Everviolet Chats: Nicole Seagriff, President of The Pink Agenda

Breast Cancer Awareness Month can be filled with endless amounts of Pinkwashing. So much so, it can be hard to sift through all the highly-saturated feminine hues and truly know which companies are worth supporting. That's why we're shining light on an organization we love and trust – one that's really making a difference when it comes to breast cancer research and care. Read our latest Everviolet Chats with President of The Pink AgendaNicole Seagriff, and learn everything from the fruition of the nonprofit and their long-term goals to her personal experience with breast cancer and their exciting partnership with Giuliana Rancic.

Please tell us about The Pink Agenda: What was the inspiration behind the organization and how did it get established?

The Pink Agenda (TPA) was co-founded by three young women in their early 20’s in 2007. All had been touched by breast cancer in some way and shared beliefs that young professionals had been underutilized in the search for a cure and that fun and philanthropy did not have to be mutually exclusive. They built an enthusiastic leadership group who tapped their friends to attend TPA galas and events, run the New York City Marathon to raise funds for the organization, and developed corporate partnerships with brands that overlapped with our young demographic. In 2012, TPA entered into a strategic partnership with its longtime beneficiary, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF), the highest rated breast cancer organization in the U.S.

The timing of this major step and my own evolving cancer journey is quite synergistic. I had just turned 27 and would soon learn that I had breast cancer around the same time that TPA formalized its relationship with BCRF. Getting involved with an organization that was new and vibrant felt like a tangible way to channel my fears, frustrations, and feelings into something positive. There is a saying that “you need hope to cope,” and TPA, along with the promise of what a group of motivated young professionals could do, gave me a lot of hope!

What is TPA’s mission and what makes your organization unique?

TPA is committed to raising money for breast cancer research and care, as well as awareness of the disease among young professionals. Born of the belief that engaging today’s generation can go a long way toward finding tomorrow’s cure, TPA finds, funds, and partners with people and programs that are improving the lives of those suffering from breast cancer and conducting the groundbreaking research necessary to improve their odds.

There are a few things that make TPA unique among a number of other impactful and inspiring breast cancer charities. We recognize that there are so many important facets and dynamics when it comes to a breast cancer diagnosis, and we are grateful to contribute to some of those needs from our mission-driven perspective.

The first is that we are fortunate to have remarkable leadership, a group that’s comprised of nearly 80 committed young adults from across the country who give their time, raise funds, bring ideas, and leverage their networks to make every TPA initiative a success.

By virtue of mission to fund research through BCRF, TPA is furthering essential work led by the best and brightest minds in the field. We make connections with the researchers we support, and are able to contribute to the future of breast cancer prevention, treatment, and prognosis in ways that will directly impact our generation and future ones. We also feel a sense of purpose and privilege to be able to share this access to cutting-edge knowledge with people, particularly young professionals, and we do so through our social media activities and our educational events.

TPA also shares a strategic partnership with Giuliana Rancic’s FAB-U-WISH initiative, and together we grant wishes to women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer within a year of their treatment to help spark some joy during such a difficult experience. It’s been really wonderful to connect with so many amazing women who have been a part of this program from across the country, and to help make such meaningful wishes happen!

What does your role as President of TPA entail?

It has been an honor to serve as the President of TPA for the past several years. The role of TPA President includes working with the team at BCRF to ensure that the organization meets its goals and continues to grow. This includes planning and running board meetings, supporting the activities of TPA’s ten committees, recruiting and on-boarding new members, and serving as a liaison to BCRF as part of its Advisory Board.

On a personal note, the role also means being involved in the breast cancer community which includes countless amazing people – listening to their stories; sharing my own journey; connecting with other survivors, thrivers, and previvors and understanding the impact that this disease has on so many people. Keeping this perspective at top of mind helps shape the research we choose to fund and is the greatest motivating factor to keep working towards our goal to make breast cancer history.

How has breast cancer impacted your life?

