Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Nancy Brinker

A few days before my sister passed away, I would maddeningly search the Internet. I was looking for a cure. But looking back, it was more than that. Perhaps it was hope that I was looking for. Or something that would offer assurance or consolation. That is when I came across the site of the Komen Foundation. It is now Susan G Komen for the Cure.
Nancy Brinker started it in memory of her sister Susan, who died of complications from breast cancer. It is the largest private donor in the US for research into a cure for breast cancer. One of the ways they raise funds is through the Race for the Cure. What struck me was how similar our stories were, though 20 years apart.
Since that day, I have followed its work. I was fortunate to meet Nancy last October when she came to the Tata Memorial Hospital for a seminar.
Nancy has worked tirelessly for more than 25 years to raise funds to find a cure for this disease. She started Komen as a promise to Susan, who asked her to do everything in her power to find a cure.
Today, many organizations in the US raise funds for Komen. Nancy has made a difference. And she worked really hard to bring about the change. She started at a time when people in the US thought cancer was contagious. People crossed the road when they saw her sister walking. When she asked a lingerie store owner for help in creating awareness about breast cancer, she was told we don’t want our customers to think about breast cancer. We want them to buy lingerie.
She soon realized that she would have to start a movement. She said, “I realised the organisation would have to work at the grassroots level. I would have to change the culture, create a movement. I tried to hold some national events. I was appointed to the National Cancer Advisory Board. I tried very hard to learn about the subject.”
Komen not only raises money through its races, it also gives grants and awards for research. They fund the college education of students who face financial problems after having lost a parent to breast cancer. They have also created a postal stamp, funds from which are given for research.
I asked Nancy if she ever felt like giving up. She said, “In the first 15 years, I felt like giving up at least thrice but I had mentors who taught me a lot. My former husband was one. The first 10 years were very difficult to keep everything together. I felt perhaps I should have left it to someone more talented than me. However, my role has evolved. But I am just a messenger. It was my sister who did the work.”
Komen has raised more than $630 million for research towards finding a cure for breast cancer. Nancy is also herself a breast cancer survivor.
I am glad I was able to talk at length to Nancy. One of the things that she said made a tremendous impact on me. She said the bonus from her hard work is when someone comes up to her and says, “Oh, I participated in a race, became aware and it saved my life.” I would like to think similarly. Even if one woman above age 30 somewhere reads this blog and goes for a mammogram and a physical examination and is saved, the blog has served its purpose.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Reading on Cancer

I have been reading a lot on breast cancer and cancer.
I read so much that I went through it all – thinking I could get it, thinking I couldn’t eat such and such and not get it, or that I could eat something and not get it, etc. Then I reached a point where no article mattered.

What you eat or not, whether you are old or young, it doesn’t matter. A perfectly healthy person like Lance Armstrong could get cancer. As recent reports show, a 103-year-old woman in Mumbai developed breast cancer, for the second time! So there’s really nothing about age also.

It’s been some time now since I stopped getting affected by journalistic articles about cancer, unless it’s about research or a new treatment.

But having seen a person I love suffer so much, there is one thing that I can say. As far as possible, one must try and lead a healthy lifestyle. There’s no need to get obsessed and eat or not eat certain kinds of food. But one should take care and not eat or drink in excess what common sense tells us could be harmful. Like alcohol, or too much fried food, or too much sugar. Along with this, one only needs to exercise a bit regularly.

Watching one’s diet and exercising is not just to avoid cancer. It will obviously help steer oneself from certain other diseases.

The bottom line is, let’s not worry. But let’s keep an eye on ourselves.
As for the articles, don’t let them get to you.