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. Then Suzy got sick. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1977; three agonizing years later, at 36, 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 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. 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 end the silence, to raise money for scientific research, 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."
Nancy 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.
Promise Me is a deeply moving story of family and sisterhood, and a soaring affirmative to the question: Can one person truly make a difference?
More than a memoir of one woman or two sisters’ relationship, this moving book covers the birth of a grassroots movement, as well as the history of a terrible disease. Nancy G. Brinker founded the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation (now called Komen for the Cure) after her sister made her promise to remove the stigma of breast cancer, improve the lives of women affected, and find a cure. Susan’s death began Nancy’s life work.
Veteran narrator Coleen Marlo brings an immediacy to the work, particularly with the stories of women affected by breast cancer that are interspersed throughout. Her one misstep is her representation of young Susan Komen that borders on cloying. However, her pleasant voice makes the rest of the book unfold like a conversation.
Promise Me inspires early on as Nancy recalls her childhood. Her parents instilled in their girls the power of grassroots philanthropy and doing the right thing. The narrative stalls briefly during the Komen sisters’ trip to Europe, but regains momentum in the early years of the organization. Starting with just $200 and a shoebox of potential donor names, Nancy sets out on an incredible journey to keep her promise to her sister.
She receives help along the way, but is always at the center of the story. Nancy is a force. Her amazing work ethic, conviction, and marketing sense not only helps build the foundation, but also takes her in unexpected directions, such as the Ambassadorship to Hungary. She gets on her soapbox on certain issues, but perhaps deservedly. A breast cancer survivor herself, Nancy has a wealth of information about the disease and makes the science behind the treatments understandable. The inner workings of the foundation and the decision process are fascinating.
Nancy G. Brinker and Coleen Marlo bring the Komen sisters’ incredible quest to life. The result is an emotional, compelling listen. Julie MacDonald
"[A] deeply thoughtful, assertive, sensitive memoir of the sisters' growing up and devotion to each other in life and death." (Publishers Weekly)
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