Girl Crush: How Yael Cohen Braun is fighting the C-word with the F-word
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and we couldn't think of anyone we're crushin' on more right now than the chick who is helping countless people kick some cancer ass. Meet Yael Cohen Braun, founder and CEO of FCancer.
On founding FCancer
In 2009, Cohen Braun's life turned upside down when her mom, Diane, was diagnosed with breast cancer. The moment shook Cohen Braun to the core, and she immediately threw herself into helping her mother the best way she knew how — which, in Cohen Braun's case, meant being very involved in her mom's treatment and doing research. Tons of it.
But it was a far simpler gesture that would catapult Cohen Braun and her mother down a path toward helping countless others with cancer.
"In taking care of Mom and going through the process, we got her a shirt made that said 'F*** cancer.' Plain and simple," Cohen Braun said. "And it was meant to be something she wore at home. My mom is not the type of woman to say the word, never mind wear it, but it was obviously very cathartic for her, and she wore it everywhere."
The responses Diane got were overwhelming. "It was huge, it was high fives, it was wanting to hear her story, wanting to tell their story. Strangers would have this simultaneously brave and vulnerable response. It was so beautiful," said Cohen Braun.
Those responses, then, spurred a movement. "I knew that this was a sentiment that obviously resonated far beyond our family and wanted to do some good with it."
Thus, FCancer was born.
On growing and adapting
The charity quickly took root in the cancer community, resonating with those who were battling the disease and particularly with the younger generation affected by it. "It was shocking to me that nobody was talking to our generation about cancer, because ultimately our parents are in the highest risk demographic," said Cohen Braun, "and we're caring for them."
So, while creating a charity and becoming an entrepreneur at 22 might seem daunting, Cohen Braun considers it a natural next step for her generation.
"There's been this fundamental shift with the exponential growth and technology and the ability to access information," she said. "We teach our parents more than any generation has, and so it only made sense to me that we harness that growth and that knowledge and that arrogance and taught our parents something that actually mattered."
Over the last five years, FCancer has grown seemingly exponentially. The charity started with a heavy focus on early detection and then, says Cohen Braun, they added dimension as they matured and got to know the community's needs.
"We layered on some other verticals and preventions, as well as communication or psycho-social support," Cohen Braun explained. "So, how do you tell your mom you have cancer? How do you support your best friend who has cancer? What is the best of the worst thing someone has said to you? The questions that you wouldn't even really know to ask."
As could be expected, the last five years haven't been without struggle. In fact, Cohen Braun notes, there have been "a lot of challenges." Challenges associated with being a young female, challenges associated with using an expletive in the company name.
"There were people who had asked, 'Have you ever considered changing your name to something that's more, um, media-friendly or acceptable?' And the answer was always really easy. F*** no," Cohen Braun said.
"Our name is our power. It's this visceral, emotional response. It draws people to us. And I think we're not for everybody, and that's OK. We encourage people to find the cancer community — the cancer family — that's right for them. And if it's not us, that's great... but the people we do resonate with? We're their home during a really difficult time, and we're not going to change that."
Ultimately, the company's "unbelievable" mentors and advisers helped keep FCancer on point (and helped Cohen Braun keep her sanity along the way).
On creating the StandWith app
As if an incredibly successful and altruistic startup wasn't enough to keep a 20-something gal busy and in good karma for life, Cohen Braun also just launched a caregiver app called StandWith to point well-meaning family and friends of patients in the right direction.
"The first question everyone always asks is 'How can I help?' and obviously as a patient and a caregiver, you need a lot of help, but you don't often know how to ask for it or who specifically to ask," said Cohen Braun.
A basic management platform, StandWith allows patients to update their loved ones with information about what is needed and when it is needed.
"You get 15 bouquets of flowers and seven casseroles on the same day, and ultimately you just really need someone to walk the dog or come sit with you during chemo," Cohen Braun said of the free app.
Between her mother's diagnosis, FCancer and StandWith, the last five years have been a learning experience for Cohen Braun. But perhaps the most surprising thing she's taken away from the experience is how everyone is expected to have a very specific experience.
"People want you to say and do certain things," she said. "And that just didn't resonate with our family. That just didn't fit in. I think if you're fighting the fight of your life, you've got to feel and do whatever the hell is right and authentic for you."