This weekend, some 40,000 men, women and children will take their places at the starting line near the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. to run or walk the 3.1 miles of the 22nd running of the Susan G. Komen Global Race for the Cure®. And make no mistake; this is no ordinary jog in the park.
While this particular race takes place in Washington, it is emblematic of the courage and passion that will be displayed at the more than 140 Susan G. Komen races that will be held around the world this year, and a potent symbol of what is possible when people come together to take action because they are no longer willing to stand by and watch loved ones die of this terrible disease.
I founded Susan G. Komen for the Cure in honor of my sister Susan G. Komen, who died of breast cancer in 1980. Lovely and vibrant, Suzy wasn't just my sister -- she was my best friend and role model. She was only 36, with two young children and everything to live for when she received the worst news of her life. For three years she fought courageously, but ultimately lost her battle. Since then, I have made it my life's work to fulfill the promise I made to Suzy to find a cure for this disease.
Over the past 30 years, significant progress has been made. With early detection, five-year survival rates for cancers caught early, before they leave the breast, are 98 percent in the U.S. The money raised in Komen races, corporate partnerships and individual donations has enabled us to invest nearly $2 billion in research and community health programs. This past year alone, we funded 600,000 breast screenings and diagnostic tests for low-income or underinsured women and we've invested in promising research that, among other discoveries, could yield the first breast cancer vaccine. Today there are 2.5 million breast cancer survivors, comprising the largest group of cancer survivors in the nation.
These achievements are not mine. They are the result of the collective efforts of millions of ordinary citizens who were inspired by our call for action to stand up and demand change. People like Karen Rudderow of Philadelphia, a mother of three, a breast cancer survivor and participant in this year's race who is still very much alive more than three decades after being told she had less than a year to live. At the time of her diagnosis, her hope was to see her children graduate from preschool -- today she expects to watch her grandchildren graduate from college.
Or Marshall Moneymaker of Martinsburg, West Virginia, who spends countless hours raising money for Susan G. Komen and will be serving as a volunteer at this year's race in Washington to honor the three sisters he lost to breast cancer in just three years. Marshall works as a firefighter in Montgomery County, Maryland, and when he appears in his pink firefighting protective gear and helmet, people definitely take notice.
All across the country, people like Karen and Marshall are taking part in a Susan G. Komen race to raise money, to seek action and to fight for change. These events will help to raise millions of dollars to fund exciting new research and provide vital breast cancer treatment services in local communities -- and ultimately, to save the lives of women and men throughout the world.
While I am proud of what's been accomplished so far, I know that we're still a long way from the finish line in terms of eradicating this disease. We still don't fully understand specifically which risk factors will cause breast cancer in people who have lived perfectly healthy lives, or why its impacts are harsher on some diverse groups: for example, why fewer African-American women will get breast cancer yet a higher percentage of them will die from it.
I am also troubled at signs we actually may be losing ground in this battle as government healthcare budgets are threatened, women lose their insurance and others are confused or complacent about the need for screening. Worldwide, especially in emerging nations, the incidence of breast cancer is growing, as are mortality rates. Early detection continues to be an important tool for survival, yet a third of women worldwide -- an estimated one billion -- lack access to mammograms. Even in the U.S., where mammography is readily available, many women don't get screened -- maybe because they are too busy working and raising their families, don't have adequate health insurance, can't figure out how to navigate the health care system, are confused by conflicting opinions about screening or are just plain scared.
The race course in Washington goes past the National Archives, which houses the U.S. Bill of Right spelling out the protections afforded to every American by our founding fathers. At Susan G. Komen, we've got our own Breast Cancer Bill of Rights, which contains what we believe to be the inalienable rights of all breast cancer patients and survivors -- among them the right to adequate screening, treatment and care. As these rights come under fire, it is more important than ever that we raise our voices and demand action from our leaders. There is no better place to make a stand than at a Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure -- in Washington and throughout the nation.
People tend to think of pink as a soft and delicate color, but not our pink. At Komen, we know that pink is strong, pink is fierce, pink is brave, and pink is mighty. Just talk to any one of the nation's 2.5 million breast cancer survivors and you'll know the power and courage of pink. I am proud to stand with them, as one of them.
We've come a long way, but there's still a lot of work to do, and we can't afford to wait for someone else to do it. This fight belongs to all of us. Only by working together, speaking out and joining together will we win this race against breast cancer.
Ambassador Nancy G. Brinker is the founder and CEO of Susan G. Komen for the Cure. The 22nd Annual Susan G. Komen Global Race for the Cure will be held June 4 on the National Mall. For more information or to register, visit www.globalraceforthecure.org.
Follow Ambassador Nancy G. Brinker on Twitter: www.twitter.com/nancygbrinker