Grooving for Boobs

Sep 12, 2012 by

Grooving for Boobs

by Heather Cassell

Nearly a decade ago, while traveling through Australia, Juliana Cochnar got news from her mother that she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her first instinct was to immediately run to her mother’s side to see her through her medical treatments and hopefully back to health, but her mother, Barbara Cochnar, told her no.

Juliana, 38, who was on a yearlong solo sojourn around the world, was traveling for two: her mother, who hadn’t traveled much, and herself, who traversed the world as a furniture importer.

“You are traveling for me,” her mother told her at the time. Juliana continued to wind her way through Southeast Asia making her way back to Baltimore and by her mother’s side to see her through her final stages of treatment.

Her mother survived breast cancer, but miles away in India, Radhika Ragsdale’s aunt, Shrena Nair, who was like a second mother to her, wasn’t as fortunate. Breast cancer ravaged her body until she couldn’t fight any longer losing the battle, says Radhika.

Juliana and Radhika’s shared experiences birthed Beats for Boobs, an annual breast cancer benefit that celebrates life through art, fashion, food, and music. The benefit educates people about breast cancer and raise money for low-income women striving to survive the disease.

In its 9th year, the party themed “Divine Nine: Bring the Goddess” attracts an estimated 1,300 partiers with a cause and has raised more than $130,000 to help low-income women struggling through the disease.

Party goers will dress up and get into the groove to raise money for breast cancer Saturday, October 6 in San Francisco at Mezzanine.

Two years ago the party spread to Seattle and last year Los Angeles where events will be held on October 13 and 10, respectively.

Spring awakening

“I still remember the day where we met and where we were sitting,” says Juliana about when she met Radhika a decade ago at an Easter brunch at a close mutual friend’s San Francisco home.

In the safety zone from breast cancer, Juliana resumed her life in the City by the Bay, where she lived before her yearlong journey and return home to care for her mother, she says.

Immediately, the two women were enraptured by their shared experiences with India and breast cancer, they say. Juliana was still fresh from her world journey, which took her through India, where Radhika spent much of her childhood living in Gujarat.

Radhika was born in Chicago before returning with her family to India at the age of three where she was raised by her aunt until she was 10-years old. Her family returned to the states and settled in New Jersey where she stayed until she left for college and ventured out to California.

In the early 2000’s, Radhika made the emotional trip back to India knowing it would be the last time she would see her aunt who spent years battling breast cancer before she passed away. Two months after her trip her aunt gave into the disease.

The women also shared each other’s stories witnessing the private struggles and losses the women closest to them suffered from breast cancer. Inspired, Juliana and Radhika began planning a party to celebrate Juliana’s mother during her visit to San Francisco and honor the memory of Radhika’s aunt, they say.

They threw a cocktail party filled with art, fashion, food, and music as a gift to honor Juliana’s mother’s survival of breast cancer, which became Beats for Boobs.

Originally, the party was a precursor to Susan G. Komen’s Race for the Cure, where the women raised $5,000 from family and friends to run, rather than its own event.

To honor the moment, Juliana presented to her mother a book filled with photos and notes from people who couldn’t be in the race, she says.

Party goers have a blast for a cause at Beats for Boobs 2010 in San Francisco. (Photo: Jim Vetter Photography)

Party goers have a blast for a cause at Beats for Boobs 2010 in San Francisco. (Photo: Jim Vetter Photography)

Celebrating the boob

Something was different about this breast cancer fundraising event that no one had ever seen before. From the beginning Juliana and Radhika set out to create a fun atmosphere rather than the profusion of a fancy dinners and golf events that were often out of reach for young urbanites.

Juliana wanted an event that activists and artists whose “pockets didn’t go” as “deep” as the $100 benefits, but still desired to raise money for breast cancer could participate, she says.

At the end of the day it’s about celebrating life, living in the moment, and understanding the power people have to effect change, “Everyone does have the power to affect change,” says Radhika.

Tapping into Juliana’s desire, Radhika, a fashionista, drew her creative vision for the event from the flashy, funky vibe of the local arts scene that is based in “music and Burning Man,” she says.

This year’s entertainment and fashion include DJs ShOOey, CarolC, Kimba, to name a few of the spinderellas that will have the floor moving and performers will entertain the crowds. Warrior Within, designed by Jenjen (Fritz) Patten, will make its third appearance strutting down the runway along with Tamo DesignsSilver Lucy, and other designers.

Each year three local breast cancer agencies that serve low-income individuals are selected to receive 100 percent of the proceeds from Beats for Boobs.

A model shows off a Warrior Within creation by designer Jenjen (Fritz) Patten backstage at Beats for Boobs 2011 in San Francisco. (Photo: Super G)

A model shows off a Warrior Within creation by designer Jenjen (Fritz) Patten backstage at Beats for Boobs 2011 in San Francisco. (Photo: Super G)

This year’s beneficiaries in San Francisco are the Breast Cancer Emergency FundBreast Cancer FundShanti’s Lifelines Breast Cancer Program, and the Women’s Cancer Resource Center.

In a few short years, Beats for Boobs became so big that an executive team, that includes Juliana, executive director, Radhika, co-founder and chief visionary officer, and their friends Katherine Vicker May, Shabnum Mehra, and Summer Frundel, was put together to steward the party and 150 volunteers to pull the night off.

Six years later, in 2010, Beats for Boobs became fiscally sponsored by the Breast Cancer Emergency Fund, is one of the hottest fashion and music events, and is spreading to other cities.

Breast cancer is now the center of Juliana’s life. A daughter of a furniture man, she left the furniture business for breast cancer four years after starting Beats for Boobs when Avon Walk for Breast Cancer created the recruitment specialist the teams’ coordinator for her after she applied for a different position. Driven by her passion she hasn’t looked back since.

She is now the development manager for the Breast Cancer Emergency Fund, which also became the fiscal sponsor of Beats for Boobs in 2010, and is attending graduate school at the University of San Francisco’s Nonprofit Management program at the School of Management.

“I’m in awe of where it is today … It’s really been an amazing journey,” says Radhika, 34, a wife and mother of a 4 year old boy, about honoring her aunt and Juliana’s mother through Beats for Boobs for the past nine years. “There really exists a deep desire for people to help. I really believe in that and humanity.”

Juliana and Radhika, who stepped up to take the rains this year while Juliana focuses on her education, are constantly amazed by how the community continues to come together year after year to raise money for breast cancer through Beats for Boobs and how the event is spreading to other cities.

They now both envision Beats for Boobs spreading across the U.S. and hopefully jumping pond after pond into the U.K., Australia, India, Africa, Eurasia, and beyond to support women suffering from breast cancer, they say.

“I want it to be a platform for women affected with the disease,” says Radhika, who envisions that Beats for Boobs will be in five cities by 2015.

“I would love to take internationally,” adds Julianna.

“My vision really is … to dissolve boundaries and really have a global voice for women conflicted with breast cancer in low-socioeconomic status,” continues Radhika, an IT recruiter and holistic health practitioner, who also hopes to include more men in the breast cancer conversation. “Our world needs us to come together and connect and really heal each other.”

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