Prioritizing Partnership

Last week, I had the pleasure of joining Dr. Susan Love on stage at the Partnering for Cures Conference in New York. Our message was one of collaboration and innovation, urging leaders from across the medical community to work together in the fight against breast cancer. We may have unique missions, but we share the same goal – to end this terrible disease.

Collaboration and partnership are cornerstones of our work at Susan G. Komen. Since our earliest days, we’ve partnered with the very best community health organizations and research institutions. Today, we work in partnership with almost 2,000 organizations every year. We know that lives can be saved when people work together toward a common goal.

A prime example of partnership in action is the Pink-Ribbon Red-Ribbon initiative, which Komen, along with PEPFAR, UNAIDS and the George W. Bush Institute, launched in 2011. The program builds on existing healthcare platforms to provide better access to cancer care in sub-Saharan Africa, where 100,000 women lose their lives to breast and cervical cancers each year.

Just last month Susan G. Komen was pleased to announce two groundbreaking collaborations. Working with Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation and the Young Survival Coalition, we announced the Health of Women [HOW] Study on September 30. And in October, on National Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day, our three organizations joined a dozen others to form the Metastatic Breast Cancer Alliance.

Dr. Love and I have both faced cancer – breast cancer for me, leukemia for Dr. Love. Yesterday, our panel was appropriately titled “(Im)patient Cures.” Both Dr. Love and I are undeniably impatient as we press on for the day when we retire this terrible disease to the history books.

Last Thursday would have been my sister Suzy’s 70th birthday. The day led me to reflect on where we are in this battle, and the distance we have yet to go. We have come a long way since Suzy’s breast cancer diagnosis. Early detection methods, treatment, and knowledge about this disease have greatly improved; death rates have declined markedly in the U.S. in the last 20 years, and five-year survival rates for early stage disease have climbed dramatically. I’m proud that Susan G. Komen has invested millions into research on prevention, metastasis, health disparities, vaccines and more.

Still, we have further to go. This year alone, 40,000 women and men will die of breast cancer in the U.S., and there is still so much to learn about this complex and frustrating disease.

It’s been said that if two people on the same job agree all the time, then one is irrelevant. But if they disagree all the time, both are irrelevant. Within the medical community we share the same goal: to end breast cancer. Now is the time to put differences aside and work together. That’s why the collaborations we announced this month are so important and – I hope – just the first of many more to come.

Nancy’s Notes

Last month, I began a new position with Susan G. Komen as the organization’s Founder and Chair of Global Strategy.  In the months since I began transitioning into this new role, I’ve heard from many people asking about my plans.  Today, I’m excited to share with you one new part of my life – this blog.

In the years ahead, I plan to be writing frequently about issues that are near and dear to me.  One of those – of course – will be the ongoing fight against breast cancer, but I also plan to use this blog to talk about other issues as well.

More than thirty years ago, my entire life was turned upside down by a phone call from my sister Suzy telling me she had found a lump on her breast.  The next three years were spent doing everything we could to save her life.

Our family quickly learned how difficult conditions were for breast cancer patients.  The medical regimen for breast cancer had barely advanced in decades.  The treatments were prolonging Suzy’s life, but the pain was ongoing.  Suzy also encountered a society where her very presence now made people uncomfortable.  People who knew her even crossed the street to avoid talking to her, afraid that breast cancer was contagious.

In the midst of her pain, Suzy reached out to me.  She clenched my wrist and made me promise her to do everything in my power to rid the world of breast cancer.  I made that promise, and within a week Suzy was gone.

That promise became the foundation for the organization that today bears my sister’s name, Susan G. Komen.  Our first meeting was a dozen women gathered in my living room to discuss how breast cancer had impacted us personally and plan our own response.  With two-hundred dollars, a borrowed typewriter and a shoebox full of names, we began our work.

In the thirty years since, I have worked with an extraordinary group of women and men.  Thanks to the dedication of so many, the organization grew into a global force.  In three decades, Susan G. Komen has raised and invested more than $790 million dollars into groundbreaking research.  It has invested nearly $1.6 billion dollars into community outreach programs.  Thanks in part to this leadership; death rates from breast cancer have declined by 33 percent since 1990.

I’m proud of the work that has been done, but when I travel overseas I am reminded how much work remains.  Women in other parts of the world face the same stereotypes, the same questions and the same ignorance that Suzy faced thirty years ago.  As Susan G. Komen’s Chair of Global Strategy, I look forward to building strategies and partnerships that can help improve and save lives.

It is my hope that this blog can serve as a hub for me and my work – to share stories, keep you informed, and give you a sense of my own passions and interests.

I could never have come so far in this journey without the support of so many.  Thank you for continuing to share the journey with me.