By Anneliese Dickman 07/10/2013
The Avielle Foundation’s objectives are twofold: promoting and supporting research on brain health to prevent violence and building community to foster connectivity and empathy. This two-pronged approach to better health has been shown to be successful by many other wellness advocacy organizations, all of whom owe a debt to Nancy Brinker, founder of Susan G. Komen for the Cure. She created an organization that has raised a tremendous amount of money for research, but to do so she first brought breast cancer out of the shadows by helping families, health care providers, and the media shine a light on the disease and its effects.
At the time of Komen for the Cure’s first fundraiser, in 1982, the local reporter covering the event struggled to convince her editors that her news story should include the word “breast” and not just refer to some unnamed “women’s cancer.” This reluctance to acknowledge female biology was typical, and meant that women and their families suffered in silence. Survivors were afraid to reveal the scars of breast cancer on their bodies, and those that had lost loved ones could not truly describe their mothers’, sisters’, or daughters’ suffering for fear of offending. If cancer was a word whispered in polite company, breast cancer was not uttered at all.
Nancy Brinker realized that raising enough money to find a cure could happen only if society was comfortable talking about breast health. She sought media attention for her work; cultivated support from high-profile women like Betty Ford and Happy Rockefeller, who had been open about their diagnosis and treatment; and advocated loudly for breast cancer, as the number two killer of women, to become a priority of policymakers and cancer researchers. She had facts and figures on her side, and coupled the statistics with personal stories from women across the country.
In addition, she ensured that the foundation’s work was inclusive of all types of breast cancer patients, from all walks of life (including men). She knew that the pervasiveness of the disease, while devastating, was also the aspect that could ensure the foundation’s success. She felt there was literally no one who did not fit the profile of a potential foundation supporter, because there was literally no one who did not potentially have someone in their life affected by breast cancer. In the early days of the foundation, she found it possible to work a pitch for a contribution into every conversation she had.