Alum Dedicates Her Career to Finding a Cure for Cancer

Posted: May 2, 2007 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Devon Madison

Susan Braun
Susan Braun

It all started with a letter. Susan G. Braun, BA ’77, had just gotten one in the mail from a close college friend. Upon reading it, Braun learned that her friend had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. Braun called her immediately, and during their conversation, her friend said she would triumph over the illness.

Now, as the new executive director of the ASCO Foundation, the organization that works with the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) to fund cancer research, patient care, and education programs, Braun looks back and realizes how little she knew about breast cancer.

“I really believed that she was going to beat it,” says Braun, “because as well educated as I was, I truly did not believe that young women died of breast cancer.”

Tragically, Braun’s friend succumbed to the illness not long after, at age 36. “At her funeral, I said to myself, ‘This is wrong. This is just wrong. What can I do?’ So I set out to do something.”

Braun, who was working in the oncology and immunology division at Bristol-Myers Squibb at the time of her friend’s death, began talking to her colleagues at work about the issue. Two of them had lost their mothers to breast cancer.

“I asked them, ‘We know a lot about therapies, we know a lot about physicians, but what do we know about patients?’” says Braun.

She and her colleagues began to explore how their company could help patient advocacy groups do their important work — something that no pharmaceutical companies were doing at the time. By reaching out to advocacy groups, Braun came to know people at the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.

“I found out that I loved working in the world of patient advocacy and felt that I could make a difference,” she says.

Braun began working at the Komen Foundation as its president and chief executive in 1996. During her nine-year stay, the staff grew from 20 to 200, and the foundation’s gross revenue grew from $21 million to more than $200 million.

Braun describes her experience at Komen as inspirational, but she got to a point when she felt it was time for a change.

“I knew that Komen would continue to grow and flourish without me. I was hoping to find a place where I could work in yet other ways to help with research and education, and basically put an end to cancer.”

At the ASCO Foundation, Braun and her colleagues are funding young medical investigators who are beginning their careers. These grants also encourage them to stay committed to the field of oncology.

ASCO is also dedicated to educating people with all forms of the disease, and the foundation produces a web site for people with questions about cancer.

“There is such hope on the scientific horizon, and what motivates me every day is that we can bring that hope to people,” Braun says. “We can make a real difference in the lives and well-being of people with cancer and their families and truly change the course of this complex array of diseases.”

This article appeared in a slightly different form in the spring 2007 Mason Spirit.

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