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Breast Friends: Friendship, Food, and the Fight Against Cancer

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Eight years ago, a group of 10 friends held a charity banquet to celebrate the lives of some special people in our community who had died of cancer. As rural people, we celebrate life with food, we show love with food, and we deliver food to neighbours and friends in need. So when cancer touched our community, we used food to help turn our grief into something positive. The food was such a hit, a cookbook soon followed. To our great surprise, the cookbook sold out in three days. Since then, we've written five more - all national best sellers - and donated the profits - nearly $1.4 million - toward cancer causes. In the process, we've surprised ourselves too many times to count.

We call ourselves The Breast Friends, and we come from the small Saskatchewan town of Foam Lake. Together we have 33 children, 28 sons-and daughters-in-law, 63 grandchildren, and 388 years of marital experience. We are 10 ordinary women with a deep love and commitment to our community, and to each other. Our friendship has grown over decades - seasoned over child-raising, socializing, and figuring out how to keep dance clubs going and hockey rinks open. Working together to solve problems is in our DNA.

Margaret Mead once said, "There is no more creative force in the world, than menopausal women with zest." We decided to use our zest to take on an issue that has touched the lives of literally every Canadian family. Having spent much of our lives cooking, using food as a vehicle for change came naturally. Our cookbooks are not just cookbooks, and our mission is not just to donate money. We are a social enterprise of grannies with a goal: to increase support, raise awareness, promote prevention, and change outcomes for cancer patients and their families.

We direct funds toward system gaps or unmet patient needs - especially for patients in rural areas. We talk directly to front line workers and cancer patients to find out where we can make the biggest difference. Hospitals and other organizations that sell our books are able to direct the revenues from sales back to their own communities, making this a true grassroots initiative.

Women bonding around food is as old as time. These bonds comfort and heal. The Breast Friends have learned the art of "tending and befriending" - and the impact that community has on wellness and healing. When we began this venture, we knew many people who would hide their cancer. That's why we focus on raising awareness through cooking, public events, and social media - and using humour and storytelling to encourage people to make health a priority and to show them that cancer need not be a death sentence. We've even joined forces with health professionals to create a cookbook that links nutrition with good health, and aids in cancer recovery.

We're proud of what we've accomplished, and the attention we're getting for our work is helping us make an even bigger impact. Last year, we were named a Dragons' Den Game Changer. This year, our fifth cookbook, Breast Wishes, For the Men in Our Lives, which raises funds for prostate cancer, has been shortlisted by the World Cookbook Awards for the best charity cookbook in North America. Our tough competition includes Michelle Obama's American Grown. The awards take place in Paris on February 23 - and eight of us are on our way! This recognition gives us another reason to celebrate - and provides a new platform for us to keep doing our work.

In our increasingly individualistic world, we want others to know it is possible for a small group of people with purpose to have a big impact. We hope our story inspires some of you to work together to solve a problem that needs your attention. Start out with something small and grow from there. Because there's nothing more gratifying than making a difference in other people's lives - especially for those who are suffering. And, like us, you just might be surprised at the difference you are able to make - all through the simple desire to help, and the powerful bond of friendship.