A Co-operative effort



Western Canadian co-ops are making breast cancer a priority. 

By Alexis Stockford

When a mammogram discovered a suspicious lump on Trudy Johnson’s breast in 2005, she wasn’t that worried.

“I didn’t believe that it was going to be anything,” the Saskatoon resident recalls. “I just thought that it would be a benign lump.” 

The news she got a few weeks later was very different from what she expected.

“The surgeon came in and said, ‘I have some bad news…it’s cancer.’”

Dozens of Canadian women share Trudy’s story every day. The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation (CBCF) estimates that 24,400 women and 210 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer in Canada this year. Of those, approximately 5,000 will die.

Co-ops across western Canada are working with the CBCF to prevent these deaths. Five years ago, Van Houtte Coffee approached Federated Co-op Ltd. (FCL) looking for a collaborative project, and the Drink Pink Program was born. For every purchase of Van Houtte coffee or Drink Pink merchandise in Co-ops during the month of October, 10 cents went to the breast cancer foundation, and for every dollar raised, FCL would give an additional five.

Support exploded. Within two years, the Drink Pink program had gone from raising $50,000, to $200,000 in 2012. Since 2010, Drink Pink has raised $457,000 on behalf of all 225 Co-ops in the Co-operative Retailing System.

“It’s been a natural evolution,” said Natasha Ford, social responsibility manager for FCL Corporate Affairs. “But over the course of the years, the support of the Co-op members and our customers of the campaign showed us that this is an important cause.”

It was so important, in fact, that the Co-operative Retailing System started looking to expand its role. This year, in the wake of Drink Pink’s success, FCL has opened a new chapter in their partnership with the CBCF. As a regional sponsor of the 2014 CIBC Run for the Cure, they join one of the biggest national breast cancer initiatives. Then, this March, FCL promised the foundation $1.5 million over the next three years.

For Krista Rivet, director of allocations at the CBCF Prairies/NWT, the money is a mark of their deepening relationship with western Canadian Co-ops. “It’s really exceptional for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation that the Co-operative Retailing System understands the difference we’re making in the lives of families, particularly those who’ve been impacted by breast cancer and lived through it,” she remarked. “The Co-op employees know it all too well. Their family has been impacted, or some of their Co-op colleagues have, and it’s that type of understanding that really, really makes a donation like this a partnership as opposed to a random donation.”

Every cent of the $1.5 million will go to research funded by the CBCF across western Canada. The first installment of $500,000 has already contributed to 14 separate research projects worth $4.7 million.

“It’s absolutely essential,” said Dr. Leigh Murphy of the University of Manitoba. “Science is important, but you can’t do science without resources.”

Dr. Murphy is one of dozens of researchers currently funded by the CBCF. Through her studies on the effect of estrogen on tumor growth, she hopes to develop a means to predict whether a patient will respond to hormone therapies, allowing for better individual treatment plans.

Dr. Murphy’s work is a prime example of the basic medical research the CBCF is known for. While the foundation funds projects in a variety of spheres, including clinical research, Rivet says that basic research, studies into the very nature of cancer and how it spreads, is a major aspect of what the foundation does.

“It’s the elementary process from which all innovations and impacts will be determined,” she said. “So that is the one that we have the most grants coming for. We’re one of the few organizations that fund that kind of basic science.”

The Co-op Retailing System is now an active part of supporting those advancements. What began as a simple collaboration between Van Houtte Coffee and Federated Co-op Ltd. is now one of the Co-ops’ most important social initiatives. “We do have other causes we support,” explained Natasha Ford, “but this is one of the ones that we’re most proud of and, I guess, most deeply committed to.”

For Trudy Johnson and others like her, the growing connection between the Co-operative Retailing System and Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation feels personal.

“I am a member of the Co-op,” Johnson said with pride, “and I’m proud to be a member of the Co-op because they give so much money.” 

In the almost nine years since that horrifying day in her doctor’s office, Johnson herself has joined the Co-ops’ campaign. As part of the Drink Pink program, she has shared her story in the hope of encouraging and educating others.

Drink Pink will return this October to Co-op gas stations and delis across western Canada, while local Co-ops will be on-site across western Canada for the CIBC Run for the Cure, October 5.

Did You Know?

The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation estimates that one in nine women and one in 29 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer sometime in their lives.

An estimated 24,400 women and 210 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year in Canada. About 5,000 Canadian women and 60 Canadian men will die from the disease.

Most new breast cancer cases (82 per cent) occur in women over 50 years old.

Breast cancer accounts for about one third of cancer diagnoses in Canadian women aged 30-49.

Breast cancer is the most common diagnosis in Canadian women – with 1 in 4 cancer diagnoses being breast cancer.

Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related death in Canadian women after lung cancer.

Since 1986, The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation has provided $274 million in research and community grants. In that time, breast cancer deaths have dropped by 42 per cent due to advancements in technology, cancer knowledge and treatments.

Note: The above statistics are provided with permission from the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.