Susan G. Komen Founder Steps Out of SpotlightAmbassador Nancy Brinker
The advocacy group that put the “pink” in breast cancer is facing another shift in leadership: Susan G. Komen founder Nancy G. Brinker is stepping down as Chief of Global Strategy, but will retain her seat on its board of directors.
This latest shift in leadership at the organization follows a shake-up in 2012 when Brinker stepped down as CEO after the foundation said it was eliminating grant support for Planned Parenthood, a decision that prompted headlines and boycotts that eventually led to a restoration of the Planned Parenthood grants, but not before the Komen organization suffered big losses.
But in announcing her decision at the annual Leadership Conference for Komen affiliates in Fort Worth last week, Brinker signaled that at age 68 she still has plenty of fight left: future plans include her desire to become senior women’s welterweight boxing champion.
“I’ve been working out 4 to 5 days a week and would like to find a global sponsor to help gather enthusiasts to women’s health,” she toldMedPage Today in an exclusive interview.
She also plans to be an active participant in the “Big Data for Breast Cancer (BD4BC)” conference, which is slated for October at Rockefeller University in New York. The conference — co-funded by Komen and the Robertson Foundation — will convene experts from various fields to discuss the challenges and opportunities involved in integrating electronic health records with genomics to improve breast cancer research and treatment.
Brinker spoke with MedPage Today the same day that the Supreme Court announced it ruling on same sex marriage.
“I’m not just excited about this as the mother of a gay son [Eric Brinker], but because I’ve always been concerned about gender disparity, and the stigma placed upon gays in America has been reminiscent of having cancer at the time Komen was founded,” she said.
She said she plans to continue to support gay rights, as well as get involved in the presidential campaigns of both Jeb Bush and New Hampshire Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte.
“I really don’t like to be labeled as a Republican but as someone who supports smart people who can move the ball forward, collaborate, form coalitions, and get things done,” she said, adding she would not preclude supporting someone from another party but that these are the two people she thinks we need now.
She said that for the first time in years she would now have the time to pursue other interests including accepting some of the speaking and consulting opportunities that have been offered.
Brinker also said she wants to focus on “big idea” projects in addition to the big data conference. Other areas of interest include changing the model for legacy advocacy organizations with the distinction of organ sites becoming eclipsed by molecular oncology; new ways to encourage donors that they will be receiving a return on their investments through demonstrating outcomes; increasing awareness about medical consumerism, and continued involvement in global health issues including visiting various new locations around the world, such as New Zealand.
“Businesses and organizations are fragile and not meant to live forever if they don’t change, and medical consumers should demand that their therapies are successful, meaning that we need to develop whole new standards of metrics.” She also talked about the promise of immunotherapy as well as re-evaluating the delivery of cancer care.
Over the decades, Brinker has received much praise and some criticism since founding what is now the world’s largest breast cancer organization as a promise to her older sister Susan G. Komen — who was dying from breast cancer in 1980 — that she would dedicate her life to ending breast cancer. Brinker herself was later diagnosed with the disease in 1984.
It was a promise that Brinker reiterated toward the conclusion of her speech to the affiliates: “We all have promises to keep. And a ‘promise is a promise.’ There is no wiggle room. No qualifications. No maybes. We have given our word. We have given our time. We have given ourselves, so that all our promises will be fulfilled. And that someday, just years from now … breast cancer no longer controls us.”
Since that promise, the organization has created a grassroots network of 114 affiliates, has funded more than $847 million in cancer research and $1.8 billion in screening, education, treatment, and psychosocial support programs, and has been largely responsible for taking breast cancer out of the closet and into the public’s awareness through races, walks, and other activities that helped develop the concept of “cause-related marketing.”
Brinker received numerous awards and honors including the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama in 2009, and a Lasker Public Service Award in 2005. This October she will be inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
She served twice in the President George W. Bush administration: from 2001-2003 as Ambassador to Hungary and from 2007-2009 as U.S. Chief of Protocol. She was a member of both the President’s Cancer Panel and the National Cancer Advisory Board, and from 2009-2014 she was the World Health Organization’s Goodwill Ambassador for Cancer Control.