Nancy Brinker Profile

Starting from a promise made to her dying sister, Susan G. Komen, Ambassador Nancy G. Brinker has become a leader of the global movement against breast cancer. Shortly after Susan died from the disease at just 36 years old, Brinker founded the organization Susan G. Komen for the Cure. At a time when breast cancer was very much the hidden disease, not discussed in the media and with very few support groups, Brinker’s efforts truly broke the silence, and Komen for the Cure is now the largest network of breast cancer sufferers, survivors, carers and activists in the world.

Brinker introduced awareness raising programs which were revolutionary for their time. She created the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, which has grown to become the largest fundraising and education event for breast cancer in the world. She was also a pioneer in the field of cause related marketing, enabling ordinary consumers to show their support for ending breast cancer through the companies they patronize. The foundation has led to changes in legislation and increases in government research funding, and the hundreds of millions of dollars raised by Komen for the Cure have funded virtually every major advance in breast cancer research.

Simultaneously with her efforts, Brinker has served as US ambassador to the Republic of Hungary and US Chief of Protocol, overseeing all protocol matters for visiting heads of state and for the president when he travels abroad. President George W Bush appointed her to the Kennedy Centre Board of Trustees, and President Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Named one of the hundred most influential people in the world by TIME magazine, Brinker has received many other honors, including being named Goodwill Ambassador for Cancer Control by the United Nations’ World Health Organization, receiving the Mary Woodard Lasker Award for Public Service, the Trumpet Foundation’s President’s Award, the Champions of Excellence Award from the Centers for Disease Control and the Forbes Trailblazer Award. Ladies Home Journal named her one of the 100 most important women of the 20th century, and Biography Magazine chose her as one of the 25 most powerful women in America.

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    Ambassador Nancy G. Brinker is regarded as the leader of the global breast cancer movement. Her journey began with a simple promise to her dying sister, Susan G. Komen, that she would do everything possible to end the shame, pain, fear and hopelessness caused by this disease. In one generation, the organization that bears Susan′s name has changed the world.

    Shortly after Susan′s death from breast cancer at the age of 36, Brinker founded Susan G. Komen for the Cure® in 1982. Brinker faced an immediate uphill battle: newspapers balked at printing the words “breast cancer,” no one talked openly about the disease, there were no 800- numbers, no internet and few, if any, support groups. Few treatment options existed for breast cancer patients and limited resources were committed to the disease. In a matter of years, Brinker broke the silence around breast cancer, and Komen for the Cure is now the world′s largest grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and activists fighting to save lives, empower people, ensure quality care for all and energize science to find the cures.

    Her creativity in raising awareness led to programs that at the time were revolutionary: In 1983, she founded the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure®, which is now the world′s largest and most successful education and fundraising event for breast cancer. She also pioneered cause-related marketing, allowing millions to participate in the fight against breast cancer through businesses that share Komen′s commitment to end the disease forever. Susan G. Komen for the Cure′s unwavering advocacy for breast cancer survivors led to new legislation and greater government research funding. To date, virtually every major advance in breast cancer research has been touched by hundreds of millions of dollars in Komen for the Cure funding.

    Brinker′s determination to create a world without breast cancer is matched by her passion for enlisting every segment of society – from leaders to citizens – to participate in the battle. In 2009, President Barack Obama honored her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation′s highest civilian honor, for this work. The same year, she was named Goodwill Ambassador for Cancer Control for the United Nations′ World Health Organization, where she continues her mission to put cancer control at the top of the world health agenda.

    Brinker was named one of TIME magazine′s “100 Most Influential People” in 2008. She served as U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Hungary from 2001-2003 and most recently served as U.S. Chief of Protocol from 2007-2009 where she was 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 for her work, including the prestigious Mary Woodard Lasker Award for Public Service, the Trumpet Foundation′s President′s Award, the Independent Women′s Forum Barbara K. Olson Woman of Valor Award, the Champions of Excellence Award presented by the Centers for Disease Control, the Porter Prize presented by the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, the Forbes Trailblazer Award, Ladies Home Journal′s 100 Most Important Women of the 20th Century and Biography Magazine′s 25 Most Powerful Women in America.

