An ardent advocate of breast cancer awareness, Elizabeth Hurley has been the Global Ambassador for The Estée Lauder Companies’ Breast Cancer Campaign for over 20 years. Founded in 1992 by the late Evelyn H. Lauder, foundation aims to raise not just awareness of breast cancer, but also funds to support global research, education and medical services. To date, it has raised more than US$89 million worldwide, funded more than 293 medical research grants through its Breast Cancer Research Foundation, and supports over 60 breast cancer organisations around the world. We talk to Hurley about the pink ribbon movement, being on the campaigning trail and just how far breast cancer awareness has come.
You’ve been advocating for breast cancer awareness for more than two decades. Tell us more about how your journey started—what was your first thought when Evelyn Lauder approached you to join the campaign? Did it take much convincing from her for you to join the cause?
When Evelyn first asked me to join the Campaign, it was shortly after I had lost my grandmother to breast cancer. She passed away from breast cancer during a time when women did not speak openly about the disease. In fact, we didn’t even know she had it until she was very ill. I immediately said yes and wanted to do whatever I could, knowing that it was an opportunity to affect the lives of so many while honouring my own family’s history with the disease.
What’s your fondest memory of campaigning with Lauder?
There are so many—Evelyn was such a wonderful woman and we shared some very special moments together through our work. Seeing her passion as a champion for women’s health to truly make a difference through both the Breast Cancer Campaign and the Breast Cancer Research Foundation was remarkable. Whether it was something she did on a large scale or how she connected one-on-one with those personally touched by breast cancer, she was committed to saving lives and truly made a lasting, positive impact on people everywhere. She gifted me my first mammography on my 40th birthday and I’ve been getting one yearly ever since. She will always be an inspiration to me.
What’s the most common misconception about breast cancer you’ve come across?
That it only affects women. In fact, men can also be diagnosed with breast cancer and are more likely to have a fatal diagnosis. We must also not forget the important role that men play as supporters and caretakers to loved ones with the disease. Breast cancer truly touches us all and we must remain united around all of those affected.
In your opinion, what can the layman do to contribute to breast cancer awareness?
Knowledge is power and I hope people will educate themselves and those around them about health and wellness. Have open conversations with your doctor and encourage loved ones to do the same. If you know someone going through treatment, reach out and see if they need support. If people want to learn more about our Breast Cancer Campaign’s impact they can do so at ELCompanies.com/breastcancercampaign
What is one fact about breast cancer that you feel everyone should know?
I wish everyone knew about the importance of early detection. People should feel empowered to have discussions with their doctors about their health and screenings like mammograms, while regularly checking one’s own breasts. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide and together we can save more lives.
What’s the biggest change you’ve seen over the years?
Breast cancer is no longer a disease only spoken about in whispers. We’ve come a long way and real positive impact has been made. I first started working with Evelyn on the Breast Cancer Campaign at a time when women around the world were dying from breast cancer and no one was talking about it. Today, we’re aware of the disease; it’s more openly discussed both by people and in the media, and early detection is saving lives— early-stage breast cancer has more than a 90 percent (relative five-year) survival rate when diagnosed and treated. The pink ribbon, which Evelyn co-created in 1992, the same year she started the Breast Cancer Campaign, inspired a movement and is now a globally recognised symbol for breast health.
Why do you feel it’s important to continue your work?
It remains that every 15 seconds, somewhere in the world, a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer. Our work must continue to inspire action, unite the global community and fund research to bring us closer to our mission of a breast cancer-free world. My grandmother’s story, along with those of so many others I know personally with breast cancer, has made my advocacy for awareness of the disease my most important life’s work.
Do you feel that breast cancer can be completely eradicated? Why or why not?
I have spoken to experts in the field and they are hopeful that we can end breast cancer as a life-threatening disease, but the only way to do so is through funding. We must continue to fund more research through organizations like the Breast Cancer Research Foundation to support the brightest minds in their work around the world. Until no one loses their life to this disease, the urgency to support research, and all those touched by breast cancer, remains unwavering.