Protect Our Breasts: Bringing prevention to the forefront


by Tanya Loss

When Cynthia Barstow founded the Protect Our Breasts chapter at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, she had a mission. She found a group of seven UMass women of public health or business majors who were leaders and motivators and they started something much bigger than themselves – an outlet for women to bring the conversation of preventing breast cancer to a forefront.

Recently established as a UMass RSO, the Protect Our Breasts Executive Board is comprised of these seven women, each with their own focus on the board. The members were all recruited by Barstow for their leadership and interest in the subject of preventative information for women.  Although their experiences and backgrounds may vary, together they hope their research and outreach will allow women to discover that there are safe alternatives to harmful products, and that not everything causes cancer. Their empowering and fresh approach to breast cancer awareness is focused on the prevention of breast cancer rather than the cure.

I got a chance to sit with these inspiring women and discuss their hopes for the project, as well as their mission with Protect Our Breasts.


Q&A with the Protect Our Breasts Team: Cynthia Barstow (Executive Director and Founder), Ariel Urban (Promotion/Research), Alysse Foley (Chapter/Product), Lia Delaney (Research), Katherine (VP of Chapter), and Natasha Merchant (Research/Promotion)

Not in attendance: Alexis Bermingham, Yuliana Motyl, Riki Adams, and Kelsie Mitchell.


Amherst Wire: What prompted you to found P.O.B at UMass?

Cindy Barstow (Executive Director and Founder): “I have a history of being in the natural and organic industry. My world and my discipline, besides marketing, has been in the natural and organic [industry]. The President’s Cancer Panel came out with a report in 2010 that indicated that we have grossly underestimated the role of environmental toxins, and it all made sense to me…we really needed to do something. I became in touch with Thomas Zoeller, an endocrinologist and an endocrine disruption expert, which is really what we focus on, endocrine disruptors and carcinogens. In December 2011 we found out that women up until their first pregnancies are more susceptible to these toxins, although they may get diagnosed in their 50’s. And then we realized the students working on this are the ones that are vulnerable. So we started growing and sharing.”


AW: How has the Umass community responded to your efforts thus far?

Lia Delaney (Research): “We’re targeting the right population for so many reasons. Most students are concerned with the fact that they have a hand in their own future. Since this project has started endocrine disruptors have become an issue in the news as well as the effect of the environment. People have come up to us and have heard a little bit about it, and to have peers break it down and provide some sort of explanation is, I think, a really attractive idea for people, so I’ve seen only really positive reception to it.

Ariel Urban (Promotion/ Research): After we share our information, people feel more empowered to make healthier choices and instead of the common thought that ‘everything causes cancer’ they realize that no, not everything causes cancer.


AW: If you could sum up your mission in one sentence, what would it be?

Lia Delaney (Research): I think it really is to share information about ways to make healthier choices and empower people to take a hand in their own health and make these choices for themselves.

Cindy Barstow (Executive Director and Founder): I think we’re pretty straight forward about what we’re doing, to share about environmental toxins that contribute to breast cancer, so that people can make choices. I think we really stick to our mission. We’re sharing everything that has legitimate sources, we try to get it all out there for everyone and sharing what everybody’s saying so that you can make your own decisions based on the information that’s coming from ‘reputable’ sources.

Ariel Urban (Promotion/ Research): A big thing about our mission is about educating people. The biggest push to creating change in the industry is by consumer awareness.


AW: For those of you that are graduating, how do you plan to continue the awareness on alternative products and solutions?

Ariel Urban (Promotion/ Research): Everywhere I go, Protect Our Breasts always comes up. I always go on rants about safer alternatives. Once I graduate I will continue to share what these women are doing and I’ll try to stay active in the developments.

Cindy Barstow (Executive Director and Founder): We find that our seniors who graduate become very involved with this mission. The way we are actually going to change the world is by having the women who are devoted to this subject go out and be leaders, because I believe that whoever is involved with this project is a leader. They can go out and change the world individually.


AW: Are there plans to further grow the Protect Our Breasts team at UMass and other campuses?

Alysse Foley (Chapter/Product): We have chapters at different colleges in the Northeast right now, such as Trinity College, we have one in the works at Bates College, and one that just got established at Syracuse, so we’re really trying to get this message across on all campuses and spread throughout the country. It’s really exciting to have all of these new people come into our community.


On Earth Day (April 22nd), Protect Our Breasts will be holding a Yogathon at the Fine Arts Center from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. with world-renowned yoga instructors, personal care products, other fun activities, and snacks! For more information, visit

Students can get involved by emailing Protect Our Breasts via their website in order to be added to the email list, as well as joining club events and chapter meetings.



Tanya Loss can be reached via email at [email protected]


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