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Nancy Brinker's Speech Descriptions

Nancy Brinker shares the stories from her incredible double career as both one of the nation’s leading diplomats and public servants as well as heading the world’s largest breast cancer campaign. She shares the lessons she has learned from taking the Susan G. Komen for the Cure organization from a living room set up to a billion-dollar global network. She shows companies how they can take goals that seem invisible and make them inevitable.

Believing in the power of every single individual to make a difference to their community, company, country and the world, Brinker shares with audiences just how she has managed to make such a difference and explains how they can do the same.

Her involvement with cancer issues has made Brinker an expert in women’s healthcare, and she speaks movingly on how families can fight against the disease. She strongly advocates making patient centered care the heart of any new plans for the healthcare system.

Ambassador Nancy G. Brinker has given speeches around the world – from the United Nations European Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland to business leaders in Moscow, Russia and at annual meetings of our nation′s largest companies. Her inspiring story of leading the global breast cancer movement from a promise made to her sister resonates with so many looking to transform businesses and organizations.

In front of countless audiences big and small, she has shared her fascinating experiences and stories as our nation′s top diplomat in Hungary in the weeks and months immediately following 9/11 and as the United States Chief of Protocol under President Bush where she had the intimate opportunity to walk the halls of the West Wing and White House Residence as she managed protocol and social matters for visiting heads of state and government.

Below are some of the topics most widely requested:

“The Art of Seeing the Invisible”
Drawing on her 25-year experience transforming a small living-room operation into a billion-dollar global network against breast cancer, Ambassador Nancy Brinker shares the leadership lessons that every executive and employee needs to know to build their company, energize their teams, strengthen their brand and institutionalize a Culture of Innovation that allows organizations to stay ahead of the competition and achieve world-class results. Just as her passion to find a cure to breast cancer created the world’s largest network of survivors and activists fighting the disease, Ambassador Brinker motivates corporate audiences in every industry and sector to excel in “The Art of Seeing the Invisible”—pursuing bold goals that may seem invisible and making them inevitable.  Ideal audiences: senior executive retreats and company annual meetings.

“The Power of One”
One of the nation’s foremost “social entrepreneurs” and a global activist who has inspired millions around the world, Ambassador Nancy Brinker empowers audiences of all ages and backgrounds to embrace “The Power of One”—the ability of every individual to make a difference in their communities, companies, countries and the world. Drawing on her remarkable life experience as a breast cancer survivor, catalyst of an international health movement and U.S. ambassador, Nancy Brinker shares how her unique lessons for personal and professional fulfillment can help every individual lead a life of both success and significance.  Ideal audiences: personal/professional development conferences.

“The Patient Empowerment Revolution”
A former member of the President’s Cancer Panel and one of America’s foremost patient advocates for a quarter century, Ambassador Nancy Brinker addresses the key challenges facing the delivery of affordable, accessible healthcare in the United States today. Drawing on her pioneering experience of transforming the way the world talks about and treats breast cancer—and warning how the baby boom will become an unprecedented “cancer boom”—Ambassador Brinker argues that today’s “Patient Empowerment Revolution” will only succeed if patient-centered care becomes the central organizing philosophy of a 21st Century healthcare system.  Ideal audiences: healthcare industry and associations.

“Brave Enough!”
One of Biography Magazine’s “25 Most Powerful Women in America” and Ladies Home Journal’s “100 Most Important Women of the 20th Century,” Ambassador Nancy Brinker energizes women executives, entrepreneurs and business owners to overcome the unique challenges facing female business leaders and seize the unprecedented opportunities of today’s business world. Drawing on her own experience of founding, building and guiding the world’s largest network of breast cancer survivors and activists, Ambassador Brinker inspires women to be “Brave Enough” to pursue their professional ambitions, persevere in the face of barriers and become mentors and models to the next generation of women leaders.  Ideal audiences: women’s business conferences/meetings.

