Looking into Susan G. Komen Foundation's past to better understand its future

Foundation started with promise to sick sister

INDIANAPOLIS - Every two minutes, someone new is diagnosed with breast cancer. Every 13 minutes, an American woman will die from the disease. Those statistics are what drive the Susan G. Komen Foundation to keep raising vital life-saving dollars.

Executive Director Natalie Sutton shines when she talks about how Komen got its start.

"Our founder, Nancy Brinker, made a promise to her sister who was dying of breast cancer and unfortunately lost her life to breast cancer... that she would do everything she could to make sure other women's lives are saved," Sutton said.

So with $200 and a shoebox of names, Brinker launched the first-ever Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure.

Next month, the race in Indianapolis will welcome 20,000 people and will hopefully raise $1.5 million which is all part of a targeted goal for women’s health.

"This support directly impacts what we're able to fund in terms of community grants and research," Sutton said.

Three quarters of all the money the affiliate raises is poured into the community.

"We fund screening and diagnostic services for low-income and under-insured women right here in central Indiana," Sutton said.

There are 14 grantees in central Indiana. Little Red Door Cancer Agency is one of them.

"The women we are serving have a lot of barriers that they face. Financial barriers but time, they want to do for their families, but sometimes they leave themselves last," Komen volunteer Jane Ambro said.

Ambro launched a local Mammography Assistance Program. She said she knows the gaps in health services are broad.

"They're trying to make that decision as to whether or not they should have food on their plates or have a mammogram -- specially if they're not experiencing problems," Ambro said.

The other quarter of the money raised at the race funds research around the globe, including Hoosier research institutes.

In the labs at the Indiana University School of Medicine, researchers are looking for better ways to treat specific types of breast cancer -- with the idea of personalized medicine in mind.

"Our goal with genomics is really find for each of these tumors, the gas pedal, if you will, that drives the tumor, and the Achilles heel of that tumor and then find a drug that's most efficient in destroying that tumor," Dr. Bryan Schneider, cancer researcher at IU Simon Cancer Center, said.

Next month, Schneider will launch a clinical trial that he hopes will open eyes to new drug combinations to treat cancer.

None of it would be possible without the thousands of woman who wear pink and keeps women’s health close to their hearts.

Follow Beth Vaughn on Twitter: @bethvaughnrtv6 | Facebook: BethVaughnNews

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