Guest Blogger: Nancy G. Brinker
“Let me tell you about Suzy,” I said to a small group in my Dallas living room in 1982. “My big sister was a homecoming queen in pink satin pumps, a young mom with boundless energy, a good neighbor to anyone in need. After she was diagnosed with breast cancer, people crossed the street to avoid her. The last time I saw her, Suzy asked me to do everything in my power to make sure no more women died the way she was dying: little information, few treatment options, terrified, ashamed to talk about it. She said, ‘Promise me, Nan.’ And I promised.”
That little band of Dallas angels shared stories of their own sisters, mothers, and daughters, then we took action, forming what would become Susan G. Komen for the Cure ®. Armed with $200 and a broken typewriter, we set out to rewrite the history of breast cancer. Almost three decades and over $1.5 billion dollars later, thrilling advances have been made. Women are being diagnosed earlier, living longer. But the most sweeping change has been the stories. We hardly remember a time when “breast cancer” was unprintable and unspeakable. At every Race for the Cure, the air is thick with stories of triumph and loss. Even the heartbreaking words are healing.
Millions know how Suzy died; I wanted you to know how she lived—the real woman behind the icon—funny, fresh, and not without her flaws. In Promise Me, I drew dialogue directly from her letters, so the voice you hear is Suzy’s voice. But Suzy’s role in my life story was agonizingly brief. When she died, I was a young mother with a blossoming career in marketing. Haunted by that promise, I immersed myself in research, determined to understand breast cancer and destroy it. I enlisted the help of friends, colleagues, Suzy’s oncologist. Galvanized with purpose, I banged on doors, made a pest of myself, wouldn’t take “can’t” for an answer. (I still won’t!) An astonishing groundswell of support rushed in like a tide. The quest became an adventure. And the promise saved my life. Three years after Suzy died, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and was able to fight it with everything I’d learned.
Woven through my story is a history of breast cancer seen through the eyes of those most intimately acquainted with it: A nameless patient in ancient Egypt. A gentlewoman in Jane Austen’s day, enduring a mastectomy without anesthesia. WWII army physicians turning a tragedy into a stunning scientific advance. A brilliant molecular researcher whose compassion ignites discovery. A beautiful bride running one step ahead of her advancing disease.
Looking at my life and the breathtaking scope of the work done by Susan G. Komen for the Cure in this broader context, I’m humbled and elated. All around me every day, stories pour down like rain, bringing fresh life to everything we do. When I sit down with friends and strangers in all corners of the world, I still start by saying, “Let me tell you about Suzy.”
--Nancy G. Brinker