Synopses & Reviews
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. Not college, not marriage, not miles. Then Suzy got sick. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1977; three agonizing years later, at thirty-six, 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 spent one memorable summer in Europe discovering a big world far from Peoria. 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. Nobody could even say the words “breast” and “cancer” together in polite company, let alone on television news broadcasts. 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 promise to end the silence. To promise to raise money for scientific research. To promise 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.
Suzy’s death — both shocking and senseless — created a deep pain in Nancy that never fully went away. But she 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. She was aided in her mission by the loving tutelage of her husband, restaurant magnate Norman Brinker, whose dynamic approach to entrepreneurship became Nancy’s model for running her foundation. Her account of how she and Norman met, fell in love, and managed to achieve the elusive “true marriage of equals” is one of the great grown-up love stories among recent memoirs.
Nancy’s mission to change the way the world talked about and treated breast cancer took on added urgency when she was herself diagnosed with the disease in 1984, a terrifying chapter in her life that she had long feared. Unlike her sister, Nancy survived and went on to make Susan G. Komen for the Cure into the most influential health charity in the country and arguably the world. A pioneering force in cause-related marketing, SGK turned the pink ribbon into a symbol of hope everywhere. Each year, millions of people worldwide take part in SGK Race for the Cure events. And thanks to the more than $1.5 billion spent by SGK for cutting-edge research and community programs, a breast cancer diagnosis today is no longer a death sentence. In fact, in the time since Suzy’s death, the five-year survival rate for breast cancer has risen from 74 percent to 98 percent.
Promise Me is a deeply moving story of family and sisterhood, the dramatic “30,000-foot view” of the democratization of a disease, and a soaring affirmative to the question: Can one person truly make a difference?
"Both Nancy and Susan Goodman, born in the mid-1940s to a businessman and his community-active wife in Peoria, Ill., developed breast cancer, and Suzy died from it at age 36 in 1980. Although she'd had a subcutaneous mastectomy two years before, her doctor did not follow through with chemotherapy or radiation. On a deathbed promise to her sister, Nancy (now Brinker) vowed to bring breast cancer out in the open, force people to 'talk about it,' and find funding for a cure. In this deeply thoughtful, assertive, sensitive memoir of the sisters' growing up and devotion to each other in life and death, Brinker chronicles the long path she trod to create Susan G. Komen for the Cure. With her marriage in 1981 to conservative Texas millionaire Norman Brinker, Nancy recognized she had a 'platform' on which to build a foundation. High-profile breast-cancer cases such as Betty Ford's, Nancy Reagan's, and numerous others highlighted the cause, and in separate chapters Brinker delineates background and personal stories. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
"These stories of joy, fear, love and heartache are told in a captivating voice....A touching, inspiring look behind the scenes at the founding of one of the most famous nonprofit organizations in the world." Kirkus Reviews
"Brinker's candid memoir weaves in tales of a loving family with her triumphant push to deliver a deathbed vow made to her sister, Suzy Komen. It's quite a story, told by quite a character." LA Times
Nancy Brinker shares how her sister's struggle with — and death from — breast cancer led her to promise to raise money for scientific research in the hopes of one day curing the disease. Today, Brinker has made Susan G. Komen for the Cure the most influential health charity in the country and arguably the world.
About the Author
NANCY G. BRINKER is the founder and CEO of Susan G. Komen for the Cure. She has served as Ambassador to Hungary and United States Chief of Protocol and is currently the Goodwill Ambassador for Cancer Control for the United Nations World Health Organization. She has been the recipient of many prestigious awards, including the 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor. Visit Nancy at nancygbrinker.com.
JONI RODGERS is the New York Times bestselling author of Bald in the Land of Big Hair, a memoir of her cancer treatment and recovery.
Reading Group Guide
1. How would you describe the relationship between Nancy and Suzy? Did the relationship between the sisters resonate for you? Did it remind you of your own relationship with a sister or close friend? Why or why not?
2. How were Nancy and Suzy shaped by the legacies of cancer in their family? Which messages from their many role models—including their parents—proved to be the most lasting?
3. What explains the differences between Suzy’s and Nancy’s responses to their own cancer diagnoses? What can we learn from the knowledge that women respond to illness in many different ways? How would you describe your approach to doctors and caring for yourself?
4. What did Suzy and Nancy learn about themselves on their memorable tour of Europe? What enabled them to be so adventurous yet so mature?
5. A key component to Nancy’s work is public awareness and education. What surprising truths did you learn about breast cancer by reading this book? As Nancy shared inspiring stories of survivors from all walks of life, how did these experiences compare to those of women you have known who confronted a cancer diagnosis?