Breast cancer has been a part of my life since before I was born. My maternal grandmother died from breast cancer when my mom was only four years old. My mom’s younger sister (who was only two when their mom passed away) died from the disease at age 47. My mom was diagnosed at age 42 and is now a nearly 20-year survivor! Like so many families, there was a clear trend of young women being diagnosed with breast cancer at early ages, so my mom and I chose to pursue genetic testing and learned we both carry the BRCA2 mutation.

Armed with this knowledge, I was able to team up with a high-risk oncologist who ordered what was meant to be a “baseline” MRI that actually found a small invasive breast cancer in 2012. After a bilateral mastectomy and several years of Tamoxifen, I felt my breast cancer experience was behind me. I had settled comfortably into a hybrid version of survivorship and almost pre-cancer comfort about my health when I felt a lump in the same breast and same spot that previously had cancer in June 2020. After a whirlwind of tests, I learned I was facing breast cancer again, but this time during a pandemic. The COVID, cancer, and chemotherapy combination was complicated. The idea of low white blood cells (and mine dropped very low) and a high viral threat lurking everywhere was terrifying. It meant lots of COVID tests, which meant extra coordination and stamina to have an additional step of unpleasant nasal swabs after several other uncomfortable procedures, needle sticks, surgery, and more. It meant going to chemo alone to minimize social contact and risk of potential infection for me, the nurses, and the other patients. I was so fortunate to have a wonderful team of loved ones around me who wanted to come to treatment with me but, understandably, were not allowed into the building. For some of my appointments, my parents would stand or park outside my treatment window so I could wave to them during my infusions, but that’s as close as they could get. Anyone who came to see me had to be extremely careful and generously quarantined for 10-14 days before seeing me, or in the case of my parents, completely altered their lives to isolate for months to drive to me treatment and help me with daily tasks. I finished 14 rounds of chemotherapy and 30 rounds of radiation in February 2021 and am now on hormone therapies to prevent reoccurrence.

I think it’s fair to say that breast cancer impacted me in most facets of life, but the influence of it on my day to day experience has ebbed and flowed and eventually evolved over time. At first it was an all-consuming, inescapable worry about every part of my health and future. Now, it’s a chapter of my life that, for the most part, has minor daily considerations, like remembering to take my medication, managing my new short hair and keeping an eye on my calendar to attend my follow-up appointments. I am extremely grateful to be able to say that.  In my experience, the summative word associated with the impact of this disease on my life would be “empowered.” I often think “if I could get through a mastectomy in my 20s,” or, “if I could get through chemo,” then why not try something that seems scary, or put myself out there, or try something I haven’t before, because I have had to do things for my health that are way more intimidating. It’s been beautiful and encouraging to see other thrivers/survivors in the breast cancer community living that experience in their authentic and different ways as well.

It is still sometimes hard to realize I’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer twice by the age of 35 – fifteen years sooner than some groups even recommend screening mammograms – but that experience drives my passion to support breast research to hopefully make this disease different and less life-altering for others. 

Who are some of TPA’s most recent grant recipients and what should we know about them?

For the past several years, TPA has supported the work of Dr. Ann Partridge of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. Before I met Dr. Partridge, a friend once described her to me as “the guru of young women with breast cancer” – and she is just that. Dr. Partridge founded and currently directs Dana-Farber’s Young & Strong Program, which has guided thousands of women diagnosed before or during their 40’s through treatment and survivorship. She is also leading the Young Women’s Breast Cancer Study, which is following its participants over a 20-year period. By choosing to focus her life’s work on understanding the uniquely challenging experience of navigating breast cancer as a young woman, Dr. Partridge has undoubtedly improved so many outcomes for our community.

As an organization comprised of young professionals, in recent years TPA has sought to fund early-career investigators and celebrate their commitment to the breast cancer research field. Early-career investigators supported by TPA have conducted studies in the areas of prevention, treatment, survivorship, and metastasis.

