How being ill doesn’t mean defeat: cancer in business

Credits: Unsplash.com

Chances are high you know somebody who has cancer or maybe you even have been a victim of it yourself. Nowadays approximately 1 out of 3 men and 1 out of 4 women get cancer before

the age of 75.

We cannot deny that  cancer is present in our society and yes, it is here to stay.  This means we have to find new ways to deal with and even live with this diagnosis.  Not only in our personal lives, but also in our businesses.

How does cancer affect our business exactly?

First of all we will take a look at the current numbers in Belgium: how well (or bad) we score when it comes to gender equality and the subjects related to it.

Never give up, nor on life, nor on your dreams

Global Gender Gap index 2020 – healthy life expectancy

The Global Gender Gap Index is a list created by The World Economic Forum (WEF) that measures women’s empowerment.

The WEF bases its ranking on the extent to which men and women are given equal opportunities. Key factors are economic participation, political empowerment, health and education. Surprisingly enough, in the last 10 years Belgium has made little to none progress on gender equality. 

This lack of progress clearly translates to our place on the Global Gender Gap Index. In 2010 we were in 14th place, now in 27th. Other countries in the world are making more progress each year. Belgium, on the other hand, remains around the same level and thus sinks lower and lower on the Index. 

Where do things go wrong for our country? Belgium scores the lowest in terms of healthy life expectancy: there we are in 86th place. An important note here is that the bar is set quite high by other countries.

However, at place 86 Belgium still achieves a score of 0.973 out of 1. That’s not an abominable score. At the bottom, for example,  dangles China, with a score of 0.926. But still, there is quite some room left for improvement.

This bad score on healthy life expectancy for women is clearly visible when we look at the cancer numbers in Belgium that we mentioned in the introduction. Now how exactly do these women who are affected by cancer cope with it? Do they give up on their lives or on their passions? Luckily, many of them keep on thriving, on which we will elaborate further in this article.

Human brands

Human Brands are brands that embrace human virtues such as authenticity and compassion. 

They are helping to reform consumerism around the world.”

(Trendwatching.com)

As consumption today goes beyond the purely transactional, brands have to change attitudes to keep up. Consumers don’t buy products or services just because they’re good anymore. They buy from brands with values and personality. Brands which are open, honest and generous, but also have fun and genuinely stand for something. 

In short, consumers love to identify with strong brands and are attracted to things they experience themselves. So it is not a surprise that brands and businesses with a strong, moving and recognizable personal story tend to do well nowadays. Stories of cancer survivors are no exception to that.

Imagine: What happens if you survive cancer? What happens next when you hear those words ‘you are cured’? Do you just pick up where you left off and go back to your job? Are you going to travel? Or maybe you’ll start looking for another job? Chasing your true passion and dreams?

Every day more and more people turn their personal cancer story into a human business. These emerging businesses founded by people who survived cancer, are actually becoming a new business trend.

“A trend is a direction of change in values and needs which is driven by forces

and manifests itself already in various ways within certain groups in society.”

(Dragt, E.)

Examples

As mentioned earlier, luckily many of these women don’t get stuck in a victim role. They do not let the disease or its aftermath crush their dreams. They do not give in to the fear of relapse. Instead, they create businesses or companies that stand out and make a difference. 

In this paragraph I will give you a few examples of  companies / brands founded by women based on their own post-cancer experience. Hopefully they can inspire you. They are definitely worth looking into.

1. BENETIET, founded by Yamina Krossa

From 2015 to 2017, BENETIET supported women who, after a mastectomy during or for the prevention of breast cancer, wanted breast reconstructions with their own tissue. But who did not have the necessary resources to pay for these surgeries. Until the end of 2017, this procedure was very unjustly seen as “aesthetic surgery”. There was insufficient intervention by the RIZIV (Belgium’s federal institute of social security). This meant that these women had to come up with the funds themselves and would never get refunds from social security.

On the other hand, plastic surgeons also charged fees necessary to cover the costs of performing these surgeries. Their techniques require extraordinary expertise and specialization. In addition, an average procedure takes 6 to 8 hours for the reconstruction of 1 breast.

Breast reconstruction with the body’s own tissue costs an average of EUR 2,600 for 1 breast and EUR 4,000 for 2 breasts*. This was financially impossible for many women. Especially after a long period of falling back on a replacement income and / or disability benefit. Yamina Krossa, founder of BENETIET, was so appalled by this injustice. So after she was cured, she decided to step up and make a change. 

*(Source: VLK report April 2014)

Every woman is entitled to have breast reconstructions with her own tissue after a (preventive or not) mastectomy due to breast cancer. That is the belief BENETIET was founded on. BENETIET thinks it’s an injustice when a woman has to deny herself this to avoid a financial hangover. It’s the restoration of a piece of her identity, her womanhood. Tt has nothing to do with aesthetics.

BENETIET has entered the debate on the repayment policy to address this injustice and put a stop to it.

The main goal of BENETIET was to fully reimburse breast reconstructions with the body’s own tissue. BENETIET was not just an advocate for this great cause.  It has also financially supported women who wanted breast reconstructions, but did not have the necessary resources to do so. To do so, BENETIET collected funds to support women in this. Not by launching public campaigns, but by addressing these women’s networks and collecting the funds. “Inner crowdfunding”, as Yamina Krossa calls it. 

In 2017, the Minister of Public Health Maggie De Block finally reached an agreement with the RIZIV and the plastic surgeons. This finally made it possible to reimburse the costs for these surgeries. And so, finally these women get some peace of mind during a time that is already utterly stressful.

2. THE BIG C, founded by Stephanie Verachert

The Big C. is a young social enterprise with an innovative way of experiencing coffee and social impact. They believe that social and economic opportunities are the springboard for people to develop themselves and their own community. Their main focus are coffee lovers, socially engaged entrepreneurs and organizations with an eye for quality, good taste and positive impact.

The Big C. is the lifework of Stefanie Veraghtert. Stefanie is only 29, but life has already thrown quite some curveballs at her. Three years ago she was diagnosed with cancer. After she recovered, she wholeheartedly pursued her passion: coffee. She now has her own coffee brand and a food truck.

After her recovery, Stefanie wanted to give her life a new turn. She wanted to do something meaningful and positive for her fellow cancer victims and survivors. They need a strong safety net, without taboos about cancer. Now Veraghtert owns two coffeebars, one in the University of Antwerp and one in the Thomas More college in Geel. She also collaborates with companies and hospitals that buy her coffee beans and gives keynotes about social entrepreneurship.

3. Love, Charlie, founded by Céline Laridon

Céline Laridon was diagnosed with breast cancer. As a consequence of the cancer treatment, she knew she would lose her hair. That made her think and design at the same time. Today she makes fashionable chemo hats for fellow patients. In her own words, Laridon felt like turning her setback into something meaningful: “I suddenly had time to think, so the sense of entrepreneurship started to bubble up. That’s how Love, Charlie was born.” She has created her own brand and designs collections for other women who also lost their hair due to chemotherapy. Her drive? Yes, her own experience and the belief that other women like her could use this as well.


These ladies all saw something was missing and they just went all in. They became entrepreneurs that survived cancer and are now helping others in their fight, inspiring them with their own stories, teaching others never to give up, nor on life, nor on your dreams.

This article has been written by @The Female Shift

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