Portraits of Breast Cancer
Evelyn LauderFounder of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and senior corporate vice president of the Estée Lauder Companies, in New York City
Over the past 20 years, Lauder has helped raise more than $250 million for breast cancer research and treatment through the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. In 1992 she cocreated the pink ribbon for breast cancer awareness and opened the Evelyn H. Lauder Breast Center, a one-stop shop for breast cancer patients, which is part of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, in New York City. In September the center moved to a new building that will allow it to treat even more patients.
Q. How do you motivate women to help raise awareness and funds?
A. I just have to cite statistics. There isn’t one healthy woman I know who doesn’t have a sister, a cousin, or a friend who has had breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, one in eight women are susceptible during their lifetime; and as we get older, our chances of getting it increase. And there will be almost 200,000 cases of invasive breast cancer diagnosed this year, with a death rate that is expected to be about 40,000. What inspires me most are some of my friends who are no longer with us. I got a call from my nephew, whose friend is 44 years old and was just diagnosed. She is the same age as my children, and I am fueled by the hope that I can help.
Q. What’s your biggest challenge?
A. People saying no when I’m fund-raising. But that’s never for very long. Another hurdle is passing on information about developments in research in a way that people can understand. In the past 15 years, advances have come at a much faster rate than in the previous 50. We’ve seen a tremendous number of accomplishments in clinical trials, and we now know that multiple genes are linked to breast cancer. This is real progress.
Q. Is it maddening to read studies that say self-exams don’t help?
A. Self-exams might lead to more unnecessary mammograms, but you don’t know that until after the test comes back clear. If a woman finds something early, that can save her life. And it’s cheaper in the long run to prevent or detect the disease early, as opposed to treating it at an advanced stage.
Q. Do you have a favorite use of the pink ribbon?
A. Delta has a pink plane with ribbons on it, and I like that. Ironically, I remember a flight attendant being the first person to recognize the pink ribbon on my lapel. I was boarding a plane, and she saw it and said, “Pink ribbon for breast cancer.” I think I kissed her―I was so happy.
Q. How does it strike you that people might now link your name more readily to the fight against breast cancer than to cosmetics?
A. It’s gratifying―I love doing this. I get to help people in both worlds: to look beautiful and to stay healthy. How can I mind it when people call me and say, “I have this disease and it’s killing me―what should I do?” It’s one thing to sell lipstick. It’s another thing to help save lives.