02 June 2011

Promise Me: How a Sister's Love Launched the Global Movement to End Breast Cancer... by Nancy Brinker

Flap Copy from ARC: "Growing up in postwar Peoria, Illinois, Suzy and Nancy Goodman were inseparable, with the elegant, socially poised Suzy serving as younger sister Nancy's best friend and role model in the grand adventure of life. Then, in 1977, at thirty-four, Suzy was diagnosed with breast cancer. Three years later, having endured uninformed doctors, multiple surgeries, and several grueling courses of chemotherapy and radiation, she died. In one of the sisters' last conversations, Suzy begged Nancy to do something to stop the suffering. "Promise me, Nanny," she said. "Promise me you won't let it go on like this."

Her heart broken, Nancy promised. "I swear, Suzy. Even if it takes the rest of my life."
At that moment, Susan G. Komen for the Cure was born.
Armed with only $200 and a shoebox filled with names, Nancy embarked on her thirty-year quest to change the way the world thought about, spoke about, and treated breast cancer - a quest that took on added urgency when she herself was diagnosed with the disease. Through it all, she was aided by her husband, Norman Brinker, whose dynamic approach to business became Nancy's model for running her foundation ...

Nancy was luckier than Suzy: she survived breast cancer and went on to turn SGK into the most influential health charity in the world. To date, SGK has contributed some $1.5 billion for cutting=edge research and community programs. And thanks to a sister's love, a diagnosis of breast cancer is no longer a death sentence."

"Promise Me" is at heart the story of a family in motion - from Nancy and Suzy's early years together, to their young adulthood and the individual growth they shared, to Suzy's unexpected and tragic illness and death, to the promise Nancy made and was unable to forget, to Nancy's second marriage and the strength and resources that relationship afforded.

From the start, Nancy and Suzy are two very different sisters being raised in a household with one common theme - that support of and service to others is the only true path to happiness and fulfillment. The girls are brought up smothered with love and family, but with a sense of duty to the less fortunate and the less appreciated. That attitude, instilled in them both by their incredible mother, shapes both women as they mature and become wives, mothers and active members of their communities. When Suzy is diagnosed with breast cancer, and her sad prognosis becomes clear to the family, Suzy extracts a promise from her baby sister - that Nancy will make it better for other women, that she will do everything in her power to change the experience of breast cancer for women everywhere - from the social silence to the drab hospital waiting room, Nancy must bring women's needs to the forefront of scientific research. The promise is made, though Nancy at first has no idea how to proceed.

Suzy's death is the catalyst for Nancy's action, and the first breath of life for Susan G. Komen for the Cure. The remainder of the book summarizes the various actions and goals of the organization, with personal vignettes peppered throughout. Nancy's relationship with her second husband, Norman Brinker, is explored in detail as he was a motivating and educating force in her efforts at building and then maintaining a successful non-profit organization.

This book is full of life, full of a sense of purpose but without a holier-than-thou attitude regarding that greater purpose. I think Brinker's strengh and personality are evident on every page, as are her intelligence and wide breadth of knowledge on all subjects relating to breast cancer. I found her 'memoir' to be honest, uplifting and also strongly grounded in reality - her voice is strong, her message clear, yet her vulnerability as a sister and a woman are embraced. I highly recommend this book, I want to share it with my sister right away.

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