I grew up in Peoria, Illinois in a loving family of passionate caregivers and innovative strivers. My father, Marvin Goodman, a businessman with a big heart, embodied the solid values he instilled in me and my big sister, Susan. Our mother, Ellie Goodman, a Girl Scout leader and community activist, lit up rooms with her vibrant smile and lived her faith with daily acts of loving kindness. Mom was a fundraising marvel, part of the army of everyday people who supported scientists in their search for a polio vaccine in the 1950s. Trooping along with her, Suzy and I witnessed the powerful chemistry of caring and action, and it shaped our lives.
I was a tomboy and loved horseback riding. In school, I struggled with dyslexia, compensating by keeping my nose to the grindstone. Suzy balanced my academic monk routine with her fresh and funny spirit, always quick with a wisecrack and ready for adventure. She stayed in Peoria, creating a home filled with art, music and love for her husband and two children. I moved to Dallas after graduating from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, began my career at Neiman-Marcus, and went on to work in PR and broadcasting, always elbow-deep in fundraising efforts for a variety of charities. My son Eric, the greatest joy in my life, was born in 1975.
Suzy was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1977 and died in 1980. By her side through three brutal years of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, I promised my sister I’d do everything I could to stop the heartless progression and social stigma of this disease, even if it took the rest of my life. And it has.
In 1981, I married Norman Brinker, a brilliant entrepreneur who mentored and encouraged me as I and a small group of friends laid the foundation for the organization that would become Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Response from volunteers, supporters and families touched by breast cancer was beyond my wildest dreams, but the true impact of our work hit me when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1983 and underwent a double mastectomy followed by a stiff course of chemo.
To date, Susan G. Komen raised more than $3 billion for breast cancer research, education and services. Race for the Cure events united volunteers around the globe. Humbly grateful for the people who carried the mission forward while I stepped away from my leadership position, I served as United States Ambassador to Hungary from 2001 to 2003 and as President George W. Bush’s White House Chief of Protocol from 2007 to 2009.
My amazing mother was a force of nature, who fought for women with breast cancer in Suzy’s memory. She was with me when President Obama presented me with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009, and we felt my father there in spirit. With Eric by my side and Suzy in my heart, I’ve stood with tears in my eyes as great monuments and historical landmarks all over the world have been illuminated in pink.
I’m overwhelmed with gratitude and love for all the people who’ve helped me fulfill my promise to my sister. You have made my life an extraordinary adventure.