By AJ Willingham, CNN
(CNN) – Susan G. Komen is one of the largest and most recognized breast cancer organizations in the world. Since its founding in 1982, the nonprofit organization has invested more than $1 billion in cancer research and more than $2 billion in patient education, according to financial records. The foundation’s Race for the Cure is known as one of the biggest breast cancer awareness events ever created and is as synonymous with the cause as the iconic pink ribbon.
Yet the real Susan G. Komen was no celebrity. She did not go public with her illness, which claimed her life in 1980 at the age of 36. In fact, it wasn’t until after Komen’s death that his name became so incredibly famous.
Who was Susan G. Komen?
Susan G. Komen was born Susan Goodman and raised in Peoria, Illinois. According to her sister, Nancy Goodman Brinker, she was well-liked; a homecoming queen and a caring older sister. When Komen was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 33, she and her family went through all the terror and uncertainty that comes with dealing with a life-threatening disease. Despite various treatment strategies, Komen died three years later.
It was Nancy Brinker who founded the organization in honor of Komen. Brinker, who was married to restaurant magnate Norman Brinker until 2000, would go on to become the World Health Organization’s goodwill ambassador for the fight against cancer. She also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2009.
How did Susan G. Komen become so popular?
In 1983, Brinker had the idea to capitalize on the fashion for jogging and organize a 5K run in Dallas as a fundraising event. The result was the first-ever Susan G. Komen Run for the Cure. The idea exploded from there, becoming a multi-city event within a few years. This level of marketing expertise was one of the reasons the foundation became so popular so quickly. The pageantry of the races, with survivors and supporters dressed in pink, carrying signs and encouraging each other along the way, has become an iconic part of the breast cancer awareness movement.
Brinker’s charitable efforts were also bolstered by a growing wave of breast cancer awareness in the 1980s. First Lady Betty Ford, wife of President Gerald Ford, prompted a surge in mammograms in 1974 after announcing that she had breast cancer. Brinker herself was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1984.
Susan G. Komen continued to harness the momentum of breast cancer awareness in the 1990s, as the popularity of the ubiquitous pink ribbon also grew and more companies began to link breast cancer awareness. breast cancer. By its 20th anniversary in 2002, the foundation had raised more than $400 million and brought together powerful business partners.
However, the foundation has also been plagued with controversy. In 2012, Susan G. Komen halted funding for screening exams for Planned Parenthood, a move many saw as a politicization of the cause. Although the decision was reversed, it caused the resignation of several staff members and damaged public perception. Around the same time, Brinker – who stepped down as CEO – came under fire for the big six-figure salary she received as the foundation’s CEO. In 2016, the foundation received more criticism after hosting an annual fundraiser at then-presidential candidate Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club.
Since those events, the organization has struggled with wavering levels of public trust, even seeing a decline in fundraising in recent years.
Despite the controversy, Komen’s Race for the Cure walks and runs continue to be very popular. This year, 40 cities across the United States will host the More Than Pink Walk and Race for the Cure events. And while not all pink ribbon or breast cancer marches are linked to Susan G. Komen, the foundation’s influence is hard to ignore.
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