NEWSMAKER: Replacing stigma with glamour - Delyth Morgan, Chief executive, Breakthrough Breast Cancer

Anna Kelly

Delyth Morgan often has to take a minute to remind herself just how far her organisation has come since she came on board as Breakthrough Breast Cancer's first chief executive in 1996.

Breakthrough is one the sector's great success stories. Last year, its income was up 29 per cent to £7.3m, and Morgan expects to exceed this growth by even more this year. But she says that this kind of support has been earned through years of hard graft to break down the stigma attached to breast cancer.

"When you look at all we've done and you see the mountains of press coverage and the beautiful models wearing the T-shirts, you forget that people were shocked when we first launched our Fashion Targets Breast Cancer Campaign. They didn't know how to take this kind of approach to the disease," she says.

How things have changed. Now we're used to seeing Jodie Kidd and Helena Christensen smouldering from billboards and from the pages of women's magazines in their Breakthrough T-shirts. More than 40 corporate sponsors support Breakthrough's work. Big names from the world of fashion including Burberry, Marks & Spencer and cosmetics giant Avon have launched branded clothes and make-up to raise funds for the Fashion Targets, Kiss Goodbye to Breast Cancer and Breast Cancer Awareness Month campaigns.

Morgan is determined to express her thanks for this support, and is at pains to communicate that Breakthrough's success has been a combined effort.

"We wouldn't be where we are today without our corporate support," says Morgan. "Avon has raised over £8m to help fund breast cancer research and has been working with us since 1992. We've really done all this together."

It's a far cry from the early days when Morgan conducted meetings across plastering tables and stayed up all hours stuffing envelopes. Now she presides over a bustling office with more than 40 staff and is on the cusp of merging with UK Breast Cancer Coalition, which will make Breakthrough the country's biggest breast cancer charity.

"It was a real coup when we first got Vogue involved and started doing TV and film stuff, because nobody had done it before," she says. "Linking sexuality to an issue related to death was challenging, but we didn't really think that we'd ever fail because it was such new territory."

At the time Morgan was concerned with running campaigns that were aspirational and uplifting; something that would make women proud to be shouting about the need to be breast aware.

"There were a few big US cancer charities that were doing very shocking adverts showing full frontal double mastectomies, but we didn't want to go down the horror route, because we didn't want to make women scared. We wanted to empower them to help themselves and others."

She believes the charity's canny use of the media and the public's fascination with celebrity has been key to raising the profile of the charity.

"There was and still is a dark stigma attached to breast cancer," she says. "I don't think this could even start to change unless celebrities and people were prepared to talk about their experiences through the popular media. It's important to get those stories out to the women who feel they have to face it alone."

But she is also concerned that the increasingly glamorous and "sparkly" image of Breast Cancer Awareness Month can prevent the right messages getting to those women who most need it.

"We're forever trying to get older case studies in the media, but it's difficult to convince journalists that stories about older women will interest their readers," she says. "So a slightly worrying aspect of the popularity of campaigns such as Fashion Targets and Breast Cancer Awareness Month is that the women who are most at risk, that is those who are post-menopausal, don't feel we're addressing them."

She believes that one way to help get the right information out as far as possible is to increase the profile of Breakthrough as a serious medical research charity. Morgan's focus when she started at the charity was to raise enough money to open the first research centre dedicated solely to breast cancer research, which it achieved in 1999 and is something that Morgan is obviously proud of.

She now believes Breakthrough is on the brink of becoming even more powerful.

"I'm really optimistic about how the merger with UK Breast Cancer Coalition will build on all the work that we've done," she says. "My strong background in campaigning has helped establish Breakthrough in the public eye, but the merger with Breast Cancer Coalition will bring us back to our grass roots."

She explains that UK Breast Cancer Coalition was first started by women who had experienced breast cancer, and remains committed to transmitting information about breast cancer through local networks. Morgan's admiration for women who have survived and live to fight the disease has made the merger all the more personally significant, and she is clearly excited about the future.

"I think together we'll be unstoppable," she says. "I'm sick of this appalling postcode lottery that cripples women's chances of getting the medicines and help that they desperately need through the NHS.

"I also think by combining our campaigning work and support of scientific research with Breast Cancer Coalition's understanding of how to communicate at ground level, we're going to be a force to be reckoned with."


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