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How York's Uni Boob Team are working with Coppafeel to ensure everyone is breast aware

Kirsten Murray talks to Uni Boob Team President Rose Seccombe about the incredible work Coppafeel is doing and why we all need to be breast aware, no matter our age or gender identity.

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Image Credit: Uni Boob Team

October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month might have ended, but it’s so important to be breast aware all year round. After only being set up last year, York’s Uni Boob Team is growing from strength to strength, and this year’s president Rose is determined to not let lockdown stop the team from helping Coppafeel in getting people to “Grab their boobs and Check their pecs!”

After a family history of breast cancer and her mum’s diagnosis when she was at school, Rose knew she wanted to get involved with spreading the message of being breast aware in whatever way she could. Surprisingly, hereditary cases of breast cancer actually make up a lower percentage of breast cancer cases, meaning anyone can be affected. “I want to make sure that everyone checks, even if you don’t have a family history.”

Speaking about how she became a part of the Uni Boob Team, Rose recalls, “I had heard of Coppafeel before university, but I didn’t know about the Uni Boob Team before coming to York. I saw an advert for it on Facebook, and was then able to then get in contact with last year’s president and join the society!” A year on from then and the society has taken off, with an overwhelming number of students signing up to be involved, despite the society being unable to attend Freshers’ Fair this year. The committee has increased in number and now involves students from all over campus. “It’s great to get people from all over campus involved, it means we have a wider grounding with a range of colleges and societies who can help spread the message further afield.”

If you haven’t seen the giant boob at events around campus, you may not know who Coppafeel are. Rose explains that “Coppafeel are the only breast cancer awareness charity purely dedicated to educating young people on the importance of being breast aware. Rather than finding a cure, their focus is on getting people to find their cancer early in order to increase chances of survival.” Whilst students aged 18-24 may not think breast cancer is something that will affect them at this age, it can. There are 55,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer each year, and as Rose points out, “it is so important to get checking when you’re young, so that you know what your boobs feel like. Everyone’s  boobs will be different and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to checking them. If you start checking them young you are more likely to recognise the change further down the line and spot early detection quicker.” And according to Coppafeel’s data, they are succeeding in spreading their message with young women. Among those aged 18-29, there is a 71% higher likelihood of checking their boobs on a monthly basis if they are aware of Coppafeel. Similarly, after speaking with a member of the Uni Boob Team on campuses across the UK, female students ages 18-29 are 32% more likely to check monthly than students who are unaware.

What is so unique about Coppafeel in comparison to other charities is that they target breast awareness in a really light-hearted way. The monthly text reminders are fun and positive. For example, November’s reminder reads:

Uses for boobs or pecs:

  1. Cleaning your phone screen
  2. Handwarmers
  3. Storage space for snacks
  4. Boob Checking

Rose thinks these texts are a great way to raise awareness, “they make it less of a big deal and normalise routine boob checking.” And they don’t just normalise it for women, they also spread the message that “whether you’re a guy, gal or a non-binary pal - get into a habit of regular checking!” On asking whether some students aren’t aware of the fact that breast cancer can affect them, Rose replies that this is an issue they have faced. “I think when you say this stuff to a lot of students you can see it going straight over their heads, but being breast aware in your 20s could save your life in your 40s or 50s. Breast cancer doesn’t discriminate on age – Kristin Hallenga, the founder of Coppafeel was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 23. That’s why she set up the charity.”

There is also a gendered issue involving breast cancer, because around 400 men will be affected with breast cancer every year. Rose wants to increase the awareness on campus to highlight how breast cancer can affect anyone. “One of the biggest taboos is that you need to have boobs to get breast cancer. Everyone has breast tissue; it’s more about the chest area rather than the boobs themselves. It’s important to check the entire chest area, including the armpits and up to the collarbone. It’s so important to destigmatise breast cancer as being a female cancer.” Incredibly, Coppafeel have now managed to work with schools in incorporating cancer awareness into the national curriculum through PSHE, encouraging students to be breast aware, but also aware of other prominent cancers such as testicular cancer and skin cancer.

What are the other issues surrounding breast cancer awareness? Rose explains a major one: “[it] isn’t just a lump. There are other signs and symptoms to look for. You should also be aware of thickening and dimpling of the skin, kind of like an orange peel, changes in nipple direction and nipple discharge.”

In the face of the pandemic, fundraising has obviously hit a clear obstacle, but the society is still managing to raise awareness and get as many students and societies as involved as possible. “We had The Pink Invasion event with sports teams; we managed to get lacrosse, rugby, hockey and some of the college netball teams involved by getting them to train in pink and donate to the charity, and hopefully we can continue this next term! Baking Society also got involved with baking boob-themed bakes and we managed to organise an online yoga class which we sold tickets for and raised funds that way. Obviously it is disappointing that Covid has cancelled a lot of the events we had planned, but we are working towards virtual events and hopefully will be able to do more next year!”

Covid aside, how can we get involved and support the Uni Boob Team? “You can sign up to the society via YUSU, with a £4 donation to join the society. However, anyone can join the Facebook group to get a taster of what they’re all about. If you don’t want to be part of the committee, you can be an ordinary member instead and still volunteer with the society, but on a more casual basis.” Their Instagram presence has also taken off this year and Rose agrees that the online platform is going really well. “We have two students running our social media and another who does amazing graphic design work for us, so they’re doing an incredible job with our social media. We’ve already had more people use the text code sign up this year through engagement with our social media.”

Their bi-weekly meetings are available for anyone to attend. These include talks with Coppafeel’s Boobettes. Rose explains that the “Boobettes are women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer under the age of 35. Coppafeel have trained them up to talk about how to check your boobs, and they tell you their personal story with breast cancer – it really makes it hit home more, and makes you realise that it could be you and we should all be checking. These sessions are really informative, but light-hearted at the same time. Coppafeel try to put a spin on it so that it is applicable to young people and people aren’t scared. The Boobettes are also available to book out for talks and have been part of events with brands like PrettyLittleThing.”

Already, the society has beaten its fundraising total from last year – a significant achievement considering the current situation. Yet, Rose stresses that “if you notice something not normal for you, you need to get it checked out regardless of the pandemic.”

*Statistics taken from Cancer Research UK, Breast Cancer Now and Coppafeel.*

You can text UBT YORK to 70500 for free monthly text reminders. If you would like to get involved with the York Uni Boob Team, you can follow their Instagram page @uoybt and donate at:https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/York-Uni-Boob-Team?fbclid=IwAR3RrPwnUEGsxE2mD-1vVAYsDHAP_6b0MlNPda1_3xos6K6OzoQhC73L4EU

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