Thursday, November 4, 2010

Review: Promise Me

Summary: 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? -- Crown

I really wanted to get this review up during October since it is Breast Cancer Awareness month, but sadly, I'm a few days late. I did, however, manage to read PROMISE ME: HOW A SISTER'S LOVE LAUNCHED THE GLOBAL MOVEMENT TO END BREAST CANCER by Nancy G. Brinker (with Joni Rodgers) during the last few days of the month -- so that counts for something, right? Either way, PROMISE ME is an amazing story that is guaranteed to change the way you think about love and commitment.

PROMISE ME is the story of Nancy Brinker, the founder of  Susan G. Komen for the Cure; and it's an extremely interesting one. The book begins with the story of sisters, Nancy and Susan Goodman. It becomes  apparent to the reader that the girls have a very fortunate childhood and have an almost ideal sisterly relationship. When Suzy discovers that she has breast cancer, Nancy is there for her sister through the ups and downs of Suzy's treatment. Right before Suzy dies, she asks Nancy to promise to raise money for breast cancer in hopes that one day there would be a cure. Of course, Nancy agrees to do everything within her power; however, I doubt that either sister realized just how seriously Nancy would take her commitment.

Within months of Suzy's death, Nancy starts with a list of potential donors and $200. From there, she created the Susan G. Komen for the Cure which has invested over $1.5 billion in research, services, and advocacy of breast cancer. The numbers and just staggering and I was blown away by Nancy's devotion to the cause. But what really amazed me about this book is just how much difference one person can make. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised by how motivational this book ended up being for me.

In addition to Suzy's story and the history of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, this book was also Nancy's story. Of course, Nancy was devastated when her sister died, but she also experienced some major life-changing events like divorce, single parenting, and even a breast cancer scare. Despite these setbacks (or maybe because of them), Nancy persevered and threw herself into raising money and finding a cure for breast cancer. I was amazed by how much Nancy was able to accomplish in the past 30+ years, both professionally and personally; and I realized how little I am doing to make a difference in this world. Her passion and intensity are incredibly admirable!

I'm not going to lie -- this book wasn't always easy for me to read. My heart just broke for Suzy and her young family, and I found it difficult to read about Suzy's final months. And, then I started thinking of just how many women have been diagnosed with breast cancer and how many families have been affected. And, then I reminded myself that I need to schedule my mammogram. I could go on and on.... But what this book did for me was make me realize how fragile life is and how we all just need to live each day as if it could be one of our last. I am definitely glad that I read PROMISE ME. I was expecting to learn the history behind the hugely successful Susan G. Komen for the Cure, and I ended up getting so much more.

PROMISE ME is being marketed as a book club/discussion book, and at first, I wasn't so sure that I agreed. However, after finishing this book, I can easily see why it should be one. First of all, breast cancer needs to be discussed. We are so darn lucky that people like Nancy Brinker have paved the way so that breast cancer isn't a taboo subject like it was less than 30 years ago. In addition, PROMISE ME is a beautiful story about two sisters and the love they shared. And finally, there are so many important messages in PROMISE ME -- from the need for monthly self exams and routine mammograms, to the importance of promises, to the difference that one person can make when they set their mind to something, etc. There is a reading guide available with seventeen discussion questions, and it covers so many different topics.

I hope that all of you consider reading PROMISE ME and perhaps even discussing it with your friends. It's an important book and one that is guaranteed to teach you something -- whether that be about breast cancer, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, or even about love, life, and promises!

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a review copy of this book.


bermudaonion said...

Just your review brought tears to my eyes, so I'm not sure I could handle reading the book. I am in awe of Nancy Brinker, though - what a labor of love.

Anonymous said...

I want to read this but I know how hard it will be for me. I just read Why I Wore Lipstick to My Mastectomy which was very good and had me in tears several times. I'm sure I will read this but I think I'll wait until after the holidays.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I know this is important but I think I go with Kathy on this one.

Meg @ write meg! said...

Out at a bookstore with my younger sister recently, she spotted a copy of this one on a shelf and held it out to me. "Look," she said, immediately explaining the history behind the book and who the author was, etc. She'd read about it in People magazine.

I'm intrigued by the story but, as other commenters have said, I'm not sure I could get through it -- and just having my own sister show it to me was enough to make my heart twist.

Thanks for the wonderful review, though -- I feel inspired just having read it! Nancy is an amazing woman... and what a beautiful legacy for her beloved sister.

Alyce said...

I won this book recently and am looking forward to setting some time aside to read it even though I know it's going to be a hard read in some ways. I was actually trying to think of books to suggest to my book club for next month and hadn't even considered this one. I'll have to bring it up at our meeting.

Mrs. Melissa said...

My mom died of stage 4 breast cancer July 4, 2001 at 47 years old. Wrong on so many levels. This book is definitely on my TBR list. It'll probably be hard and hit home but Suzy's story is beyond important, just like every woman who's ever won or lost the fight against breast cancer.