Nancy G. Brinker is a leader of the global breast cancer movement. Her journey began with a promise to her dying sister, Susan G. Komen, that she would do everything possible to end the shame, pain, fear, and hopelessness caused by breast cancer. In 1982, shortly after Susan’s death at the age of 36, Brinker founded Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
She faced an immediate uphill battle: Newspapers balked at printing the words “breast cancer,” no one talked openly about the disease, and there were no 1-800 numbers to provide information, no Web sites, and few support groups. Few treatment options existed, and limited resources were committed to the disease.
Brinker broke the silence around breast cancer, and in a matter of years built Komen for the Cure into the world’s largest grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and activists. Today the organization has invested more than $1.9 billion in breast cancer research, education, screening, and treatment.
Looking for creative ways to raise awareness, in 1983 Brinker founded the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, which is now the world’s largest and most successful education and fund-raising event for breast cancer. She also pioneered cause-related marketing, allowing millions of people to participate in the fight through businesses that share the organization’s commitment to end the disease.
Komen for the Cure’s unwavering advocacy for breast cancer survivors led to new legislation and greater government investment in research. Funds raised by Komen for the Cure have touched virtually every major advance in breast cancer research since the organization’s founding.
Brinker has also worked in government. From 2001 to 2003, she served as U.S. ambassador to Hungary, and from 2007 to 2009 she was U.S. chief of protocol, responsible for overseeing all protocol matters for visiting heads of state and presidential travel abroad. In 2008, President George W. Bush appointed her to the Kennedy Center Board of Trustees.
She has received numerous accolades and awards for her work.
In 2008, she was named to TIME magazine’s list of 100 Most Influential People in the World.
In 2009, President Barack Obama honored Brinker with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. That same year, she was named goodwill ambassador for cancer control for the United Nations’ World Health Organization.
Brinker has also been honored with the Mary Woodard Lasker Award for Public Service, the Trumpet Foundation’s President’s Award, the Independent Women’s Forum Barbara K. Olsen Woman of Valor Award, the Centers for Disease Control Champions of Excellence Award, the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health’s Porter Prize, and the Forbes Trailblazer Award.
In 2010 she published her best-selling memoir Promise Me.