Elizabeth Hurley has been a global ambassador for the Estée Lauder Companies’ Breast Cancer Campaign for 22 years now — and part of the reason she first got involved was very personal.
Sitting down for an interview with PEOPLE Now, Hurley, 52, explained that Evelyn Lauder — Estée’s Lauder’s daughter-in-law — approached her about working on a breast cancer campaign because “women are dying of breast cancer and nobody is talking about it and I want to change that.”
At the time, Hurley’s grandmother had just died from breast cancer. “There was no pink ribbon, no magazine had the words ‘breast cancer’ on its cover page, there were no TV shows like this where you’d talk about breast cancer, there were no sponsored walks — there was nothing. It was a frightening thing which we didn’t talk about because we were so scared,” Hurley said.
“My grandmother was one of those women,” The Royals actress continued. “She didn’t talk about it, she didn’t talk about her treatment, when she found a lump she didn’t tell the doctor for over a year because she didn’t want to hear what he said.”
Now Estée Lauder Companies’ Breast Cancer Campaign is celebrating its 25th anniversary, having raised $75 million dollars and seen the mortality rate for breast cancer decrease by 38 percent.
“We really hope that having had this fantastic awareness campaign for 25 years that this [fear of staying silent] is a thing of the past and people now know to check their breasts if they’re scared, if they’re worried [and] is there’s something wrong they to go to their doctor,” Hurley continued. “And we know now if a friend has something wrong to talk to them about it and to encourage them to get help. That’s progress.
To celebrate the campaign’s milestone anniversary, this month Hurley surprised passengers flying on Delta flights by handing out pink ribbons and listening to their stories. Asked whether there was one particular tale she heard that stood out, Hurley responded, “There was a man in the line coming to talk to me and I thought, ‘His wife is probably suffering,’ and actually he was. He had breast cancer.”
“That was a first for me because we know know that 1 percent of all breast cancers are found in men and in fact in this little pink ribbon that we wear, there’s a little blue diamond — a blue crystal — and that’s to say that breast cancer can not only affect men, because they lose their loved ones, but because they can actually get breast cancer,” she said.