by Kerri Brown
We’ve seen a number of campaigns in the craft beer industry that support and spread awareness around different health conditions and issues. In fact, the craft beer community is a particularly charitable bunch. The Brewers Association reported that in 2016, craft breweries in the United States donated an estimated $73.4 million to charitable causes, with much of that amount going towards health and healthcare-related causes.
What makes charitable giving in the craft beer industry unique is that it is often breweries’ communities that spearhead and inspire initiatives. When an issue hits close to home, breweries become creative spaces to raise money and start important conversations.
Kinship Brewing Co. in Waukee, Iowa became such a space when brewer, Jess Mitchell, was diagnosed with the BRCA2 gene (or the “breast cancer gene”) last year at the age of 27.
“I received a diagnosis of 90% risk factor for breast cancer, 84% risk factor for ovarian cancer and 56% risk factor for pancreatic cancer,” Jess said.
She knew that she needed to make an urgent decision. “I have a wonderful cancer care team and they advised a double mastectomy since my risk for breast cancer was so high.” Two months later, in May, Jess underwent a double mastectomy and decided against reconstruction. During the surgery, her doctors discovered a precancerous tumor.
Her risk of breast cancer is now 5%. She plans on undergoing what is known as a “radical hysterectomy,” or the removal of the uterus, cervix, ovaries, and fallopian tubes, which will decrease her risk of ovarian cancer to 1%. Her risk of pancreatic cancer won’t decrease since she is unable to have her pancreas removed.
Both her life and her healthcare routine have been altered forever following her diagnosis. “I see [my] OBGYN every 6 months… and I see my cancer center every 3 months! Lots of surveillance. I usually have about six blood draws per year, [and] about seven scans per year.”
Before entering the craft beer industry four years ago, Jess was a firefighter EMT in California. She’s a fighter who doesn’t give up easily, and she loves to help others. “It’s been a journey, but I didn’t want this aggressive diagnosis to stop me from living life.”
After her surgery and during her recovery, Jess looked for a breast cancer 5K to participate in. However, she learned that the Susan G. Komen Foundation, the nation’s largest breast cancer awareness organization, had discontinued their operations in Iowa in March of that same year.
This motivated her to organize her own 5K. “I went to my team at Kinship Brewing Co. and asked if we could start a 5K and we started planning right away! In [three] months we raised $30,000, had 29 sponsors, and almost 600 registrants!” Kinship Brewing Co.’s first Fighting Through Kinship 5K took place in October of 2021, with proceeds going towards three nonprofit organizations.
But Jess didn’t stop there. Earlier this year Jess started the “Scars Are Beautiful” campaign, for which she collaborated with 22 breweries in Iowa to brew a West Coast IPA. “It’s about the journey you go through after a double mastectomy and the large scars you receive. It’s a tough journey to go on but you are beautiful and so are your scars.”
One dollar per pint sold will go towards the Blessing Box Project, a donation-based organization run by breast cancer survivor Dawn Compton that provides post-mastectomy care items such as hand-sewn pillows and drain shirts. Jess’ plan is to have 100 boxes sent to Iowa to be distributed to the Des Moines community.
The Scars Are Beautiful West Coast IPA was launched on May 14 in Iowa. “The 22 breweries have been so amazing with helping and raising this awareness. They have it on tap at their own breweries or have cans of it to sell.”
The campaign has gained traction and will go nationwide in September of this year, with 33 (and counting) breweries across nine states pledging their participation. “I am so ready for this next chapter of this beer, and I hope that people see how special it really is.”
The risk of developing breast cancer is 13% for women and .1% for men in the United States, meaning that most of us are either directly or indirectly affected by a breast cancer diagnosis, and that that diagnosis will inevitably affect our working lives. But Jess’ initiative draws attention to an often-overlooked population: Young women workers who are forced to take life-altering preventive measures to ensure long-term health. Kinship Brewing Co. did it right. “Kinship has been a rock for me throughout my journey,” Jess says. “From testing to finding out the news at the bar, to throwing me a good luck party and even setting up meals during my recovery, they have been amazing. They have let me take my news and shine a light on how we can take action and help those who need it the most.”
Many breweries do not provide such support. In a 2018 survey conducted by Beervana of 397 brewery employees in the United States, 71% of respondents reported that they either had no employer-provided health plan, or a “bad” plan. Just 29% reported having a “good” plan. 25% of respondents reported not having any paid time off, including sick time.
Preventive health measures and care for chronic conditions can necessitate far more than what many employee benefit packages cover, including benefits and services such as mental health care, disability support, childcare, and flexible work schedules. But such benefits are crucial in guaranteeing workplace equality and the overall well-being of employees.
“…I would hope every brewery supports the idea of women being in that role and listening to them. I would say there is a lot to learn from your employees and having those discussions are crucial in my opinion,” Jess says.
The campaign that Jess has led is still going strong. In addition to Scars Are Beautiful being brewed nationwide, the second annual Fighting Through Kinship 5K will take place on October 2, 2022, in Waukee. Those interested can sign up and find more information here.
Jess’ mission is all about community, awareness, and resilience. “I hope that I can be a mirror for those finding their self-love again and an advocate for those who are struggling with the news and surgery. Please reach out if you have any questions about the beer or if you want to participate. But also please reach out if you want to vent or talk. My email is always open.”
Jess’ email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can find more information about Scars Are Beautiful on the campaign website. For support and/or information about breast cancer, check out the Blessing Box Project group on Facebook, which includes over 10,000 members and provides a supportive community for those affected by breast cancer. The National Cancer Institute also provides extensive information about the BRCA1 and BRCA2 “breast cancer genes”.