Culture Dose: Local Heroes

Spotlight On Women’s Health: Q&A With Heike Malakoff

In 2003, just five days after she turned thirty-four, doctors rocked Heike Malakoff‘s world when they informed  her she had breast cancer. Thankfully, after years of treatment, Heike is thrilled to report today that she’s now been cancer-free for seven years.

Her experience inspired her to create Check Your Boobies, a non-profit organization “dedicated to educating other women about breast health, breast cancer prevention and early detection in a frank, fun and fear-free manner.” We find Heike to be a true inspiration, and we have no doubt you will, too.

Photo by Sarah O’brien

Seattle: Can you please share a bit of your personal history that led you to create this nonprofit?

Heike Malakoff: After my cancer diagnosis, there was a lot to think about. I was only 34, and once I went through my lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation treatments, I really felt like what was missing in the breast cancer field was the education piece. I was shocked at how little I knew about breast cancer when I was diagnosed, and similarly shocked by how little everyone else I spoke to knew too. Breast cancer fundraising for research and cures is prevalent in our society, but the education and early detection pieces are not. I really felt inspired to do something with that, especially for young women.

S: When and why did you decide to take action to turn your experience into something so positive that could save others’ lives?

HM: I think any time you go through something like this, you come out of it feeling like you’re lucky. I am a breast cancer survivor, and I need to turn that cancer into something positive. My cancer wasn’t for nothing. I wanted to make it mean something; I wanted to take action. So it was really immediately when I was done with treatment, I knew I wanted to help other women, so if they should go through what I did, they’ll be better equipped.

S: How did you decide on the organization’s name?

HM: It was actually my daughter; she inspired the name. When she was learning about what the name for breasts were at age three, and she called them “boobies.” We went with a name like that for several reasons. If we were to call it something about breast cancer education, no one would look or listen to that. It’s boring. And yet, boobies are playful. It’s not offensive, but it’s a bit shocking at the same time.

S: How has CYB evolved since its initial launch? What has been the most rewarding part?

HM: I think CYB has evolved like any other for-profit or non-profit organization; it’s grown quite a bit. Ten years ago, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I had never been in the business before, and it really took off. We always knew that it was going to be education-based, but it’s really resonated with college demographics and our campus programs especially. That was something I never envisioned, I thought CYB would stick to the house-party concept. We also expanded down into the San Francisco area about two years ago, which was quite exciting.

Photo by Sarah O’brien

S: How can interested readers get involved?

HM: The first thing – just talk about your breasts. Part of CYB’s mission is to get people talking about their own breast health and discussing it with their friends and family. It’s nothing to be embarrassed or shy about. Know your family history and how greatly that plays in the prevention and early detection. If you’re interested, you can go online and schedule a CYB party for yourself and experience our mission firsthand.

S: How exactly do the CYB parties work?

HM: Our parties are hosted by breast cancer survivors, doctors and instructors—and can happen anywhere from college campuses and sororities to churches, at corporate lunch-and-learns and amongst friends and family hosted at home. The parties are interactive lessons (about 1-2 hours), where you can hear about a survivor’s experience with breast cancer, learn and discuss breast cancer myths, the proper ways to do a self-exam and just have an open space to take control of your health and ask questions.

S: What is your hope for the organization five years down the road?

HM: I would say the hope is that we will have a national presence, in major cities across the United States. Ideally, we will have chapters that can host their own parties and preferably be in various college campuses. In the past 10 years, we’ve expanded regionally throughout Washington, Oregon and California and have impacted more than 26,000 participants. In the next five years, we’d love to head east and continue to make an impact.

*Click here to sign up to host your own CYB event.