Growing up with my sister Suzy, one of the things our parents always stressed was that "with perseverance and courage, you can succeed at anything."
When Suzy was losing her battle against breast cancer, I promised her that yes, I would do everything within my power to end the kind of suffering she and so many other women were experiencing because of breast cancer. At that time, so little was known about the disease, and people didn't even want to talk about it in public. Treatment options were limited and so, unfortunately, was the life expectancy of most breast cancer patients.
You can believe I kept my promise to my big sister. It's the promise I continue to keep in her honor, in her memory, and on behalf of so many other people around the world whose lives are touched by breast cancer. It's the promise that everyone involved with the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation keeps, as well.
The Komen Foundation was born out of a terrific strength of spirit and that's why it continues to thrive today. Anyone involved in the war on cancer must bring drive, courage, optimism, and perseverance to their work. That's a given. But what is it about the Komen Foundation that makes us different?
Our mission makes us different. When we began almost twenty-five years ago, breast cancer killed more Americans every year than during the entire Vietnam War. Since then, we've dedicated ourselves to a single mission eradicating breast cancer as a life-threatening disease, once and for all. This has become our mantra, our battle cry, and the defining mission of the Komen Foundation.
Our reach also makes us different. From 57 chapters and 52 Races for the Cure just a decade ago to 116 affiliates and 114 races today, we now reach more than 15,000 communities across the United States. With that incredible reach, we've recruited and mobilized America, including the federal government, which thanks to our volunteer advocates now devotes nearly $900 million to breast cancer research and treatment every year.
We've mobilized at a grassroots level as well. From fewer than 18,000 donors a decade ago, we've gained the support of more than 1.7 million people.
The Komen Foundation is different because we do what no other breast cancer organization has ever done we're surrounding this disease and attacking it from every direction through research and education and screening and treatment.
There's hardly a research advance that's been made that has not been touched by a Komen Foundation grant. We have funded new ideas and we've helped foster whole new era of research.
We have also funded nearly $290 million in community-based grants over the years through the dedicated work of our Affiliate volunteers, bringing innovative education, screening, and treatment programs to locales throughout the U.S. and saving untold numbers of lives.
Over the years, we have invested more than half a billion dollars in the breast cancer cause. We are the largest private funder of breast cancer research and community outreach programs in the world. We offer help for today and hope for tomorrow.
Our crusade for the cure hasn't always been easy. We've had our setbacks. Progress hasn't always been as fast as we wanted. But make no mistake, we are winning this war. We're winning on the streets, where patients, survivors, and their families now wear pink ribbons as a badge of honor, hope, courage, and determination to win this war.
We're winning in the research labs, where dozens of new medicines are being developed to fight breast cancer. We're winning in the clinics, where nearly 75 percent of women over the age of 40 have had a mammogram within the past two years. And because we're winning, a breast cancer diagnosis is no longer a death sentence. The five-year survival rate for women with localized breast cancer is now more than 95 percent. More breast cancer patients are living longer and living better.
Every day, we're closing in on the cure or cures. And that gives women with breast cancer the most powerful weapon of all, hope.
And so, here is our challenge. Thirty years into America's war on cancer, we face a new danger the danger of complacency. Breast cancer remains an elusive enemy. It is difficult to understand. It defies researchers who seek its causes and its cures. And if caught too late, it remains a formidable and deadly foe.
Perhaps no one personifies our need to press forward in this fight more than a remarkable woman I met at the Komen Race for the Cure in West Palm Beach, Florida, earlier this year. The honorary grand marshal that day was a beautiful woman named Rebecca Sterenfeld. Rebecca is 100 years old and she is a 48-year breast cancer survivor. Like so many women of her generation, when she was diagnosed in the early 1950s Rebecca endured a Halsted radical mastectomy in which they simply removed everything breast, chest muscles, tissue everything.
Rebecca never gave up hope. Looking back, she says: "Life can be a battle sometimes. But you don't quit! You never give up! And I just made up my mind to be strong. I wanted to see what life had in store for me."
The day I met Rebecca, she grabbed my hand, stared me right in the eyes, and said: "You need to get this done! You need to wipe out this disease." It was a spiritual moment as if my sister Suzy was right there, looking at me, reaching out and telling me: "Finish the job! Finish the job you started!"
For all women and men who have battled, are currently battling, or will battle this disease, it is with a renewed sense of commitment that I challenge you to join us as we finish the job we started.
The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation was established in 1982 by Nancy Brinker to honor the memory of her sister, Susan G. Komen, who died from breast cancer at the age of 36. Today, the foundation is an international organization with a network of more than 75,000 volunteers working through local affiliates and events like the Komen Race for the Cure to eradicate breast cancer as a life-threatening disease.