Remarks by Ambassador Nancy Brinker,
Founder and CEO of Susan G. Komen for the Cure®
the Anti-Defamation League Americanism Award
February 4, 2010, Palm Beach, FL
Thank you Abe, and thank you to the Anti-Defamation League for all you do to promote civil rights and fair treatment around the world.
Discrimination of any kind -- be it religious, political, gender or economic -- must not be tolerated.
Elie Wiesel said famously that “the opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference.
We cannot be indifferent to discrimination, and we cannot be indifferent to human suffering.
At Susan G. Komen for the Cure, I’ve fought breast cancer my whole adult life. But I am also UN Ambassador for Cancer Control, and I’m afraid to say that this year we will pass a gruesome benchmark, as cancer is expected to overtake heart disease as the world’s leading killer.
As we start the 5th decade of the War on Cancer, cancer will destroy more lives than tuberculosis, malaria, and AIDS combined.
But at least we’ve declared war. In too many other countries, there has been no declaration. Instead, cancer is treated with indifference, ignorance, and apathy.
It is wrong when the most lethal disease on earth isn’t even mentioned in the public health reports of many countries. It is wrong when cancer is often hidden away in the category of, quote, “other diseases” as it is in the Millennium Development Goals. In 2008, 7.6 million lives were lost to this “other disease.”
That is equal to the entire population of South Florida -- PLUS Orlando -- being wiped out each year.
And it’s only projected to get worse unless we fight back with everything we have.
New cancer cases are projected to MORE THAN DOUBLE in twenty years, from 13 million to nearly 27 million. By then, cancer will kill some 17 million people, young and old, every year. And frankly, that’s likely to be a considerable undercount, because many deaths from cancer are not reported. In the statistical equivalent of an unmarked grave, the cause of their suffering and death isn’t even specified.
So whether reported accurately or not, there are still too many people, here in the US and around the world, who are dying unnecessarily from cancer of all kinds. . .
Forty percent of all cancers are preventable. We’ve got to marshal all the resources we can – political, religious, scientific, humanitarian – to confront the world’s leading killer. Susan G. Komen for the Cure is dedicated to that mission. We are the only organization with the reach and know-how to take this fight to the most difficult places on earth: in Russia, India, East Asia, Africa . . . . and yes, in the Middle East.
I’m proud that we lit the pyramids pink in Cairo and ran the Race for the Cure. The response was phenomenal – we expected 2,000 runners and 10,000 showed up. Women who in some cases had never uttered the words “breast cancer” out loud - proudly displayed pink ribbons on their burka’s (also called abaya’s). It was truly an amazing event. And as we finished that race, we were already looking ahead to this year’s first race in Jerusalem.
Here we were, doing what we do best . . . .bringing people together to fight this disease in a challenging part of the world. But then our race took a detour, as we learned that some Israeli doctors and advocates were initially denied access to our events in Cairo. Discrimination had reared its ugly head. When I was notified I was very disappointed, but we were able to take a stand through diplomatic efforts on behalf of our Israeli friends.
Fortunately, Susan G. Komen’s efforts combined with the efforts of the American embassy in Cairo were successful and the Israeli advocates were invited to attend the conferences. And I am proud to say that there will be a strong Israeli presence at our international summit on screening technology later this year.
But I was disappointed that the situation in Cairo happened, and the way in which it almost eclipsed all the good that came from our conference and our visit. Susan G. Komen is a humanitarian organization . . . not a political one. We cannot be indifferent to victims in politically challenging environments. We must not let discrimination interfere with scientific efforts to prevent cancer, and we will continue to carry out our global mission.
The global cancer pandemic doesn’t respect borders and it is indifferent to regional politics. It will kill millions of people without respect to religion, race or creed.
And as cancer is universally deadly, our response must be equally universal. We can’t afford to slow down in our race against this disease -- no matter the detours or barriers.
Thirty years ago I promised my sister Suzy I would do everything I could to find a cure for breast cancer. And for as long as I can stand, I will keep fighting to fulfill that promise.
In so many areas of global health diplomacy, certainties are hard to come by. But I can promise you this: If we turn more of our energy and resources on the global cancer crisis, we can save millions of lives.
And thirty years’ worth of laboring in this field has only left me feeling more confident in ultimate victory.
I think of a horrific disease…feared by generations…victims hidden away in the shadows…the hopelessness—that a cure or treatment would never be found.
Faced with an epidemic, ordinary citizens took action—raising money, funding research. Governments formed and funded new institutions. Scientists collaborated with a sense of urgency.
I’m not talking about cancer. I’m talking about Polio.
And on that day in 1955 when Jonas Salk’s Polio vaccine was announced, it’s said that in America “church bells rang, factories stopped in a moment of silence and parents and teachers wept…as if a war had ended.”
Years later, Salk said: “In the past, man was concerned with death; his attitude was antidisease. In the future, his attitudes will be prohealth. [We must] adapt…and cooperate and collaborate.” Because, “with nature, we are the co-authors of our destiny.”
The diseases, of course, are different, but the lesson is the same. Our destiny—our health—is still in our hands.
If we can forge an approach that spans barriers and ignores discrimination . . . one that is built on justice and equal treatment…
Then we, too, can imagine a day… When another scientific breakthrough changes the world…
When the mastectomy—like the iron lungs of the Polio era—is an artifact of history…
And when church bells ring again because our war—on breast cancer and cancer—has ended in victory.
Again, I recall the words of Elie Wiesel, who said, “It is so much easier to look away from victims. It is so much easier to avoid such rude interruptions to our work, our dreams, our hopes.” He also said that “We are not guaranteeing success, but we must guarantee effort.”
I am inspired by this effort every day.
This year, a group of Jewish women from Lafayette, Indiana and another group from Indianapolis are holding a contest to see which one can bring together the most Jewish women for a special tissue donation to help Susan G. Komen for the Cure continue with our cutting-edge research.
Tissue donation -- literally the giving of one’s self – now that is effort. Friends, let us never stop guaranteeing effort.
Thank you for this award, and I’m honored to be with you this evening.