They are 10 middle-aged women from Foam Lake, Saskatchewan, part of the Vatnabyggð area. None of them had any previous experience in writing professionally or publishing.
Their third and fourth cookbooks were national best sellers on pre-sales before they were printed. They are the Breast Friends, and from the profits from their cookbooks, they have donated more than a million dollars to front-line cancer needs, everything from patient information to medical equipment to a full contingent of new beds for the Cancer Patients’ Lodge in Saskatoon, the refuge for rural patients receiving treatment.
The Breast Friends will be featured on CBC TV’s Dragons’ Den on December 8, following a successful pitch in Regina and a taping in Toronto. They entered a charity cookbook competition which will be staged in Paris next spring.
Three days later, they were contacted by the international magazine, Gourmand, and were featured in a two-page spread in the November issue.Their project started when a friend, Linda Helgason, needed to raise $3000 so she could ride with the Prairie Women on Snowmobiles, an event designed to raise money for breast cancer.
The group decided to hold a gourmet dinner and the results were so positive that they were bombarded with requests for the recipes. The initial idea – a little cookbook – got away on them and they launched a 380-page best-seller cookbook in 2004.
Although most of them were still working full time, and some were also part of a farming operation, they were emboldened to try the second book, and the project took on a life of its own.The initial concentration on breast cancer ended when one of the members lost her 47-year-old husband to skin cancer.
The first cookbook was “For the Breasts of Friends,” the second, after Kevin died, was “For the Breasts and the Rest of Friends.” The third one was “Breast Wishes from Breast Friends.” They have just launched a Christmas edition, “Breast Wishes for Christmas.”
The local library board hosted their first book launch, organizing it for them because they had no idea what a launch was. They have learned. They have also had to learn to handle media interviews, to serve as speakers, and to promote the cause as well as the books.
When they decided to supply specialty beds for the Cancer Lodge in Saskatoon, they travelled to the city, took away all the old box springs and mattresses and remade all the beds.They aren’t all Icelandic, but, they say, they get close.
The 10 women are Charlene Bildfell Rokochy, Linda Helgason, Val Helgason, Jeannie Johnson, Patti Hack, Cecile Halyk, Nat Dunlop, Anne Reynolds, Darlene Cooper and Jacquie Klebeck. Charlene is Icelandic, Linda, Val and Jeannie are married to Icelanders, and, says Patti, both her daughters married Icelanders.
Cecile also has an Icelandic daughter-in-law. Besides, Cecile says, “know how to make vínerterta and my husband and I always attend þorrablót.”Over the past six years, the Breast Friends have supported shuttle services between hospices and treatment centres, action and advocacy groups, chemotherapy infusion pumps that enable people to receive treatment closer to home, a mobile mammogram machine that will serve Canada’s far north, and Third World cancer clinics.
Their success, and their ability to remain a solid working group, they say, comes from accepting each other’s differences and collectively allowing each member to bring her own unique talents to the group.