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Founder of nonprofit uses humor to educate

COAST CITIES — A cancer diagnosis turns the lives of patients and their families upside down. Yael Cohen, 25, experienced this when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009.

It’s a common story many families face, but what’s uncommon is how Cohen launched the nonprofit F**K Cancer, which has landed global headlines.

Cohen, a resident of Vancouver, British Columbia, is sharing her unique, fresh voice at the 4th annual Classy Awards in San Diego over the weekend of Sept. 22. She will also be presenting an award at the ceremony.

What sets Cohen apart is her raw honesty about cancer and her educational awareness twist.

“Early detection of all cancers is very important. Ninety percent of cancers are curable if caught in stage one,” said Cohen. “So why the hell aren’t we taught to look for them?”

Yael Cohen is coming to San Diego the weekend of Sept. 22 to speak about her nonprofit F**k Cancer. Courtesy photo

High on Cohen’s checklist for people are to learn their family history, finding out which cancers they are at risk for, and understanding the early warning signs.

What makes Cohen’s story even more interesting is that she never intended to start a charity. She made a shirt for her mother after her first surgery, which said, “F**k Cancer,” and that’s how it all started. Cohen describes it as growing very organically, and fast.

Today, educating others is what her nonprofit strives for. And saving lives through this education is what they are all about.

“We have to stop waiting to get cancer and praying there’s a cure — and start actively looking for it and finding it when it’s most curable,” said Cohen, adding that early detection saved her mother’s life.

Cohen said the mission behind her nonprofit is to activate “Generation Y” to engage with their parents about early detection of cancer, preventative lifestyles and communication around cancer.

The root to F**k Cancer’s success has been to create tools and build campaigns people can connect with.

And it’s worked.

“Fast Company Magazine” picked Cohen as part of its “100 Most Creative People,” “Elle Magazine” chose her as their “2012 Genius Award” recipient this summer, and this month, she is featured in the “30 Under 30” segment for “Marketing Magazine.”

Cohen believes that it’s their blend of technology, humor and celebrity, which has allowed people of all ages to engage with cancer at a completely different level.

“This year we launched a campaign with (the website) Funny or Die called ‘Touching Ourselves,’” she said. “The campaign is geared towards educating people about self-exams and early detection, using humor and celebrity as a vehicle to conversation and education.”

This was an important campaign for Cohen because she realized that people knew how to talk about self-exams but didn’t know how to do them. The promotion included a contest where people could enter a video or script on a “how to” self-exam skit. What her office received were outrageous, funny and over-the-top results.

“Letting people joke about something, especially something they don’t want to talk about, opens the door for conversation and education,” she said.

Cohen wants people to know that what keeps her moving forward with determination and energy is her mother. While her mother is doing well, Cohen shared, she passionately believes in her nonprofit.

While F**k Cancer’s core is to educate it also offers a platform for people to share their honest emotions about cancer. From family members to patients, F Cancer gives people the opportunity to express what they really feel.

“A person doesn’t get cancer, a family does,” Cohen said. “Communication is everything.”

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