Promise Me: How a Sister's Love Launched the Global Movement to End Breast Cancer

Promise Me: How a Sister's Love Launched the Global Movement to End Breast Cancer

by Nancy G. Brinker, Joni Rodgers


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Suzy and Nancy Goodman were more than sisters. They were best friends, confidantes, and partners in the grand adventure of life. For three decades, nothing could separate them. Not college, not marriage, not miles. Then Suzy got sick. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1977; three agonizing years later, at thirty-six, she died.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. The Goodman girls were raised in postwar Peoria, Illinois, by parents who believed that small acts of charity could change the world. Suzy was the big sister—the homecoming queen with an infectious enthusiasm and a generous heart. Nancy was the little sister—the tomboy with an outsized sense of justice who wanted to right all wrongs. The sisters shared makeup tips, dating secrets, plans for glamorous fantasy careers. They spent one memorable summer in Europe discovering a big world far from Peoria. They imagined a long life together—one in which they’d grow old together surrounded by children and grandchildren.
Suzy’s diagnosis shattered that dream.

In 1977, breast cancer was still shrouded in stigma and shame. Nobody talked about early detection and mammograms. Nobody could even say the words “breast” and “cancer” together in polite company, let alone on television news broadcasts. With Nancy at her side, Suzy endured the many indignities of cancer treatment, from the grim, soul-killing waiting rooms to the mistakes of well-meaning but misinformed doctors. That’s when Suzy began to ask Nancy to promise. To promise to end the silence. To promise to raise money for scientific research. To promise to one day cure breast cancer for good. Big, shoot-for-the-moon promises that Nancy never dreamed she could fulfill. But she promised because this was her beloved sister.
I promise, Suzy. . . .  Even if it takes the rest of my life.

Suzy’s death—both shocking and senseless—created a deep pain in Nancy that never fully went away. But she soon found a useful outlet for her grief and outrage. Armed only with a shoebox filled with the names of potential donors, Nancy put her formidable fund-raising talents to work and quickly discovered a groundswell of grassroots support. She was aided in her mission by the loving tutelage of her husband, restaurant magnate Norman Brinker, whose dynamic approach to entrepreneurship became Nancy’s model for running her foundation. Her account of how she and Norman met, fell in love, and managed to achieve the elusive “true marriage of equals” is one of the great grown-up love stories among recent memoirs. 

Nancy’s mission to change the way the world talked about and treated breast cancer took on added urgency when she was herself diagnosed with the disease in 1984, a terrifying chapter in her life that she had long feared. Unlike her sister, Nancy survived and went on to make Susan G. Komen for the Cure into the most influential health charity in the country and arguably the world. A pioneering force in cause-related marketing, SGK turned the pink ribbon into a symbol of hope everywhere. Each year, millions of people worldwide take part in SGK Race for the Cure events. And thanks to the more than $1.5 billion spent by SGK for cutting-edge research and community programs, a breast cancer diagnosis today is no longer a death sentence. In fact, in the time since Suzy’s death, the five-year survival rate for breast cancer has risen from 74 percent to 98 percent.

Promise Me is a deeply moving story of family and sisterhood, the dramatic “30,000-foot view” of the democratization of a disease, and a soaring affirmative to the question: Can one person truly make a difference?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307718136
Publisher: Potter/Ten Speed/Harmony/Rodale
Publication date: 09/13/2011
Pages: 376
Sales rank: 892,183
Product dimensions: 5.18(w) x 8.04(h) x 0.82(d)

About the Author

NANCY G. BRINKER is the founder and CEO of Susan G. Komen for the Cure. She has served as Ambassador to Hungary and United States Chief of Protocol and is currently the Goodwill Ambassador for Cancer Control for the United Nations World Health Organization.  She has been the recipient of many prestigious awards, including the 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor. Visit Nancy at

JONI RODGERS is the New York Times bestselling author of Bald in the Land of Big Hair, a memoir of her cancer treatment and recovery.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"In this deeply thoughtful, assertive, sensitive memoir of the sisters' growing up and devotion to each other in life and death, Brinker chronicles the long path she trod to create Susan G. Komen for the Cure."
—Publishers Weekly

