July 22, 2024

The Boss: Seeking Cures, Then and Now

My sister was 8 and I was 5. We decided to give a show in our backyard to benefit polio research. Suzy told me that I had to sing and dance and that she’d sell tickets. I sang the only songs I knew — Rosemary Clooney tunes. I thought I was wonderful, but when I was done, Suzy said that the next time she’d sing and that I could sell the tickets. We raised $64.

I attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I didn’t learn well in a classroom, probably because of an undiagnosed learning disability. I asked a lot of questions and learned experientially — and I was president of my sorority and active in several clubs. After graduating from college in 1968, I entered the executive training program at Neiman Marcus in Dallas. I loved the psychology of marketing. I was also an adviser for Bozell Jacobs, a public relations company in Dallas.

My sister died of breast cancer in 1980. Two years later, I founded the precursor of our current foundation and served as a volunteer. In the late 1970s, when my sister’s cancer was diagnosed, breast cancer wasn’t discussed freely in the media. There were no “800” numbers for information, or breast cancer Web sites or patient advocacy groups the way there are today.

In 2001, President George W. Bush appointed me as ambassador to Hungary. I knew the Bush family because I lived in Texas and also through my breast cancer work. In 2002, to raise awareness of the disease, I walked across the Szechenyi Bridge in Budapest with the Hungarian minister of health and several hundred breast cancer survivors.

In 2003, I refocused fully again on the foundation’s activities, and in 2007 was appointed White House chief of protocol. My father was sick and I wanted to care for him, but he told me that there would never be a perfect time to serve and that he wanted me to do it.

As chief of protocol, I was first to greet Pope Benedict XVI when he visited the United States in 2008. I also visited a Pepfar (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) clinic in Tanzania that year with President Bush.

In 2009, I was appointed goodwill ambassador for cancer control for the United Nations World Health Organization. Tobacco use is growing in other countries and cancer rates are rising. Awareness campaigns make a difference. I called for a regional meeting in Egypt with health ministers to increase awareness of the harmful effects of tobacco.

I also became C.E.O. of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, named for my sister, that year. Our group has benefited from the knowledge I’ve gained in every position I’ve held. Seeing how other countries deal with health care was especially enlightening. We began in Dallas and now have offices there and in Washington, with affiliates in 120 American communities and in 50 countries.

When I started this group, I hoped it would take 10 years to find a cure. We’re not there yet. But we’ve made great incremental gains in understanding biology and increasing awareness. The survivor rate has increased immensely. I’m a breast cancer survivor myself.

We’ve invested more than $1.9 billion in breast cancer research and programs. We’ve given voice to survivors — our pink ribbon is a symbol worldwide. It was my sister’s favorite color.

As told to Patricia R. Olsen.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=7d8e7781bd89b42e55921b5c1414d445

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