WOMEN SHAPING HISTORY 2018
Fighting Breast Cancer With Nancy Brinker, Founder of Susan G. Komen Foundation
By Lydia Liebman
Nancy Brinker, Founder, Susan G. Komen Foundation
Nancy Brinker is the founder and Chair of Global Strategy of Susan G. Komen, the best-funded and largest breast cancer organization in the United States. Brinker founded the organization in 1982 after the untimely death of her sister Susan, at age 36, due to breast cancer. “I made a promise to my sister — and to all women — that we would find a cure for breast cancer,” said Brinker. She immediately faced an uphill battle; in the early 1980s it was still considered taboo to utter the phrase “breast cancer” out loud. Breast cancer was drastically underfunded and poorly researched. Brinker’s first job was to raise the profile of breast cancer and increase awareness.
She did this by concentrating on local communities first. The business model was simple: 75% toward the community with 25% aimed toward research efforts. The first locale Brinker focused on was Dallas, where she had been living at the time. It was there that she and 15 other women joined together in a living room to discuss the possibility of a world without breast cancer. “We all knew someone who had been affected,” said Brinker. The group of volunteers began by putting together sporting events (polo tournaments and tennis matches) which acted as a blueprint for their soon to be famous Race for the Cure. Race for the Cure began in 1983 following their successful luncheon in which Betty Ford was the honored guest.
The organization raised around $150,000. “In those days that was a lot of money,” said Brinker. A few years in they raised a couple million more. In the mid-1980s they hired a part time executive director… “and then we were on our way!” Race for the Cure expanded rapidly. 7000 participants grew to 60,000. By the mid 1990s, the organization had raised hundreds of millions of dollars. To date, Susan G. Komen has contributed over $1 billion to breast cancer research and $2 billion to community health in cities and towns across the United States.
Brinker’s efforts have been extraordinarily successful. There has been a 40% increase in cancer survival since the creation of Susan G. Komen and hundreds of scientists have built their careers with the organization’s help. Presently, Brinker is very focused on community health. She wants to broaden access to health care in communities and help navigate women toward proper treatments. “I am very convinced that there are strategies already at work to help women have long and good lives. What I’m not convinced of is the community health piece. I’m not worried about scientists; I want us to develop strategies for those who are really in need,” said Brinker.
When it comes to the topic of building a successful charitable organization, Brinker can certainly be considered an expert on the subject. Her advice? “You have to communicate what the need is. You have to make sure people understand. You have to say it again and again and again,” she said, adding, “If you don’t believe in what you’re doing then you will never get through it.” Brinker’s inspiring story has benefited women everywhere as Susan G. Komen continues to be an essential force in the fight against breast cancer. #