"These stories of joy, fear, love and heartache are told in a captivating voice that brings a highly personal dimension to [Susan G. Komen for the Cure] and to the subject of breast cancer in general…. A touching, inspiring look behind the scenes at the founding of one of the most famous nonprofit organizations in the world."
Kirkus Reviews

"More than twenty-five years ago, Nancy’s love for her cherished sister sparked a promise to fight breast cancer. Today that promise has launched a global movement to end breast cancer, and Nancy is fulfilling her promise to women all around the world. Promise Me is an inspiring tribute to a sister’s love and a must-read for all who know the pink ribbon."
—LAURA BUSH, former First Lady and author of Spoken from the Heart

"Promise Me emotionally and elegantly chronicles how sisterly love changed the course of modern medicine by catalyzing women around the world to battle breast cancer."
—MEHMET OZ, M.D., host, The Dr. Oz Show and professor and vice-chair of surgery, New York Presbyterian/Columbia

"This is the story of what happens when a big heart meets an iron will. Nancy Brinker will make you sit back in wonder."
—KELLY CORRIGAN, bestselling author of Lift and The Middle Place

"Susan G. Komen for the Cure has become a brand name in the fight against breast cancer, thanks to the tireless devotion of Nancy Brinker. In Promise Me we learn about the remarkable work of that organization, and also finally get to know the woman behind the name—Suzy Goodman Komen’s sense of fun and family comes through these pages as a bright light leading her sister through trials and triumphs."
—COKIE ROBERTS, news analyst and author of We Are Our Mothers’ Daughters and Founding Mothers

"This is three beautiful books rolled into one: a poignant memoir, a guide to running an entrepreneurial foundation, and a set of inspiring stories about the struggle against breast cancer. When her beloved sister, Suzy, died, Nancy Brinker’s life’s work began. This book is about the meaning of life. It will move and enlighten you."
—WALTER ISAACSON, bestselling author of Einstein: His Life and Universe and Benjamin Franklin: An American Life

Reading Group Guide

1. How would you describe the relationship between Nancy and Suzy? Did the relationship between the sisters resonate for you? Did it remind you of your own relationship with a sister or close friend? Why or why not?

2. How were Nancy and Suzy shaped by the legacies of cancer in their family? Which messages from their many role models—including their parents—proved to be the most lasting?

3. What explains the differences between Suzy’s and Nancy’s responses to their own cancer diagnoses? What can we learn from the knowledge that women respond to illness in many different ways? How would you describe your approach to doctors and caring for yourself?

4. What did Suzy and Nancy learn about themselves on their memorable tour of Europe? What enabled them to be so adventurous yet so mature?

5. A key component to Nancy’s work is public awareness and education. What surprising truths did you learn about breast cancer by reading this book? As Nancy shared inspiring stories of survivors from all walks of life, how did these experiences compare to those of women you have known who confronted a cancer diagnosis?

6. Discuss the medical history presented in Promise Me. What recurring themes did you notice in the interactions between male doctors and female patients? What does it take to become an empowered patient, whether you’re a man or a woman?

7. What was the effect of the time line Nancy used in recounting the chapters of her life? How does it mirror memory to weave the past and the present together? How did her newfound hometown—Dallas—compare to Illinois in reflecting her personality? What locale represents “home” to you?

8. From Stanley Marcus to Norman Brinker, Nancy learned marketing from some of the most successful American businessmen. Should the principles change when they’re applied to the nonprofit world? What unique traits did Nancy bring to the table, enabling her to surpass her mentors’ success in philanthropy?

9. Nancy and Suzy had different expectations of marriage, yet they both experienced first marriages that weren’t meant to be. As Nancy describes the men she has loved at various points in her life, how does she convey her own stages of personal growth? What relationships have defined you?

