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

Nursing Book Club

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

The power of one person to change the world

By Nancy G. Brinker (Crown Publishing, 2010)
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Reviewed By Karen Buley, RN, BSN

Promise Me Book Pick“Breast cancer — we have to talk about it. It has to change… so women know… so they don’t die. Promise me, Nanny. Promise… you’ll make it better,” thirty-six-year-old Suzy Komen begged her younger sister Nancy, days before she died.

Co-authored by Nancy G. Brinker and New York Times best-selling author Joni Rodgers, Promise Me is more than a memoir about the creation of the most widely-recognized breast cancer foundation worldwide. It’s a story about two sisters — best friends. We read about the bonds Susan and Nancy formed growing up and their palpable love during Suzy’s final three years.

When Suzy was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1977, Nancy tried to convince her to get a second opinion, both before and after her subcutaneous mastectomy. Suzy, firm in her resolve to listen to her surgeon and family doctor whom she trusted, refused. And when the surgeon confidently announced to Suzy’s family, “I got it all. She’s cured,” he made it clear that questions were not welcome. He was there to inform, not discuss.

Six months after Suzy’s original diagnosis, the hard lump she discovered under her arm proved to be lymph node metastasis. In addition, scans showed a lung tumor and “suspicious shadows” elsewhere. Despite months of radiation, surgeries, chemotherapy, and an army of family and friends to support her, Suzy passed away on August 4, 1980.

Taking Action

Less than two years later, in 1982, Nancy G. Brinker, armed with $200 and a shoebox filled with names of potential donors, organized a meeting of what would become the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation and later, Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

Woven throughout Promise Me are chapters that offer poignant glimpses into the history of breast cancer, its treatment throughout the ages, and slice-of-life stories about those who have survived or succumbed to cancer.

The book concludes with a breast cancer timeline — from 1600 B.C.E. to 2010 — and 10 pages of resources for families dealing with breast cancer. Though many advances have been made, the journey toward finding a cure continues. Nancy G. Brinker is at the forefront, relentless in her quest to fulfill her pledge to her dying sister, “I promise, Suzy” she vowed, “even if it takes the rest of my life.”

Millions of Pink Ribbons

Symbolic pink ribbons are recognized worldwide, and in 2009, Nancy received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. During the awards ceremony, President Obama honored Nancy G. Brinker for “a campaign that has eased the pain and saved the lives of millions of people around the world… In the months after making that promise, Nancy lay awake at night wondering if one person can really make a difference. Nancy’s life is the answer.”


Karen Buley, RN, BSN is an obstetrics nurse who recently edited a collection of stories by nurses, Nurses on the Run: Why They Come, Why They Stay. 

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