• Where the End of Breast Cancer Began

    Personal Stories, Headlines & Helpful Information, Leadership


    Love can inspire people to move mountains in search of the impossible.  How else can one explain the unstoppable force of the breast cancer movement? 

    From the very beginning, this movement has been built on a foundation of love.  The love of daughters who wanted to honor their mothers.  The love of mothers who wanted to protect their daughters.  The love of friends who wanted to support their neighbors.  And the love of a sister who found purpose through the suffering and loss of her older sister

    Growing up in Peoria, Illinois, Susan and Nancy Goodman were not only sisters, they were also the best of friends.  They remained close even as they grew, married and moved miles apart.  When Suzy was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1977, Nancy was there every step of the way.  She walked with her as people crossed the street so as not to “catch” her cancer.  She sat with her for hours as she received treatment in a grey, lifeless hospital room.  And she held her hand as the breast cancer continued to ravage Suzy’s body, yet never her spirit.

    Susan G. Komen with her sister Nancy G. Brinker

    As she said goodbye, following what would be her final treatment, Suzy asked Nancy to promise her that she would do everything in her power to end breast cancer, so that others wouldn’t have to suffer like she had.  What else could she say but yes?  This intimate moment was the ignition point that launched a global movement that has gone on to touch millions of lives.  Love makes the impossible possible. 

    From the beginning, Nancy knew that she wouldn’t be able to do it alone. She knew it would take brilliant scientists, passionate men and women around the globe, and she knew it would take the bravery of all of them to speak about breast cancer out loud. No longer could women and men living with breast cancer be relegated to the shadows of society, only spoken of in whispers. In order to end breast cancer forever it had to become a priority.

    In 1982 Nancy and her husband Norman Brinker held a polo match in their hometown of Dallas, Texas, to raise funds for a new organization she named in honor of her late sister, Susan G. Komen. The event raised $30,000, which the fledgling organization then granted to MD Anderson in Houston and Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas.  That was the beginning – and the beginning of the end of breast cancer. Since those very first grants, Komen has funded more breast cancer research -- $988 million – than any other nonprofit, second only to the U.S. government. 

    Komen also understood early on that advances in the lab would only matter if people could benefit from them.  Too often, women and men weren’t getting the care they needed, either because they didn’t understand the disease and what care was available, or they couldn’t afford the care because they were uninsured or underinsured.  That’s why Komen has long also provided real-time help to those facing the disease – more than $2.2 billion since our founding.

    For the better part of four decades now, women and men all across the globe have picked up the torch and have helped us rally this movement ever forward.  People who not only opened their wallets, but also helped pave the way in board rooms, in the halls of government, in community clinics and in research laboratories.   And in probably the most public show of support, people from all walks of life have taken to the streets in communities all across the world. 

    Today, charitable fundraising walks and runs are commonplace and the lifeblood of nonprofit organizations large and small.  That wasn’t always the case.  Inspired by the growing fitness movement, Susan G. Komen debuted a new event in 1983, the Race for the Cure.®  An event like this was relatively unheard of and few thought anyone would participate, yet it attracted 800 women hoping to make a difference and looking for a sign that they were not alone.  Those 800 women changed the nonprofit landscape forever.  Today more than 1 million women, men and children annually run and walk to raise funds for breast cancer research, education, screening and treatment through events like the Komen Race for the Cure® and our MORE THAN PINK™ Walk, all while donning pink and shouting from the rooftops that we must end breast cancer forever.

    The progress against breast cancer has been stunning in the decades since.  By removing the stigma associated with the disease, we also removed many of the barriers.  People are more willing to seek care, adhere to treatment and receive follow-up care because they heard of others who had survived. We’ve educated millions on the importance of early detection, timely diagnosis and effective treatments that are proven to save lives.

    Not only are women able to talk openly about breast cancer, Komen has helped them take action to advocate for others – especially among policy makers.  Thanks to the voice of breast cancer survivors and the people who love them, we have improved access to care for low-income and uninsured women through the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (NBCCEDP), introduced mammography safety and quality standards, and helped significantly increase federal breast cancer research funding.

    As we’ve learned more about the disease, we’ve learned that it is actually a family of diseases – each with its own personality and potential for treatment.  This growing knowledge has led to new therapies and targeted treatments that have saved and prolonged lives, replacing the one-size-fits-all protocols of three decades ago.  And we’ve learned that some women may benefit from less treatment, sparing them of the toxic side effects of traditional chemotherapy. 

    The more we’ve learned, the more we understand how much work is left to do to get us to the end of breast cancer.  We need to learn more about Stage IV metastatic disease and aggressive forms of breast cancer.  Ultimately, these are the breast cancers that are taking the people we love.  We must discover new, less toxic and more effective treatments, and we need to understand why some cancers become resistant to treatments and how they spread, so we can stop it. 

    At the same time, we have learned that breast cancer care is not equal across the country.  Some women, depending on where they live, what they look like or how much money they have, are more likely to die from the disease.  That is unacceptable, and Komen is working with leaders in communities across the country to begin changing it.

    A lot has changed in the nearly four decades since a single act of love set the world on a path that will someday conclude with the end of breast cancer.  Yet every two minutes someone, somewhere in the U.S., is diagnosed with breast cancer, and with each new diagnosis a new journey begins for an entire circle of friends and loved ones.  For everyone on the journey, the end of breast cancer cannot come soon enough.  

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