Community, Research, Dollars Making A Difference, Leadership
By: Paula Schneider
Susan G. Komen President and CEO
It’s almost hard to believe that it has now been a little more than a year since I joined Susan G. Komen as President and CEO. After spending my entire career in the retail sector, I can say without question that this has been the most fulfilling and rewarding year of my life.
Like many of my colleagues, I was drawn to this organization because of my personal connection to the cause. Before I joined Komen I was diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer, an aggressive form of the disease. Even though I had access to some of the best doctors in the world, going through treatment was a tough road, but I was lucky and am doing well. My mother was not as fortunate. She died of metastatic breast cancer. These experiences ignited a fire within me to do whatever I could to help end this disease for the future generations. I have two daughters in their early twenties, and I don’t want them – or anyone’s daughters or sons – to have to go through what I went through.
When I was given the opportunity to lead Komen, it felt like an absolute calling for me. My goal is to work myself out of a job. The sooner we cure breast cancer, the sooner I can retire.
We have a lot of work to do. Despite all of our progress over the years, more than 41,000 women and men are dying every year from this terrible disease. I’m tired of losing people. That’s why we set a Bold Goal – to reduce the current number of breast cancer deaths by 50% in the U.S. by 2026. This goal was one of the reasons I was so interested in joining Komen. It will not be easy, and it’s not something we can do alone. It will take a collaborative and giving spirit, and a willingness to change.
From the very beginning, Susan G. Komen has stood at the forefront of change, demanding that women be able to talk openly about the disease and not be shunned to the shadows, mobilizing communities of compassion all across the world in service of their neighbors, and inspiring the business community to join the fight. For more than three decades this organization has completely revolutionized the way people support a cause, starting the fundraising 5k run/walk, inventing cause marketing, and turning our pink ribbon into a badge of solidarity, honor and conviction.
All of this pink has made a tremendous difference.
Komen’s leadership and investments in research have helped grow scientific understanding about breast cancer, which has led to new, more targeted treatments and ultimately have helped more people survive the disease. Thousands of Komen-funded community programs have helped remove financial, geographic and cultural barriers to care. Komen advocacy has helped low-income and uninsured women access care, enacted new government standards to improve safety and quality of screening and has increased federal funding for breast cancer research. We’ve educated millions about the importance of early detection, timely diagnosis and effective treatments. We have done all of this behind a clear and simple vision for the future – a world without breast cancer.
We know that it will take time to see a reduction in the annual mortality numbers, and that it will only be accomplished by a collaborative and focused effort. So, we have aligned most of our work under two clear strategic imperatives – to find breakthroughs for the deadliest and most aggressive breast cancers, and to ensure all people receive the care they need.
We know that research cures cancer, nothing else does. We must understand the biology of breast cancer and metastasis to develop drugs to slow, stop and prevent it. This year’s slate of research grants represents a significant shift in our focus. Research into metastatic breast cancer and treatment resistance now making up about 70% of our overall portfolio – up from 40% the previous year. This investment, along with the more than $180 million we have invested previously, seeks to understand why some breast cancers recur, spread and become resistant to treatments.
The investments we have made are paying off, and the velocity of change is speeding up.
Take this summer’s TAILORx breakthrough for example. This was a multi-year study that was partially funded by Komen and led by Komen Scholars that found as many as 70 percent of women diagnosed with early stage ER+ breast cancer (which is the vast majority of breast cancers) may be able to forgo chemotherapy and its toxic side effects. All they would need is hormone therapy. TAILORx was a huge win for patients and will change treatment for thousands of men and women each year.
We are also developing technology that can better detect cancer and predict which cancers will progress. For example, we are funding Dr. Regina Barzilay, a breast cancer survivor and researcher at MIT who is working with artificial intelligence and machine learning to read mammograms so that we can detect cancers much sooner than a radiologist can with his or her own eyes.
While we are proud to lead in breast cancer research, we know that none of our discoveries matter if people can’t access them.
Our scientific advisors tell us that as many as one-third of the women dying of breast cancer today could be saved with improved access to quality care that already exists. Part of closing this gap is addressing the differences in outcomes for African-American women diagnosed with breast cancer who are 40% more likely to die compared to white women. Some of that difference is genetic, but much of it reflects the reality of socio-economic and cultural disparities that act as barriers to care. These are women dying from breast cancer because they can’t get access to the same quality care that others in their communities receive. Some don’t have insurance at all, while others don’t have enough insurance. Some simply have no idea what to do when they know something is wrong. We see this too often, and we need to break this cycle.
That’s why Komen launched our African American Health Equity Initiative. We are working in communities across the country to make systemic changes so that when a woman determines something is wrong, she can get the care she needs.
We have also been hard at work improving the way we communicate with our supporters and providing new opportunities for people to get involved and share their passion – and we’re just getting started!
Since joining Komen, I have met many wonderful people and have been inspired by the many women and men who are living with breast cancer, as well as the thousands who have joined our fight to save lives. I am deeply proud of all we have accomplished in the past year, and am excited for this momentum to continue into 2019.
With your support, we can achieve our Bold Goal of reducing the current number of breast cancer deaths by 50% in the U.S. by 2026. Donate today to help us continue funding breakthrough research.
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