How can a company or brand become a cause-related partner with TPA and how do these partnerships benefit breast cancer research, care and awareness? 

In the breast cancer research field, real progress only comes with real commitment – breakthroughs don’t happen overnight. TPA is always pursuing partnerships with companies whose core values align with our mission and brands that seek to leverage their influence into making a difference. These partnerships make a multifaceted impact: beyond the financial commitment that directly enables TPA researchers to conduct their research, exposure to a partner’s community provides TPA with an opportunity to reach new audiences that may be interested in the work we are doing. 

There are many ways to collaborate with TPA, which include cause marketing campaigns, sponsoring events, supporting our athletic and educational initiatives, making in-kind contributions, or funding FAB-U-WISHes. No matter which program a partner supports, they will be playing a key role in moving breast cancer research forward.

Can you explain the FAB-U-WISH initiative?

Giuliana Rancic was inspired to found FAB-U-WISH as a result of her own breast cancer experience. When Giuliana was diagnosed, she was grateful to have unwavering support from her husband, Bill, her family and friends, and fans all over the world. But it was getting her hair and makeup done, putting on a glamorous gown, and receiving the full Hollywood treatment as part of her role as E! News anchor that helped her feel like herself, and gave her confidence and optimism even in the midst of her devastating diagnosis.

She felt inspired to share that experience with other women facing breast cancer, and together with TPA, we make their most fabulous wishes happen – more than 300 of them. Women who reside in the U.S. and who are currently undergoing breast cancer treatment or have completed it within the past twelve months are eligible to receive a FAB-U-WISH, and we grant wishes in the areas of beauty, fashion, home goods & decoration, and experiences.

What does TPA have in store for Breast Cancer Awareness Month 2021?

We just had The Pink Agenda’s Virtual Gala on Thursday, October 7! It was a very special evening hosted by Giuliana & Bill Rancic where they showcased exclusive musical entertainment, and featured a spectacular silent auction with one-of-a-kind items and experiences.

In the realm of breast cancer research, which areas do you feel need the most funding and recognition right now?

Each year we at TPA are really fortunate to select to fund really dynamic researchers who dedicate their intelligence and passion into significant topics that we feel are important in the breast cancer community – from genetics to metastasis and many areas in between. As I think about areas of funding, we know metastatic disease needs more research, attention, and focus. In particular, metastatic breast cancer has a drastic impact on young women and, unfortunately, recent research shows that mortality rates are no longer decreasing in this age group (under 40) and are actually estimated to likely increase. We also know that Black and Hispanic women are and will be particularly impacted by the burden of this disease and research as to the why, how, and what can be done about this is really important. There is still much to be done in these (and so many) areas!

What are some ways other organizations or individuals can fundraise with TPA to support this research?

Anyone can create an online appeal for TPA at any time and through any activity they chose – whether it’s completing an athletic feat, creating handmade goods or teaching a skill, or celebrating milestones by asking for donations to breast cancer research in lieu of gifts. TPA has its own online fundraising platform, but you can also create fundraisers through Facebook and Instagram and easily ask your friends and followers to support the cause.

While we continue to make a difference while practicing social distance, TPA hosts a variety of virtual events that anyone can join, and ticket purchases support TPA. For those looking to make a more formal commitment to TPA, the application to join our leadership is open year-round.

What are the long-term goals at TPA?

Of course, TPA’s long-term mission is to sustain its funding of breast cancer research until there is a cure. As an organization comprised of young professionals, TPA will remain dedicated to supporting research that specifically aims to improve outcomes for women who are diagnosed with breast cancer at a younger age.

It’s amazing to look back nearly ten years ago, to when I joined TPA, and celebrate how many “long-term” goals we did achieve, and feel optimistic about those we are still striving to achieve. As the world continues to pivot with the pandemic and to a more virtual presence, we hope to continue expanding to more major cities and to grow our community.