ISU student’s nonprofit Testies for Breasties allows men to bear burden of breast cancer


Photo: Yue Wu/Iowa State Daily

Members of the Testies for Breasties rock crew will haul 100-pound bags of rocks during the Race for the Cure on Saturday.

Torey Robinson

Nick Miller said it didn’t seem fair when friend Kristin Johnson was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009.

“She was in a fight where she had to carry the burden and all I could do was support her. It just didn’t seem enough,” he said.

But nonprofit organization Testies for Breasties will carry the weight of breast cancer — even if it’s for a day.

Saturday, Miller and 11 other men that make up the rock crew for Testies for Breasties will each carry 100 pounds of stones on their back during the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure 5K in honor of breast cancer victims and survivors.

Miller, senior in history and founder of Testies for Breasties, wanted to get more involved in breast cancer awareness while Johnson battled the disease.

“I wanted to do something that was exclusively for men — not to leave women out, but to include men specifically in a battle or cause that is typically seen as being women-only,” Miller said.

That’s when he had an idea.

Miller developed the concept of Testies for Breasties in the amount of time it takes for him to drink one pint of beer.

“I was sitting in a bar in Des Moines with my friends,” Miller said. “We talked about the group. We talked about whether or not we really could raise money — whether or not people would be willing to donate money for us to carry these stones with us. In a matter of five or 10 minutes, we decided it could be done and we would start small.”

It was only a matter of weeks before the 2009 Race for the Cure, but Miller and two men collected donations and each carried 100 pounds of stones on their backs for the 3.1-mile walk.

But for Miller, it was the start of something bigger.

“I was afraid that I had this great idea and if I didn’t take this chance to do something good in the world and to make a difference when I had an idea that could really work, then what’s the point?” Miller said. “What’s the point of just floating around and floating through life? This was an idea I could capitalize on and it’s never going to make money for me, but it’s going to make money for a good cause. Now’s the time to raise the battle flag and go to work.”

This fall, Testies for Breasties focused on expanding — in donations and awareness alike.

“We’re trying to get our name out there,” Miller said. “The cause became more personal. I found in the past year and a half that this is a fight that is personal for a lot more people than I thought it would be. People have been touched in many ways by this. There are a lot of worthy causes out there, but we’ve had a tight-knit collection of people that have been affected by breast cancer.”

Johnson, who is in her second round of breast cancer treatment, said the group is an example of how creative Miller is.

“I am so touched and amazed by him — he’s just amazing,” she said.

Johnson, like many women, never thought she would be affected by breast cancer.

“I’m one of the typical cases of breast cancer,” Johnson said. “I didn’t think I would ever get it. I thought I did all the right things, I don’t have a genetic history, I led a healthy lifestyle and exercised. You can do the right things and still get it. The research is not just trying to heal it, it’s trying to prevent. I’ve known people who were not as lucky as me and didn’t survive.”

It’s stories like Johnson’s that push members of the rock crew.

Marcus Munoz, senior in history, has a grandmother and friend’s sister that have had contact with breast cancer. They motivate him to be part of the cause, but Munoz also sees Testies for Breasties as an opportunity to give back.

“This is a really great thing for guys to jump on board with,” Munoz said. “We don’t realize how much women do for us on a daily basis. We complain and take women for granted. They carry our children. This is just a little thing we can do. We can help carry the burden.”

“Breast cancer affects more than one person. It affects a community,” said Ty Miller, Miller’s high school-aged brother and member of the rock crew. “The community needs to come together to solve the problem.”

Miller and his crew are trying to get the community involved — including on the ISU campus.

“We want people to know what we’re doing and we want people to know they don’t have to stand on the sidelines. So we’re out there telling people what we’re about. We’re on Facebook. We’re in classrooms. We’re selling T-shirts.”

Testies for Breasties T-shirts, which say, “We’ve got the stones,” have been successful in grabbing attention, Miller said.

“People think the shirts are funny and are willing to buy them,” Miller said. “It helps me spread the word.”

But Miller said once individuals understand what the group is about, they see it’s more than a funny catchphrase.

“The reaction’s been a really interesting mix of instant enthusiasm and slight skepticism,” Miller said. “Anyone that’s listened to me for about 30 second knows what I’m about and get’s really excited about it. There’s some people the scuff or cock their head, but it doesn’t take long to get them to see what we’re doing is a good thing.”

Individuals can purchase a one-pound stone in honor of a person touched by breast cancer for $10. Miller writes the name of the fighter or survivor on the stone and it is carried in the race.

Testies for Breasties will carry a stone in honor of a person who lost his or her battle with breast cancer for free.

But those in current or past battle aren’t the only groups represented.

“A trend I’ve seen is a lot of people contact me and let me know they think what I’m doing is really cool, but they don’t personally know anyone affected by breast cancer. They donate a stone in honor of future survivors,” Miller said.

Miller has collected more than $2,000 in donations. But the money Testies for Breasties raises will not go to the Susan G. Komen Foundation, the breast cancer research group that sponsors Race for the Cure. Miller’s foundation has not existed long enough for Susan G. Komen Foundation to agree to sign a contract and accept donations from the group.

Instead, 100 percent of Testies for Breasties donations will stay close to home and will be given to the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center in Iowa City.

“It’s a nationally recognized institute,” Miller said. “They’re on the cutting edge of discovery … We know that every dollar we raise is for a friend, a mother, a sister, a role model — every dollar we raise is for an Iowa hero.”

But a four-figure annual donation is just the beginning in Miller’s vision.

“My ultimate goal is to be a seven-figure annual donation corporation,” Miller said. “If I ever reach that, I’d be pretty proud. I’ll be proud of everything up to then, but in my mind, 10 or 20 years from now, I see [Testies for Breasties] being coast to coast. I see this as a household name. I see this being seven figures every year. I see us being creative enough and innovative enough to make this happen.”

Miller graduates from Iowa State in May, but believes he’s made a strong enough foundation for Testies for Breasties that it could thrive without him being in the area.

“I’d appoint a second-in-command and start a satellite location from where I was,” Miller said. “It’d be the beginning of larger expansion. Right now, though, we’re focusing on donations and what we can do this year.”

Miller and the men in the rock crew aim to walk the 5k in less than one hour Saturday — a pace Miller said is brisk and will allow the men to speak to others, but will not cause injury or strain relatively unexperienced crew members.

“It’s not going to be easy for everyone,” Miller said. “But it’s part of the cause, and it’s important.”