Nancy Goodman Brinker

I recently posted about breast cancer awareness organisation 'Komen for the Cure', so I thought it would be fitting to give some background on its founder and CEO, Nancy Goodman Brinker.

Nancy founded ‘Susan G. Komen for the Cure’ in honour of her sister, Susan Goodman Komen, who died from breast cancer (Wikipedia, 2013). Her mother was an advocate for charity work, women’s rights and helping others and the community around her. When Brinker was six and Komen nine, they, with inspiration from their mother, organised a variety show which raised $50.14 in cash for the battle against polio (Brinker, 2010).

In 1977, Susan Goodman Komen was diagnosed with breast cancer, at the age of 33 (Stahl, 2010). Susan was declared ‘cured’ of cancer within a few weeks, but found a lump under her arm six months later. The cancer had metastasized, rendering Susan a Stage IV cancer patient. A few days before Susan died of breast cancer in 1980, at the age of 36, she asked Nancy to promise her to do everything in her power to eradicate breast cancer and end the negative social stigma associated with the disease (Brinker, 2010).

In 1982, Brinker founded ‘The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation’, which later became Susan G. Komen for the Cure (Brinker, 2010). What began as a shoebox with $200 and names of potential sponsors has now transformed the global approach to breast cancer and broken the silence around the disease (Stahl, 2010). ‘Komen for the Cure’ is now the world’s largest grassroots breast cancer network, fighting to raise money for research, increase awareness and education and improve treatment, screening and detection methods across the globe for both females and males. 

In 1983, Brinker founded the ‘Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure’, a marathon which has become the world’s largest and most successful education and fundraising event for breast cancer. SGK now sponsors over 100 ‘Race for the Cure’ events annually across the globe, with over 1.5 million participants (Susan G. Komen for the Cure, 2012).That year (1993), Brinker herself was also diagnosed with breast cancer, which also benefitted SGK by allowing her better insight to the disease and patient suffering, and increased determination to eradicate breast cancer (Women Who Changed America, n.d). She wrote about this experience in her book, ‘The Race is Run One Step at a Time’. 

To increase breast cancer awareness, Brinker pioneered cause-related marketing, forming relationships with companies where a portion of profits from particular products benefit ‘Komen for the Cure’. 

‘Komen for the Cure’ has also eliminated the White House, the great pyramids in Egypt and the Chain Bridge in Budapest, Hungry, in pink to raise awareness. 

The organisation also enlisted the support of NFL players to increase male awareness. The organisation’s advocacy for breast cancer awareness has led to the development of new legislation and increased government research funding regarding the disease. SGK now has a focus on increasing breast cancer awareness in developing countries.

To date, ‘Komen for the Cure’ has invested almost $2 billion in breast cancer research, outreach, advocacy and awareness (Susan G. Komen for the Cure, 2012). Brinker is now regarded as the leader of the global breast cancer movement, nearly every major advance in breast cancer advocacy, awareness and research having been influenced by SGK funding. Since the development of the ‘Susan G. Komen for the Cure Global Health Alliance’, SGK has been able to increase its global influence to over 50 countries outside the US (Susan G. Komen for the Cure, 2012). ‘Komen for the Cure’ received Charity Navigator's highest rating of four stars (Hesse, 2012). 

Brinker served as the US Ambassador to the Republic of Hungary from 2001 to 2003 and as U.S. Chief of Protocol from 2007 to 2009, positions which allowed her to expand the global reach of ‘Komen for the Cure’ (Brinker, 2010). In 2008, Brinker was named one of TIME magazine’s ‘100 Most Influential People’ and President George W. Bush appointed her to The Kennedy Center Board of Trustees (Brinker, 2012). In 2009, President Barack Obama awarded Brinker with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honour, for her work (Brinker, 2010). That year, she was named Goodwill Ambassador for Cancer Control for the United Nations’ World Health Organisation, allowing her to better increase breast cancer awareness in developing countries. In 2010, Brinker released her New York Times best-selling memoir ‘Promise Me - How a Sister's Love Launched the Global Movement to End Breast Cancer’ (Brinker, 2012). Brinker is now an advocate for what she describes as ‘the power of one’: the ability of individuals to make a vast and meaningful difference in their communities, companies, countries and the world (Brinker, 2012). These are only a very select few of the incredible successes and achievements of Nancy Brinker.

Thanks to the work of Nancy Brinker and ‘Komen for the Cure’, women can be fully aware of and knowledgeable about breast cancer. Nancy has also inspired people across the globe to take a stand against breast and other forms of cancer. She has inspired everyone to believe they can make a difference, even if it’s by doing something little. Everyone can do something to support cancer awareness and research.

Having lost family friends to cancer, reading Nancy Brinker’s story touched many raw nerves. It brought back so many memories of those beloved people in my life who were so tragically taken from the world by cancer. Although I have never lost someone as close as a sister, I feel I can relate to what Nancy would have felt when Suzan so tragically died. Like Nancy, I too had never imagined that cancer would enter and affect my life. I too had never experience death in that way. Now, cancer has completely changed my life, just as cancer completely rewrote Nancy Brinker’s story. 

Take care,
Madeleine Moore

P.S. Have you check out Determined to Cure on Facebook? And have you seen Determined to Cure on Instagram?