Meadville Tribune

Our Health

October 23, 2013

BREAST CANCER AWARENESS: The woman behind the name — Susan G. Komen

MEADVILLE — Thousands upon thousands of women have battled breast cancer. Some have pulled through the disease, while others succumbed to the disease after a brave fight. Few people who have waged war with breast cancer are better known than Susan Komen, a name many instantly associate with the organization Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the most widely known, largest and well-funded breast cancer organization in the United States.

Susan G. Komen was born Susan Goodman in 1943 in Peoria, Ill. According to her sister, Nancy, Susan was the high school homecoming queen and a college beauty queen. After graduating from college, Goodman returned to her hometown and pursued modeling, eventually marrying her high school sweetheart, Stan.

Komen was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1977 after finding a lump that subsequent testing revealed was cancerous. Komen underwent a procedure called a subcutaneous mastectomy, in which the outside of the breast tissue was left intact, but the interior breast tissue was removed. The doctor who did the procedure assured Komen that she was cured. Despite urging her sister to get a second opinion, Komen was convinced she was safe. But within six months Komen found another lump under her arm, and, by this point, it was evident that the cancer had spread. Doctors at the Mayo Clinic soon determined the cancer had metastasized to her lung and under her arm.

Komen underwent several different treatments to slow the progression of the cancer, including radiation and intense chemotherapy. However, the cancer continued to spread and eventually her body developed a resistance to most of the medication. During treatment, Komen repeatedly spoke with her sister about her wish to make the entire breast cancer experience and treatments in the hospital more palatable for women, including improving the appearance of waiting rooms and treatment centers, and doing other things to help comfort those who would find themselves in similar situations in the future. Komen lost her battle with breast cancer in 1980 at age 36. By the time of her death, Komen had undergone nine operations and three courses of chemotherapy and radiation.

Nancy Goodman Brinker then made it her mission to do everything she could to help end breast cancer and increase awareness of this potentially deadly disease. In 1982, Brinker established the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation in her sister’s memory. Since its inception, the organization, now called Susan G. Komen for the Cure, has provided funding for basic, clinical and translational breast cancer research projects. It also has become instrumental in breast health education and urging women to do self-screening while promoting annual mammograms. Through the years, the foundation has teamed up with many well-known businesses, brands and organizations as part of its fundraising efforts. To date, the organization has invested $750 million in breast cancer research, awarding many thousands of dollars in grants in countries around the world.

Through her struggle with breast cancer, Susan Goodman Komen unknowingly inspired an organization that has helped to save the lives of millions. Learn more at ww5.komen.org.

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