“Winning the War!”
As one of the world’s foremost cancer advocates, a three-decade cancer survivor and catalyst of the global grassroots breast cancer movement, Ambassador Nancy Brinker inspires cancer patients and their families to win their personal war with this devastating disease while urging the international community to recognize and confront the coming “cancer tsunami.” Warning that the global cancer burden will more than double in the coming decades—with perhaps 27 million cancer cases every year—Ambassador Brinker calls for a unprecedented and urgent international campaign to save the lives of millions around the world.  Ideal audiences: cancer patients/survivors networks and international health organizations.

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Books by Nancy Brinker:

Promise Me: How a Sister′s Love Launched the Global Movement to End Breast Cancer

Suzy and Nancy Goodman were more than sisters. They were best friends, confidantes, and partners in the grand adventure of life. For three decades, nothing could separate them. Not college, not marriage, not miles. Then Suzy got sick. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1977; three agonizing years later, at thirty-six, she died.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. The Goodman girls were raised in postwar Peoria, Illinois, by parents who believed that small acts of charity could change the world. Suzy was the big sister—the homecoming queen with an infectious enthusiasm and a generous heart. Nancy was the little sister—the tomboy with an outsized sense of justice who wanted to right all wrongs. The sisters shared makeup tips, dating secrets, plans for glamorous fantasy careers. They spent one memorable summer in Europe discovering a big world far from Peoria. They imagined a long life together—one in which they’d grow old together surrounded by children and grandchildren.
Suzy’s diagnosis shattered that dream.

In 1977, breast cancer was still shrouded in stigma and shame. Nobody talked about early detection and mammograms. Nobody could even say the words “breast” and “cancer” together in polite company, let alone on television news broadcasts. With Nancy at her side, Suzy endured the many indignities of cancer treatment, from the grim, soul-killing waiting rooms to the mistakes of well-meaning but misinformed doctors. That’s when Suzy began to ask Nancy to promise. To promise to end the silence. To promise to raise money for scientific research. To promise to one day cure breast cancer for good. Big, shoot-for-the-moon promises that Nancy never dreamed she could fulfill. But she promised because this was her beloved sister.
I promise, Suzy. . . . Even if it takes the rest of my life.

Suzy’s death—both shocking and senseless—created a deep pain in Nancy that never fully went away. But she soon found a useful outlet for her grief and outrage. Armed only with a shoebox filled with the names of potential donors, Nancy put her formidable fund-raising talents to work and quickly discovered a groundswell of grassroots support. She was aided in her mission by the loving tutelage of her husband, restaurant magnate Norman Brinker, whose dynamic approach to entrepreneurship became Nancy’s model for running her foundation. Her account of how she and Norman met, fell in love, and managed to achieve the elusive “true marriage of equals” is one of the great grown-up love stories among recent memoirs.

Nancy’s mission to change the way the world talked about and treated breast cancer took on added urgency when she was herself diagnosed with the disease in 1984, a terrifying chapter in her life that she had long feared. Unlike her sister, Nancy survived and went on to make Susan G. Komen for the Cure into the most influential health charity in the country and arguably the world. A pioneering force in cause-related marketing, SGK turned the pink ribbon into a symbol of hope everywhere. Each year, millions of people worldwide take part in SGK Race for the Cure events. And thanks to the more than $1.5 billion spent by SGK for cutting-edge research and community programs, a breast cancer diagnosis today is no longer a death sentence. In fact, in the time since Suzy’s death, the five-year survival rate for breast cancer has risen from 74 percent to 98 percent.

Promise Me is a deeply moving story of family and sisterhood, the dramatic “30,000-foot view” of the democratization of a disease, and a soaring affirmative to the question: Can one person truly make a difference?

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