10. As a couple, Nancy and Norman Brinker seemed to have it all: Passion, companionship, shared interests and values, and a deep commitment to giving back. Yet eventually, their marriage ended. Did you find their love story believable? Inspiring? Why do you think they got divorced? Do you think the marriage could have been saved?

11. Suzy’s surgeon was confident that his approach would be sufficient in treating her cancer and never discussed any further treatment with her. In contrast, Nancy’s physicians urged caution, concerned that scar tissue from another biopsy would cloud results of future mammograms, but ultimately respected her decisions and formed a treatment plan in partnership with her. What did you discover about doctors’ perspectives by reading Promise Me? Do you have open communication and a healthy partnership with your physician? How will improved technology, including more predictive mammograms, affect the doctor-patient dialogue in the future?

12. What aspects of caregiving are presented in Promise Me? What lessons about being a caregiver and being a patient did Nancy learn from her sister’s illness and her own? How did the experience compare to Norman’s long road to recovery after his accident?

13. Which conversations with your physician make you the most uncomfortable? Did the book change the way you will discuss health-care topics? Why did American society previously keep explicit cancer information out of the media, and sometimes even out of the doctor’s examining room?

14. What aspects of motherhood are presented in Promise Me? Is there a difference between the healing provided by mothers and fathers?

15. Promise Me brims with history. How were the Goodman sisters influenced by the headlines of their youth? What did their identity as Jewish women in postwar America mean to them?

16. Discuss the concept of physical beauty as it plays out in Nancy’s memoir. She describes feeling awkward about her appearance as a child, though she and her sister were both beautiful women. Does a woman derive power or lose power when she invests in her physical appearance? When a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, what questions of conventional beauty does she have to face?

17. Which of the resources included at the back of the book are you most interested in exploring? Which Susan G. Komen for the Cure events and programs have you supported, or considered supporting, in the past? What successes do you predict in breast-cancer research for the next generation of women worldwide?

