Nancy G. Brinker


Co-survivor: Her son, Eric

Every day I am reminded that every breast cancer survivor is living proof of the unbelievable strength and courage each of us possesses. Every breast cancer survivor is a reminder that the only limits in life are the ones we place on ourselves.

As a breast cancer survivor, I am thankful I did not face breast cancer alone. I was lucky to be surrounded by friends and family, dedicated health care professionals, and my family at the Komen Foundation who helped carry my burden. As any breast cancer survivor will tell you, these people are much more than family and friends – these people are co-survivors. They are true pillars of strength that live the experience with us.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1984. It certainly was not a convenient time. Breast cancer is like that; it strikes when you least expect it. I was raising a son and beginning my second year building Susan G. Komen for the Cure in honor of my sister, Suzy, who lost her own battle to breast cancer at age 36. As I faced a disease I already knew all too well, I saw my breast cancer diagnosis deeply affect those who were close to me. At that time, one of my dearest co-survivors was only eight years old. He lived through my battle against breast cancer as a young boy. Yet, his strength, support and unconditional love were instrumental in my recovery and survival.

My co-survivor is my son, Eric Brinker.

When you think of a support network, your mind tends to think of those who brought food or drove you to oncology appointments. Eric was only eight. He couldn’t cook, he couldn’t drive. What Eric brought to my recovery was not tangible, but I couldn’t have made it without him.

Eric saw first-hand the impact breast cancer had on our whole family. He knew the legacy of his aunt, Suzy Komen, and must have been terrified at the thought that his own mother also might be ripped from his world. But even at the tender age of eight, he understood. He shared my fear. He shared my fight. And in the darkest of moments of my diagnosis it was his smile, his hug or his kiss that gave me the strength to pull through.

As a mother, it was supposed to be my role to help my son. It was my responsibility to see that he was strong and healthy. At eight, my son and I suddenly reversed roles. He was my guardian, my protector, my angel. The stress I felt from putting him in that backward role was always subsided by his presence. Eric always reassured me everything would be alright. And I believed him.

Today, Eric is older and more knowledgeable about breast cancer. (In my unbiased opinion, he is also quite handsome. I’ll have to show you a picture.) Because of his personal experiences with breast cancer, he is more aware and educated than many men his age. As such, he is still my constant source of strength. The mother-son bond is powerful. The power of our relationship, I believe, is even deeper because of this shared experience.