Thoughts from The Mayor of Worldwide Breast Cancer

Mapping the Journey of The Worldwide Breast Cancer Project

My Story

Since 2001, I have been studying the issue of breast cancer education through the eyes of a designer, and a granddaughter of two women who died from the disease. I had heard that having a family history increased my chances of getting breast cancer, so I went to an award-winning cancer library to find out what I could do about it. I thought it would be a simple process of walking in, picking up a pamphlet and being on my way. That was far from the truth. As a 21 year-old woman, no one knew what to tell me. They pointed out several websites and gave me pamphlets aimed at middle-aged women. Not one resource gave me the full picture. I heard about lumps, but didn’t know what they felt like. There was a lot of conflicting information, and it was difficult to know which sources were accurate and which were not. “Did underwire bras really cause cancer?” I walked out with more questions than I had when I entered. This is a common experience for many seeking breast cancer information.

However few actually “seek” it out. For me, two women had to die before I was wanting to trek through the gray pamphlets and websites with dull or graphic medical illustrations and complicated terminology. Medical brochures, leaflets and pamphlets in general are not engaging. And many websites are buried under the weight of so much information it can overwhelm even the most diligent seeker. As a designer, I could see that a big change could be made. Bringing the information to those who were afraid, embarrassed, uninterested or overwhelmed by making the presentation attractive, complete and easy to share.

I observed women being screened in a women’s health clinic, and in an imaging center for several months. I gained some interesting insights: physicians don’t know everything, lumps are hard and not squishy, patients are handed from one step to the next without being given an overview, and women have many reasons for not being more active about their breast health. I used this insight, along with information I had gathered from various resources to produce a series of breast cancer screening posters called Lemonland. The images were of lemons, photographed in a way that resembled breasts. This made the message friendly, memorable, and avoided censorship in public while allowing the information to remain specific. The key posters showed the 12 signs of breast cancer and the anatomy of a breast (see images to the right on my Flickr page). The reaction from the public at my exhibition was very positive. Several wanted to know how they could get involved, if they could make cards for their friends and host their own “Lemonland Party”. The city’s health department wanted to use my images for a campaign and I designed an education booth for them. The results were very good.

I started to realise however, that many people were still not being reached. Those who were not comfortable speaking english, or did not attend health fairs or visit their GP, would never see this information. I moved to England and began my doctoral research studying how to globalise the message of breast cancer using visuals. I assessed breast cancer organisations in English-speaking countries, looked at their educational materials and strategies, and analysed campaigns. I found that most campaigns were targeted very specifically to certain groups, and when that campaign went outside that group, the campaign weakened. This was for several reasons: Different countries have different screening recommendations and programmes. Age, gender, family history and other factors all contributed to risk, which also changes recommendations for individuals. Most breast cancer educational materials were divided into race. This required having new images to represent those individuals for each campaign. Or having materials with many images of different women to reflect the whole audience, leaving little room for visuals to represent the actual message. Often educational materials for english speakers, were more well designed than their foreign-speaking counterparts. This creates a visual segregation immediately, as almost if to say, “The educated english speaking population is worth the illustrated pamphlet, your group is worth a few paragraphs of text.” That of course is not the intention of any breast cancer campaign, but because of tight resources, the minority groups have the minority of the information, despite the fact that the information is available in abundance.

During the past 18 months of my doctoral research in the UK in this subject, I’ve had two more personal experiences with breast cancer. My step-grandmother who is Mexican, and my 28 year-old American friend, a mother of two. Seeing their experiences of being diagnosed this year, their hesitancy to report symptoms to a physician, and being unsure of where to look for information or support and how to deal with the disease, has greatly influenced how I view the educational issue. As a designer, and a friend how can I help these and other women in this situation? By the amount of pink ribbons out there, I know I’m not the only one wanting to help.



  Kat Reed wrote @

This is a truly wonderful site. Thank you and keep up the good work!

  Janice wrote @

I love this site! Thank you!

  Susan wrote @

Great work – keep it up!! I stumbled upon your site and took 20 minutes to surf it. All the best as you continue your journey/research. I’ll look back often.

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