Customer Reviews

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Promise Me 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 77 reviews.
tawanda62 More than 1 year ago
The deeply personal, emotionally powerful story of two sisters: Suzy lost her life to breast cancer, Nancy dedicated her life to fighting it. Woven through their amazing journey are stories of survivors, activists, and researchers who helped shape a scientific and cultural revolution. This is THE book for book clubs this year.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Moving and deeply inspirational. Nancy Brinker's tale is a little-engine-that-could story that will rev you up like no other. Must read!
KrittersRamblings More than 1 year ago
Wow, what a great book, by great I mean - I couldn't put it down, I laughed and cried, and I had to email my closet family and friends to share it immediately. A fresh story on the makings of a huge organization that has changed the landscape of breast cancer and influenced decisions makers from citizens in their home to lawmakers in Washington, D.C. I have participated in SGK events, but I had no idea the trials that Brinker endured while starting this non-profit. She has fought breast cancer herself - who would have been able to do that while encouraging women to be aware of this devastating disease. As to whom I would recommend - absolutely anyone. This was a great read that made me want to support this organization even more. I loved hearing this story and finishing it on the second day of 2011 made me motivated to make a resolution to be more involved in charity with this new year.
DSF55 More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book alot. It was very moving for me to read the story of a sister keeping her promise to her dying sister. It was great to get to know Susan and Nancy and how their life was before Susan got sick. Nancy is an amazing woman, too, for being able to keep her promise to Susan and to run with it! The Susan G. Komen Foundation is a remarkable foundation and provides a great wealth of information to the women of the world. Being a breast cancer survivor (12 Yrs), it was a very inspiring story for me. I have been interested in this foundation since it started and especially once I was diagnosed. I am now a volunteer for my local affiliate and hope to continue the great work that Nancy started on behalf of her sister, Susan.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I dare you not to be moved by the story of two sisters, Nancy and Susan and how their love changed how we battle breast cancer. This is a remarkable story of a promised kept. I'd also recommend that you buy "When God Stopped Keeping Score," an intimate look at the power of God and forgiveness. It is a must read for every woman and it is on sale now here on BN. Proceeds from the sale of each copy will go to support various women and children charities.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
When adversity strikes, how will you respond? Suzy Goodman wanted to open doors for others, and her sister, Nancy, made that wish a living legacy. This is an inspiring account of choice, self-empowerment and one's ability to make a difference. In many ways the book parallels insights found in the book "When One Door Closes" by Graham and Saylor. Both are interesting and thought provoking works that will challenge you to make positive choices and help you find the strength and determination to initiate meaningful change in your life. All of us face adversity along the way and have the opportunity to shape our legacy. That makes this book an excellent and worthwhile read.
MissaBean More than 1 year ago
I have read many memoirs. This one doesn't flow as well as most. The subject matter itself is what kept me interested. Every couple chapters is a chapter about the history of breast cancer. I found that a little odd but I did learn more about the disease with that format. I enjoyed the book and found it to be a quick read.
marilynne warden More than 1 year ago
Author repeats herself too many times throughout the book.very disappointed
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was an awesome book, I'd love to meet Nancy Brinker. Her life has had such purpose and the promise she made to her sister set the course for her life. I am currently going through the same thing with my sister so alot of the book hit very close to home. It is a very emotional book and you'd better have the tissues handy but I loved it because it made me feel like there is hope.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What an amazing piece of work! Nancy Brinker did a wonderful job putting this together. From the historical views to the actual events of her and her sister Susan's life. This book is not only envoking, it's riveting! A MUST read!
ANNEELISE on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Race for the Cure, pink ribbons in October and breast cancer awareness means so much more after reading this heart-wrenching, and informative book by Nancy G. Brinker. In the book, Brinker chronicles family stories, the infamous promise that she made to her dying sister, Susan G. Komen: to bring an end to breast cancer and the subsequent creation of Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Scattered between chapters about the life of Brinker and her organization, are stories of other women and their cases of breast cancer, along with information on treatment and research. "Promise" is a book that all women can relate to and a must read for survivors and their family members.
LivelyLady on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I would not have chosen this had it not been a bookgroup choice. I loved the book. Nancy Brinker relates the growing up years of she and her sister, Suzy. Their life story, Suzy's subsequent losing battle with breast cancer, and then Nancy's life living up to her promise to do something to help cure breast cancer, are interspersed with the history of breast cancer. Those chapters go on to follow the creation, growth and success of breast cancer awareness and of the SUSAN B. KOMEN foundation. This was very informative and well written. I would recommend it to anyone.
akreese on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Promise Me is a touching story of love and friendship between sisters and how that love spurred Nancy on to do more to fight breast cancer. As I read about Nancy¿s upbringing I realized that her whole family was amazing, and loved how her mom encouraged service and volunteerism from a very young age. That upbringing sets the stage for her adult years as she raised money for research and formed the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.One of my favorite quotes from the book deals with that positive influence her mother had when it came to helping others. She said, ¿Instead of dwelling on all the things that you can¿t do. . . figure out what you can do. What you will do.¿ (Page 7) And when her children decided to do something to raise money she backed them up all the way.Much of the first half of the book is about Nancy¿s close friendship with her sister Susan. This includes an entertaining account of a trip they took together through Europe. Their escapades were silly and fun, and they both seemed like girls with whom you would want to be friends.The second half of the book is about Nancy¿s life after her sister dies: how she copes with that loss, her personal life (marriages and son), and the development of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. I especially enjoyed the stories of the early fundraisers and how successful they were despite the trials encountered.Interspersed between the chapters about Nancy¿s story are sections including facts about breast cancer: the history of diagnoses and treatments, personal stories from survivors, current developments in the field of breast cancer research, and stories about the work and events that the foundation has done. These sections are filled with stories that are inspirational, moving and fascinating. I was stunned to read about some of the early treatments for breast cancer, and touched by the many personal stories.Promise Me was a quick and compelling read. I was surprised that, regardless of the seriousness of the subject matter, I didn¿t want to stop reading her story. If you are looking for a good inspirational book then you can¿t go wrong with Promise Me. Even though the core of the story (the loss of her sister) is very sad, it does not leave you without hope for the future.
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