As the organization she founded to honor her sister’s memory reaches its 35th anniversary, Nancy Brinker gets asked how close Susan G. Komen is to reducing breast cancer in the United States by half over the next 10 years.
“We’ve taken big steps,” she said. “We need to take more.”
It is an ambitious goal, but Brinker draws inspiration from a more socially connected world and the increased awareness for which Komen is responsible.
“This era where patients are taking more command of their diseases or prevention or treatment is huge,” she said. “I’m very hopeful.”
After more than three decades, helping raise part of what she said is $2.9 billion for research, Brinker has not tired of trying to eradicate the cancer that took her sister’s life in 1980 at age 36. She founded Komen in 1982 in Dallas, serving for years as its CEO.
“As long as people are dying of breast cancer, we’re not done,” she said. “I do this every day because of my sister.”
Nancy and Susan were raised in Peoria, Illinois, by parents with a keen memory of the sacrifices and horrors of World War II. The sisters grew up extremely close and shared a desire to help others.
“Susie was a beautiful, caring person,” Brinker said. “Not a day went by that she wasn’t helping someone.”
Komen is one of the most recognized brands in the fight against cancer.
During October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the NFL partners with Komen to highlight efforts by encouraging its coaches and players to wear something pink as part of their uniform on game days.
The Race for the Cure is a Komen event run in cities in the United States, Germany, Greece, Italy, Puerto Rico, Belgium, the Bahamas, and elsewhere. The Komen “pink ribbon” is handed out to each participant.
Brinker credits her former husband, restaurateur Norman Brinker, for raising the profile of the organization.
“He taught me franchise style and constantly perfecting it,” she said.
“As long as people are dying of breast cancer, we’re not done. I do this every day because of my sister.”
The Brinkers were married 20 years before divorcing in 2003. During their marriage, Nancy went through her own battle with breast cancer. Norman remained with the foundation until his death in 2009.
Komen is tied closely to Brinker’s identity. She’s proud of that. She’s glad it came from her sense of service.
“Service takes you outside yourself,” she said. “Just do for others. I’m so inspired by our survivors.”
Brinker recently visited Normandy, saluting her parents’ respect for the fallen of the second world war. An uncle is buried in France, she said.
“World War II shaped the spirit of my family,” she said. “The Holocaust, the war. I’m not sure our kids are going to have those lessons today.”
She recalled the quote by Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, etched in stone at the Normandy American Cemetery Visitor Center. “The eyes of the world are upon you … I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty, and skill in battle.”
“There’s just no clearer blueprint for bravery,” Brinker said.