Susan G. Komen Founder Paints PDC Pink

"Your success relies on your ability to stay focused," said keynote speaker Nancy G. Brinker. "In your own work, your own lives, never doubt the power you have to set and achieve goals. One person can change the world."

CHICAGO--Safety professionals have a lot in common with those on the frontlines to eradicate breast cancer. That was one of the takeaways from the June 14 keynote presentation at ASSE's Safety 2011 by Ambassador Nancy Goodman Brinker, founder and CEO of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the largest and best-funded breast cancer organization in the United States, and one of the best-known nonprofits in the world.

"I know this is a momentous time for this society as you celebrate your first 100 years," Brinker said, addressing a crowd of some 2,000-plus ASSE members in the Skyline Ballroom of Chicago's McCormick Place Convention Center. "I have great admiration for what you do. . . . You've chosen an important but largely unnoticed profession--one in which on a good day nothing happens, not if you've done your job right and all goes well."

Brinker added that safety professionals are uniquely situated to daily realize the "Power of One," which was not only the title of her presentation but her own life philosophy. "It's the power of one person and the power of one idea and the knowledge that it can make an impact; it's the belief in the ability of every individual to make a difference in their communities, companies, countries, and the world," she said.

In a presentation that included a brief but very pink slideshow of her world travels while heading up recent Race for the Cure events in Washington, D.C., Israel, and Egypt (and, yes, the Old City walls of Jersusalem were illuminated pink for the occasion--as was, strikingly, an Egyptian pyramid), Brinker recounted the origins of the Komen foundation and lessons she learned by age 5 from her own mother about the importance of being a good steward in her community.

To raise money and awareness for friends who had polio, Brinker and her elder sister, Susan Goodman, held a benefit in the backyard of their house in Peoria. Brinker was the show's singing and dancing entertainment while her sister was in charge of selling tickets to the event. "Afterward, Suzy said, 'Next time, I'm going to sing and dance, and you're going to sell the tickets,'" Brinker recalled. "So, that's how I became a fundraiser; I learned how to sell tickets."

Twenty-five years later, Brinker's sister was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 33. She died three years later, in 1980. Brinker said she made a promise to her sister that she would do everything she could to end breast cancer, the result of which led to her founding the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation in her sister's memory in 1982--a time when the word "breast" was not even uttered on the Senate floor and social stigma surrounded the disease, which many people thought was contagious.

Since then, the foundation has raised and spent more than $2 billion for breast cancer research, education, advocacy, health services, and social support programs in the United States and through partnerships in more than 50 countries. Today, Komen has more than 100,000 volunteers working in a network of 124 affiliates worldwide.

"I promised my sister that if it takes me the rest of my life, I will do this," said Brinker, a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama. "I just didn't think it would really take me the rest of my life. I thought it would take 10 years. I had no idea what it would take. . . . But it dawned on me that this is a race. We now have over 2.5 million breast cancer survivors living in the United States, which is the largest community of survivors in the world."

She added that, most importantly, the five-year survival rate for breast cancer when detected early is now 98 percent, which is a drastic increase from the prevailing 74 percent rate that existed when the foundation started. "We have made so much progress, yet we still have so far to go," Brinker said. "We will work until we get to the end of this race. . . . Success doesn't come easy; you know that. It's about a marathon; it's not a sprint.

"When we started this those years ago, some in society were against us; they didn't want to hear the word 'breast'. . . . Safety professionals face some of the same challenges. You need your companies and colleagues to adopt a mind set, and you often must stand firm in the face of adversity. . . .Your success relies on your ability to stay focused. . . . In your own work, your own lives, never doubt the power you have to set and achieve goals. One person can change the world."

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