Susan G. Komen and her sister Nancy BrinkerHer name is synonymous with breast cancer awareness, but until recently few people knew who Susan G. Komen even was. The website for the foundation that bears her name doesn't even have a biography of the woman who made breast cancer a household concern.
But as Susan G. Komen for the Cure celebrates its 28th birthday, Komen's sister and SGK founder Nancy Brinker is allowing a shift in focus. She still wants to cure breast cancer, but she's willing to personalize the fight.
With her new memoir, Promise Me: How a Sister's Love Launched the Global Movement to End Breast Cancer, out on shelves, some surprising details explain just who Susan G. Komen was:
1. The "G" is for Goodman, Komen and Brinker's maiden name. They're Jewish, which may have played a role in Komen's own struggle with the disease. One in 40 female descendants of the Ashkenazi Jews has a genetic mutation in BRCA1 or BRCA2, the two abnormal genes that account for 10 percent of all breast cancers.
2. Susan G. Komen For the Cure got its start in Texas, the land where everything goes big, but Komen hailed from Peoria, Illinois, a smallish city in the 12th smallest state.
3. She was a stay-at-home mom. To have a mega million dollar non-profit named after you, you don't have to be a big shot after all. Komen was a mother of two who kept busy with volunteering in her community when not caring for son Scott and daughter Steffie.
4. Breast cancer didn't run in her family. One of the chief markers for breast cancer in women, genetics played a role in Komen's life but not until after her death, says Brinker. That's when Brinker herself was diagnosed. She survived cancer and has tested positive for the gene, although her son Eric has tested negative and therefore can't pass it on. Komen's own children were adopted and therefore could not inherit the gene.
5. October was a special month for her too. Well before it was Breast Cancer Awareness Month, October was simply the birth month of Susan G. Komen -- she was born on Halloween in 1943.
6. Komen wasn't the child of some high-powered monied family who threw together a foundation in her memory. As Brinker told The Stir, she wasn't a billionaire who left money to her favorite cause. Her father was a businessman, her mother a stay-at-home mom active in temple and the Girl Scouts. It was her sister, Brinker, who took her request that no woman ever have to fight her fight with breast cancer and made it a global powerhouse.
Image via Susan G. Komen for the Cure