In 1982, Nancy Brinker founded the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, so named for her sister, who died from the disease two years earlier at age 36. Brinker promised her sister that she would do what she could to end the suffering, and in all that time she has dedicated herself to achieving that goal.
Today, Brinker is CEO of what has become the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation, the largest nonprofit in the world fighting breast cancer, which since its inception has raised more than $1.5 billion for research and education.
Brinker’s quest continues with the publication of her new book, “Promise Me: How a Sister’s Love Launched the Global Movement to End Breast Cancer,” inspired by her sister’s struggle, which she will be discussing and signing Monday at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena.
Growing up in Peoria, Ill., the sisters were best friends, so when Komen was diagnosed in 1977 it was devastating news for the younger Brinker. Komen dealt with misinformed doctors, multiple surgeries and several painful sessions of chemotherapy and radiation. In one of their last conversations, Komen asked Brinker to help stop the suffering for other women enduring the same fate.
“Promise me, Nancy,” she said. “Promise me it won’t go on like this.”
“I swear, Suzy,” replied a tearful Brinker, “even if it takes the rest of my life.”
Since that day, Brinker, herself a survivor of the disease who was diagnosed in 1984, has dedicated her life to the fight. The cause has progressed greatly since 1977, when only 74 percent of women suffering with the disease lived five years or longer after being diagnosed. With awareness growing about the importance of early detection and today’s medical advancements, that number today is 98 percent.
Brinker hopes to raise even more awareness with her book, which chronicles her personal and professional life and provides a historical overview of breast cancer treatment from ancient Egypt to the present, several inspiring stories of women who have survived the disease and a list of resources for women coping with it today.
Brinker, who has served as ambassador to Hungary and United States Chief of Protocol, and is currently the Goodwill Ambassador for Cancer Control for the United Nations World Health Organization, said the main reason she wrote the book was to tell the world who her sister really was.
“Susan spent her time thinking of ways to make life better for other women battling breast cancer instead of worrying about her own situation,” said Brinker.
Brinker will be reading and signing “Promise Me” at 7 p.m. Monday at Vroman’s Bookstore, 695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. Call (626) 449-5320 or visit vromansbookstore.com for more information.