The Power of Women, Featuring Nancy Brinker

The House Magazine

March 24, 2022

Photography courtesy of Nancy Brinker.

This week for The Power of Women, Lisa Gable chats with Nancy Brinker, a woman who built an organization that drove the creation of a category of cancer research—breast cancer–and turned a death sentence into one which eased suffering and created hope. For her work in breast cancer research, Time magazine named Nancy Brinker, founder of the Founder of Susan G. Komen and Promise Fund of Florida, to its 2008 list of the 100 most influential people in the world. President Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom. I have been honored to call her a friend for over 15 years. For today’s interview, Nancy and I talk about the power to make a difference. Stay tuned throughout March for more inspiring stories in honor of Women’s History month.

LG: Today’s interview is about the power to make a difference. Joining me today is a woman who built an organization that drove a massive expansion of breast cancer research through the Susan G. Komen Foundation, the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama, and personal friend of mine Ambassador Nancy Brinker. Nancy also has a new initiative called the Promise Fund which we’ll touch upon later in our discussion. Nancy, thank you for joining us! Please introduce yourself.

NB: Thank you so much for having me, Lisa! It’s an honor to join you for the Power of Women campaign. When I founded the Susan G. Komen Foundation and dedicated my life to this cause of ending breast cancer, I had to look at ways to commit to the cause from every angle. Before my sister passed away from breast cancer, she asked me to end the cancer, but also to address issues of disparities in care. This is a part that hasn’t been done until now. When I look at this problem that I’ve committed most of my life to, disparities in care haven’t been addressed. It’s unfinished. We have to deliver what we know in a timely, cost-effective, and sensible way. That’s what we’re doing at the Promise Fund in Florida. We’re having great success.

Nancy with Laura Bush

LG: It’s so important. During my time at FARE, one of the things we also addressed from a food allergy standpoint was also Access to Care. For most Americans, Access to Care will affect one’s financial situation, especially for those living paycheck to paycheck. The granular level at which you are providing this support is so critically important. Someone who is living on an hourly wage and/or doesn’t have the flexibility to do the amount of care that is required to manage their disease understand that a lack of availability of resources can be detrimental to their quality of life. As an extension of your life’s work, you’re also changing the business model for philanthropy through the Promise Fund of Florida. How are you providing support for someone who may not have a flexible lifestyle or the ability to gain access to proper care?

NB: When we went to build this model, which other cities across the country are starting to replicate, we gathered a group of patients who fell in this underserved category. To meet their needs, we were bringing on patient navigators. These navigators are critical in familiarizing our patients with hospitals, their processes, and what is seemingly a very foreign concept to many in our group of patients. What we found was that the social determinants were the greatest factor keeping people from therapy. Transportation was the greatest factor followed by childcare and access to healthy foods. Simple things that some Americans take for granted turned out to be the greatest obstacles for many of our patients. Once we established these issues facing our group, we worked to resolve them. Our next step was ensuring these navigators socialized the issue within their communities. We ensured our navigators were local to our community, familiar with the local culture, and knew the proper channels and resources to share with our patients. Socializing this problem amongst women was critical, as we were able to install a wonderful mammography screening center at one of our local federally-qualified healthcare centers. Upon partnering with them and after socializing the issues locally, we’ve seen nearly 1,000 patients over the course of three months. 

Nancy with Neighborhood Mothers in Berlin

LG: That’s so wonderful. During my time at FARE, one of the things we found, which you’ve just touched upon, is that so many Americans don’t see their doctors often enough, if at all. Over the past few years, what’s been an important shift in healthcare and in the health space has been the recognition of lack of Access to Care as a major issue. For these reasons, partnerships in the health space are so important, in order to ensure those affected by ailments and health issues get proper care. One place where you’ve really set the stage is in business partnerships. What are the top things you would tell companies are needed to support the efforts that you have underway in Florida?

NB: We were one of the organizations who embraced this concept very early on. What we learned to do was to listen very, very carefully to what the businesses want and what they need to do. If you can meet their goals and wants, you can very legitimately incorporate your needs into the partnership. With business diplomacy like this, it’s critical to come at an issue from a positive place, looking at how you can resolve issues together through a joint effort. 

Nancy, receiving the Medal of Freedom from President Obama

LG: I want to pivot here to discuss mentorship. You have been an incredible mentor to me, and I’m grateful for your advice and insights. What do you see as the best principles that people need to adopt to be an excellent mentor?

NB: I think an excellent mentor needs to be authentic and passionate about their field. When a mentor is passionate, he or she sets an example for others. A great mentor has to give examples of how to problem-solve. A mentor needs to be creative and individualistic while also listening to the advice and insights of their colleagues. In listening to others, you can find little kernels of knowledge that you may have missed while looking at the long term vision for your work. Lastly, it’s critical to tell a story about why you’re doing what you’re doing. Think of everyone you’re helping as a next door neighbor that you’re helping. Thinking in this way will help you from getting dissuaded if you’re ever feeling discouraged or overwhelmed. I’ve found this practice has kept me going during my own difficult times. 

Speaking at Dine and Dash

LG: What women inspire you the most?

The women I’ve helped in my work in the Susan G. Komen Foundation and the Promise Fund inspire me every day to keep fighting. 

LG: What are you doing to inspire the next generation of female leaders?

There is no greater power than the power of women standing united, ready to help one another. Build connections and foster relationships to help you grow and succeed. 

LG: What advice do you have for a young woman watching who’s trying to break through or a woman who might be re-entering the workforce?

Take on the hard jobs and see them through. When the task seems insurmountable take time to reflect and reimagine and don’t be afraid to pivot. Every single day something will happen to remind you what is important on your journey. Keep going and don’t wait for something to fall apart to pay attention to it.