Celebrating Survivors: What the Color Purple Can Learn from Pink; A Review of PROMISE ME by Nancy G. Brinker

Nancy G. Brinker

Breast Cancer Awareness Month (1984) is only three years older than Domestic Violence Awareness Month 1987).  So, why is pink the predominant color in October?  Nancy G. Brinker.

If you think that one small town girl can’t make a difference in the world, I invite you to read Promise Me:  How a Sister’s Love Launched the Global Movement to End Breast Cancer by Nancy G. Brinker.

You go where other people aren’t, and you make the best of it.

There are five ways to Mecca.

The trouble is, people stop before they find the one that works.

You’re going along, highway’s shut down ~ so what?

Find another way.

Eleanor Newman Goodman

Suzy and Nancy Goodman grew up in Peoria, Illinois ~ just “down the road” (Route 24) from my last address in Illinois.  Their mother Eleanor Newman Goodman (Ellie) was an early feminist and stay-at-home mother.  When Mrs. Goodman was incensed that Girl Scouts didn’t enjoy the same funding as Boy Scouts, she became an early promoter of Girl Scout cookies.  Nancy’s father Marvin taught her the fine art of a good sales pitch.

Instead of dwelling on all the things you can’t do,

figure out what you can do.  What you will do.

When you see something wrong, you fix it.

You can’t sit around on your duff waiting for someone else to make it better.

It’s up to you.

– Eleanor Newman Goodman

Suzy aspired to be a stay-at-home mother, and Nancy aspired to have a career in Big D.  Over her father’s objections, she relocated to Dallas after graduating from the University of Illinois.  She got a job at Neiman Marcus and was mentored by Stanley Marcus.

Sadly, the Goodman girls carried the breast cancer gene like bad DNA.  Suzy and Nancy both had breast cancer.  Nancy survived, but Suzy didn’t.  Mr. Goodman similarly lost his life to cancer.

Before she passed away, Suzy made Nancy promise to make a difference for women with breast cancer.

It needs to be talked about.

Betty Ford, Happy Rockefeller, Shirley Temple Black. . .

They aren’t the least bit afraid to talk about breast cancer. . .

We have to talk about it too.

Promise me, Nan, when I get better, we’ll do something with Junior League or B’nai B’rith.

Susan Goodman Komen

Sadly, Suzy didn’t get better.  She died on August 4, 1980.  Nancy kept her promise.  Her drive and commitment are being replicated by L.Y. Marlow’s quest to prevent domestic violence.

It speaks to the tandem goals of survival and survivorship:

You fight for your life.

Then you live your life.

Nancy G. Brinker

Susan G. Komen Foundation Is Born

When Mrs. Brinker launched the Susan G. Komen Foundation (SGK) on July 22, 1982.  She had $200, a shoebox full of contributors, and a donated typewriter.  “Breast cancer” were two words nobody said out loud.  The American Cancer Society dismissed Mrs. Brinker’s pitch, and her vision was widely resisted.  She discovered statistics that her husband Norman Brinker characterized as “powerful:”

During the ten years of the Vietnam War, about 58,000 American men and women died.  During that same ten years, 339,000 American women died of breast cancer. . .It’s unthinkable. . .Where are the monuments and marches?

Mr. Brinker, who was an Olympic polo player, pioneered salad bars, founded Steak and Ale restaurants, turned around Burger King for Pillsbury, and bought Chili’s.  His marketing and entrepreneurial acumen were essential to the launch of SGK:

People don’t care about a cause, they care about other people.

It starts where everything else starts.  Money.

Focus, focus, focus.  Begin with the end in mind.

You’ve defined the vision. . .

set goals, then seek out people with the expertise to help you get there.

Build it like a business.

Please, don’t call my friends [for money].

You always want to look bigger than you are.

– Norman Brinker

Although the couple eventually divorced, Mr. Brinker remained on the SGK board until his death.  His Brinker Principles are at the foundation of SGK:

  • Dream the idea ~ invest in breast cancer research.
  • Get out in the field ~ Race for the Cure events.
  • Create the culture ~ corporate partnerships, cause-marketing initiatives, pink.
  • Encourage innovation ~ first online resource for breast cancer, social networking.
  • Be growth oriented ~ international affiliates, postal stamp.
  • Listen, listen, listen.
  • Take a leadership role in your industry.
  • Delegate and empower ~ volunteer network of 75,000, survivor recognition.

SGK borrowed the “elegant simplicity” of the red ribbon loop from AIDS awareness activists:

. . .volunteers pinned loops of our signature pink ribbon on participating survivors. . .Low-cost, easy to execute, and pleasing to the eye, the loop of pink ribbon quickly caught on as a way to identify pariticpants, survivors, and supporters at Susan G. Komen events.

Mrs. Brinker, a Dallas socialite, is great friends with Laura Bush, who was First Lady of Texas.  When her husband became president, Mrs. Brinker was made Ambassador to Hungary and then White House chief of protocol.  She leveraged these posts to expand her quest to eradicate breast cancer to the international stage.  SGK has invested nearly $1.5 billion in breast cancer research.  President Obama awarded her the Medal of Freedom.

Pretty impressive for a chubby little Jewish girl born on December 6, 1946 in Peoria, Illinois.  It all started with a neighborhood variety show fundraiser in the family driveway to eradicate polio.  Suzy and Nancy raised $50.14.


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