6. Discuss the medical history presented in Promise Me. What recurring themes did you notice in the interactions between male doctors and female patients? What does it take to become an empowered patient, whether you’re a man or a woman?
7. What was the effect of the time line Nancy used in recounting the chapters of her life? How does it mirror memory to weave the past and the present together? How did her newfound hometown—Dallas—compare to Illinois in reflecting her personality? What locale represents “home” to you?
8. From Stanley Marcus to Norman Brinker, Nancy learned marketing from some of the most successful American businessmen. Should the principles change when they’re applied to the nonprofit world? What unique traits did Nancy bring to the table, enabling her to surpass her mentors’ success in philanthropy?
9. Nancy and Suzy had different expectations of marriage, yet they both experienced first marriages that weren’t meant to be. As Nancy describes the men she has loved at various points in her life, how does she convey her own stages of personal growth? What relationships have defined you?
10. As a couple, Nancy and Norman Brinker seemed to have it all: Passion, companionship, shared interests and values, and a deep commitment to giving back. Yet eventually, their marriage ended. Did you find their love story believable? Inspiring? Why do you think they got divorced? Do you think the marriage could have been saved?
11. Suzy’s surgeon was confident that his approach would be sufficient in treating her cancer and never discussed any further treatment with her. In contrast, Nancy’s physicians urged caution, concerned that scar tissue from another biopsy would cloud results of future mammograms, but ultimately respected her decisions and formed a treatment plan in partnership with her. What did you discover about doctors’ perspectives by reading Promise Me? Do you have open communication and a healthy partnership with your physician? How will improved technology, including more predictive mammograms, affect the doctor-patient dialogue in the future?
12. What aspects of caregiving are presented in Promise Me? What lessons about being a caregiver and being a patient did Nancy learn from her sister’s illness and her own? How did the experience compare to Norman’s long road to recovery after his accident?
13. Which conversations with your physician make you the most uncomfortable? Did the book change the way you will discuss health-care topics? Why did American society previously keep explicit cancer information out of the media, and sometimes even out of the doctor’s examining room?
14. What aspects of motherhood are presented in Promise Me? Is there a difference between the healing provided by mothers and fathers?
15. Promise Me brims with history. How were the Goodman sisters influenced by the headlines of their youth? What did their identity as Jewish women in postwar America mean to them?
16. Discuss the concept of physical beauty as it plays out in Nancy’s memoir. She describes feeling awkward about her appearance as a child, though she and her sister were both beautiful women. Does a woman derive power or lose power when she invests in her physical appearance? When a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, what questions of conventional beauty does she have to face?
17. Which of the resources included at the back of the book are you most interested in exploring? Which Susan G. Komen for the Cure events and programs have you supported, or considered supporting, in the past? What successes do you predict in breast-cancer research for the next generation of women worldwide?
Susan G. Komen has become a household name. The foundation created in her memory has turned the pink ribbon into a symbol of hope everywhere. Each year, millions of people worldwide take part in SGK Race for the Cure events, and thanks to the more than $1.5 billion contributed by SGK for cutting-edge research and community programs, a breast cancer diagnosis today is no longer a death sentence.
But most Americans know very little about Suzy Goodman Komen’s life, or the remarkable promise that led her sister, Nancy, to transform the way ordinary people can make a difference in the world. Promise Me at last brings this story to light. From the Goodman girls’ childhood in postwar Peoria, Illinois, to the devastating diagnosis that took Suzy’s life at age thirty-six, the opening chapters deliver a portrait of a family that thrived on hope and generosity as the best antidotes to despair. Recounting the impact of losing her sister, Nancy Brinker captures the turning points that made her a pioneering force in cause-related marketing at a time when the media shied away from publishing the words “breast cancer.” She also describes a career that wove her personal and professional worlds together in powerful ways, culminating in her marriage to restaurant magnate Norman Brinker, whose dynamic approach to entrepreneurship became Nancy’s model for running her foundation.
Until fairly recently, breast cancer was shrouded in stigma. In that climate of shame, Suzy faced her grim prognosis by asking Nancy to promise many things: To end the silence; to raise money for scientific research; to one day cure breast cancer for good. Now at the helm of arguably the most highly regarded health-related charity in the world, Nancy invites us to journey with her in keeping that promise.
Whether you read Promise Me with your book club, with your best friend, or with your sister, this is a book that is sure to inspire compelling conversations. We hope that the following topics will enhance your experience of this moving memoir.