I want you to know
Breast Cancer,  Breast Health

The story behind I WANT YOU TO KNOW

Life is a funny thing, full of collisions and intersections. A chance call to a woman named Jennie Dale, who is the Executive Director of Dense Breasts Canada, and the decision to have my good friend and colleague photographer Hilary Gauld document my journey during chemotherapy, led me to I WANT YOU TO KNOW, one of the most inspirational projects of my life. 

Shot over the summer of 2023, I WANT YOU TO KNOW  is a powerful portrait essay that sends an emotion-packed message of action from individuals on the breast cancer journey. The participants’ message, directed toward those who have not been diagnosed with the disease: Get to know your body. Get checked and be prepared to advocate for yourself. 

I WANT YOU TO KNOW features the faces and messages of 31 people, across all genders, living in Canada from the ages of 26 to 73, representing various cultures, lived experiences, abilities and stages of the disease. They are representative of the hundreds of thousands diagnosed each year with breast cancer in North America. And not one of them – including myself – ever believed breast cancer would happen to them. 

While we have witnessed significant scientific and medical advancements in breast cancer treatment, it continues to be the second leading cause of death among women and those individuals assigned female at birth. While a breast cancer diagnosis of those assigned male at birth is rare, it still happens. 

The genesis of I WANT YOU TO KNOW started back in the summer of 2022. I was in chemotherapy, newly bald, breastless. I wanted to recapture myself. Document my journey. Feel empowered at a time where I felt quite powerless. I called up my friend Hilary to ask if she would be willing to work with me. It was an immediate yes. The experience was cathartic for both of us. The images shot that day ended up in People Magazine. One became the cover of my book Flat Please. 

In turn, Hilary, who had a beloved aunt die of breast cancer years ago, realized that many breast cancer campaigns tend to be ignored by unaffected individuals who believe that the disease will never happen to them — especially if they have no family history of breast cancer. She was surprised to learn that 85% of breast cancers have no family history. And that even people who follow what would be considered a healthy lifestyle can be affected. 

Individuals who are racialized, transgender, or those with a high degree of breast density each navigate their own unique risks when it comes to breast cancer. Black individuals are 40% more likely to die of breast cancer than their white counterparts. The more dense your breasts, the higher the risk of cancer. And the transgender community is significantly underserved by the medical community, as they face a unique form of discrimination and stigma.” 

As Jennie Dale said at the time, “None of this is acceptable in 2023. We are committed to fighting for earlier and better access to screening for all and to inspiring action. It will save lives.” 

You can view the entire series, including everyone’s portraits and stories on the Dense Breasts Canada website. And stay tuned for a new photo essay coming Fall of 2024. 
This blog post is dedicated to Stephanie, one of our “31” who sadly passed away from metastatic breast cancer on November 7th, 2023, just a week after the portrait series was publicly unveiled.

Ellyn Winters-Robinson is a breast cancer survivor, entrepreneur, author, in-demand speaker, women’s health advocate, professional communicator and a globally recognized health rebel. Ellyn's best-selling book "Flat Please Hold the Shame," is a girlfriend’s companion guide for those on the breast cancer journey. She is also the co-creator of AskEllyn.ai, the world’s first conversational AI companion for those on the breast cancer journey. With Dense Breasts Canada and award-winning photographer Hilary Gauld, Ellyn also co-produced I WANT YOU TO KNOW, a celebrated photo essay showing the diverse faces and stories of 31 individuals on the breast cancer journey. Ellyn’s story and AskEllyn.ai have been featured in People Magazine, Chatelaine Magazine, the Globe and Mail, CTV National News and Your Morning, and Fast Company.

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