kept her breast cancer a secret from us all and we did not know she even had breast cancer until it was too late.
To this day, it brings me such sadness to think how alone she much have felt — that she couldn’t speak about it with her loved ones or have the support system of a breast cancer community and other survivors to share experiences with. Had she been diagnosed today, I’ve always thought that it could have perhaps been a different experience for her, knowing just how prevalent awareness is, the education available, along with all the advances made in research, diagnosis, and treatment. That’s why I’ve made it my proudest life’s work to raise awareness and funds for this disease — for the first time the most commonly diagnosed cancer worldwide.
My grandmother’s experience with breast cancer profoundly affected my family. As a result, I feel each of us has done our own part in some way to talk about the disease in hope that others will not suffer in the same way. My son Damian does not know a time when there was not a pink ribbon. He’s grown up with it his entire life, and has accompanied me for many of my appearances and advocacy work over the years. I’m proud to say that he’s even used his voice to spread awareness about the disease and the need to raise funds for research through the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (which Evelyn also started in 1993 and is the highest rated breast cancer organization in the U.S.)
It is so important that women (and men) advocate for their health, know their bodies and are aware of their family health history, whenever possible. Go for your regular health appointments and screenings and tell your doctor if you notice any changes. Lead a healthy lifestyle with plenty of exercise, proper nutrition and stress reduction. Get a mammogram if you are at the appropriate age or have consulted with your doctor and remind your friends and loved ones to do the same. It was Evelyn who gifted me my very first mammogram on my 40th birthday and I made her a promise to get one every year. I’ve even had women tell me that they heard our important Breast Cancer Campaign messages and found their own lumps after self-checking.
We know that early detection saves lives as breast cancer mortality rates have decreased by 41% among women since the late 1980s because of earlier detection and improved treatment. Yet still, about 1 in 8 women in the U.S. will develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetime — that is too many. This year’s Breast Cancer Campaign is about coming together to help end breast cancer for all. As far as we have come, we know more work must be done. There are still communities and parts of the world where women are not able to talk about breast health, disparities exist in access to care, and survival rates in high-income countries exceed those in low-income countries. We must continue to destigmatize the conversation, fund research, drive awareness and positive impact everywhere, for everyone, until we can fulfill Evelyn’s vision and The Campaign’s mission to help create a breast cancer-free world.