How a Sister's Love Launched the Global Movement to End Breast Cancer
On Sale: September 14, 2010
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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
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
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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