The first woman to go public about her breasts was First Lady Betty Ford. Before her audacious statement in 1974, when she announced to the world that - not only did she have breast cancer, but she was having a mastectomy - women never spoke about such private things in proper circles. And certainly never to the media. Her bold openness shocked the nation and changed forever the language women use about their bodies and their health.
Then in 1982, a woman in Iowa named Nancy Brinker kept a promise to her dying sister Susan by launching the Susan G. Komen Foundation. She knew she wanted to stop the unnecessary deaths from breast cancer but first she needed to give women hope. So she built a network of everyday women from every town U.S.A, supporting each other on a frightening and often fatal journey. Some 27 years later, Nancy Brinker is coming closer to her dream of eradicating breast cancer. The Race for the Cure, the largest grassroots movement in women’s health, has changed America and is on its way to changing the world.
When Susan Komen was diagnosed in the early eighties, the five-year survival rate for women whose cancer was still confined to the breast was just 74%. Susan was one in four that died. Today, this group lives 98% of the time. That success in survivability is directly attributable to the Susan G. Komen Foundation.
The movement changed more than medicine. It changed our culture. Women whose bodies are altered by cancer are now seen as bold and beautiful. Women speak of other women - complete strangers - as “sisters” at rallies in every community across the country. Women are passionate, articulate advocates in political and public venues demanding better medicine and getting it. Pink ribbons have become an international icon, raising awareness and funds through product purchases. And, women, as well as many enlightened men, talk openly and intelligently about breast health in any and every circle, without the least hint of social stigma.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.