THERE STILL ARE PLACES in the world where breast cancer and other life-threatening diseases are talked about in whispers--if they even are talked about at all. During my two-year term of service as U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Hungary, I had the opportunity to play a role in opening up public dialogue about breast cancer, a disease that claims the lives of 40 people every hour around the globe. Even though Hungary is located near some of the world's most renowned centers of medical excellence, a startling number of its people lack access to adequate health care. Still more do not have the resources necessary to make informed lifestyle choices or take charge of their own well being.
As I assessed the general health situation in Hungary and studied the nation's breast cancer statistics, I was reminded of the reason I set out, more than 20 years ago, to establish the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation: There virtually was no information about breast cancer at the time because people were ashamed to talk about the disease. In 1982, when I established the Foundation, it was the result of a promise I made to my beloved sister, Susan, who died of breast cancer at age 36. She asked me to do everything in my power to eradicate the disease and to ensure that patients had access to information, effective treatment options, and emotional support. Too many women had suffered and died in silence. My mission was to get people working together to find a cure.
I was reminded of that mission as I undertook my term of ambassadorial service in Hungary in 2001. Medical advancements had improved the survival odds for many women. New surgical and therapeutic options lessened the trauma of treatment. Women could access vital information about breast cancer from many different sources.
The following quote from a West Point graduate has stuck with--and sustained--me when the challenges seemed too big and the odds too long: "Risk more than others think is safe. Care more than others think is wise. Dream more than others think is practical. And expect more than others think is possible."
In Hungary, I learned a great deal about the human spirit and what is involved in empowering individuals to take control of their health--a fundamental step in improving the overall quality of human lives. Hungary is not alone in facing one of the main issues that continues to challenge a number of nations, including the U.S. That is, the struggle to provide adequate health...