Nancy G. Brinker
Founder and CEO
Susan G. Komen for the Cure
DALLAS - December 11, 2010 - Like so many people with cancer, Elizabeth Edwards didn’t want to be defined by her disease. She also didn’t want people to say she had “lost a battle” with breast cancer, but rather to be remembered by how she lived her extraordinary life.
Elizabeth was a friend to the cancer movement and a woman whose support and counsel meant a great deal to those of us who fight this disease on every front. We, too, don’t remember her solely for the disease that claimed her too early. And yet, her death gives us steelier resolve to end the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women.
In some ways, I fear as a nation that we’re developing a sense of complacency around this battle. Ironically, this might be because of the exponential progress we’ve made in just the 30 years since I promised my sister Suzy that I would do everything I could to end a disease that killed her, also too young.
When I started my work as founder of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the 5-year relative survival rate for women diagnosed with early stage breast cancer (cancer that hasn’t left the breast) was 74 percent. Today, that number is over 98 percent. Thirty years ago, we had never heard of many of the drugs and treatments that are today extending the duration and quality of so many lives, thanks to research that the breast cancer community funded and advocated for.
That research means that today, the five-year relative survival rate for female breast cancer patients has improved from 63 percent in the 1960s to 90 percent today. Overall, mortality rates from breast cancer have dropped by 31 percent since 1990 – a stunning decline.
This means that today, many of us know someone who’s living long after a breast cancer diagnosis. So I suppose it’s only natural for some to think that we don’t have much to worry about from breast cancer anymore. Some “advocates” go so far as to suggest that women need not bother with the awareness and screenings that could save their lives; others question the need for further research into treatments.
Elizabeth Edwards’ death reminds us that there is still plenty to worry about, that our exponential progress is still not total victory over a disease that will kill 40,000 women in the United States and 10 times that number worldwide.
So, of course, the battle cannot be abandoned. It must, in fact, be stepped up, both here in the U.S. where we will continue to educate and fight for access to cancer care, and on the world stage, where we will work to include cancer on global health agendas.
And mindful of Elizabeth’s wish to be remembered for how she lived her life, we’ll pursue this battle as she would: with tenacity, courage and always fighting complacency.