Shoes on Sale: Honoring Nancy Brinker

When Nancy Brinker’s sister, Susan Komen, was struggling with breast cancer in the late 1970s, Brinker made a promise: to strive to put an end to the devastating disease.

Brinker kept her word by founding Susan G. Komen for the Cure in 1982, two years after her sister’s death. The foundation is dedicated to supporting breast cancer research, community health, advocacy and global health, and throughout its 29-year history, has given more than $2 billion in donations and research grants. Brinker, former chief of protocol for the U.S. government, also serves as the Goodwill Ambassador for Cancer Control for the World Health Organization.

She will receive the FFANY Jodi Fisher Humanitarian Award at the 18th annual QVC Presents “FFANY Shoes on Sale” gala on Thursday at the Waldorf Astoria in New York.

“I am very honored,” said Brinker, who is also a breast cancer survivor. “The footwear industry has done a tremendous job in creating awareness [of breast cancer]. Joe Moore, [president and CEO of FFANY], is also a longtime friend, and I’m a fan of his.”

Moore said the feeling is mutual. “Nancy is really the leader in raising funds for breast cancer research, care and education,” he said. “[Susan G. Komen for the Cure] is an amazing organization, and I take my hat off to [Nancy].”

Brinker said the Jodi Fisher Humanitarian Award and fashion-related programs such as Shoes on Sale bring special attention to the fight.

“Cause-related marketing is one of the greatest opportunities we have to educate the public,” Brinker said. “To associate a fashion item and health is very important for raising money, getting people to read [about breast cancer] and approach this disease with less fear.”

Her organization, which began on the grassroots level, has come a long way since Brinker put together events with the modest goal of simply getting people to talk about breast cancer. “This has been a marathon, not a sprint,” Brinker said. “When we started, we had no cell phones, no patient advocacy groups, no social media, no Internet — nothing. The only way was to grow a grassroots organization that could create the kind of response that would change the culture, the clinics and research funding, and create awareness. We built affiliations one by one.”

Today’s Susan G. Komen for the Cure has an army of collaborators, donors and volunteers, and the charity has become a global leader in its arena. The nonprofit is known for its international Race for the Cure 5K series, which attracted 1.6 million participants last year. As a result of its growth, the organization’s challenges have also become more formidable. “The principles of the foundation are not complex, but the business of what we do and keeping ahead of the curve is very complex,” Brinker said.

She also noted that beyond research, the nonprofit is committed to serving people dealing with breast cancer today and increasing survival rates in real time. “We simply have to work to keep people alive longer, and at the same time search for the answers.”

Recent Susan G. Komen for the Cure initiatives include “Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon,” a collaboration with the George W. Bush Institute, the U.S. Department of State and UNAIDS to bring breast and cervical cancer education, screening and treatment to sub-Saharan Africa. It also formed a three-year partnership with General Electric to bring breast cancer screening to underserved regions in the rural U.S. and developing countries. And in September, Susan G. Komen for the Cure announced donations totaling $6 million in Promise Grants to Michigan institutions for research into treatments for aggressive forms of breast cancer and earlier detection methods.

Oncologist Ann Partridge, of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, is a Komen Scholar (a select group of experts who review grant proposals and research projects) and a recipient of a $1.4 million grant funded by Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Partridge said the Komen funding has helped her develop a program to improve care, support and education for young women diagnosed with breast cancer, as well as create a virtual model of that program that is being piloted at four different sites in the U.S.

“[Brinker] has been an amazing force in the mission to end breast cancer,” Partridge said. “She really understands the importance of evidence-based research. I’m personally grateful because I’ve been able to harness that understanding and her incredible power to help women [with breast cancer] and their families.”

Brinker said she’s looking forward to the FFANY event as a way to bring even more awareness to her organization’s mission, as well as honor those who have made it thrive.

“It’s exciting to see [FFANY] embrace us and want to help us,” she said. “I always accept awards on behalf of my sister and the people who have worked so hard to help me over the years.”

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