Kathy Giusti The Hill

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the National Cancer Act. President Nixon signed this landmark legislation, but its real champion was a woman named Mary Lasker, whose innovative, action-oriented approach to advocacy transformed support for medical research.  

Lasker, who lost her husband to cancer, was passionate about fighting disease. Appalled by scant funding for cancer research, she took matters into her own hands. An advertising executive, she understood the power of bold storytelling. She mobilized scientists, lobbied Congress, and launched daring PR campaigns that reshaped the way Americans thought about cancer and ultimately turbocharged investment toward its cure. 

In the decades since, other women, including myself, have taken up Lasker’s baton to find cures. It’s a sisterhood none of us sought to join, but to which we’ve devoted our lives — literally. Like Lasker, we’ve been personally touched by cancer, and our urgency fuels our drive. And, like Lasker, we understand the value of applying both hard and soft skills.   

When I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 1996, my doctor gave me three years to live. I was 37, the mother of a baby, and my disease had no cure.  

So I got to work.  

At the time, most medical nonprofits were functioning as support groups, or trying to influence policy. I envisioned something different: An organization devoted to accelerating new drug development. With an MBA and years of experience in pharmaceuticals, I knew what it would take to get new, better treatments into the pipeline. In 1998, my sister and I launched the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF) to do just that.  

We weren’t doctors or politicians, but we brought a “we-do-it-ourselves-or-it-won’t-get-done” mindset to our work. As women, we knew we couldn’t wait for others: We had to lead. Like Lasker, we drew on our business backgrounds — mine in pharma, my sister’s in media — to mobilize resources, spur efficiencies and make progress for all patients. The results speak for themselves. In the quarter-century since my diagnosis, MMRF has helped spearhead over 80 clinical trials, brought 15 new drugs to market, and tripled survival rates. 

MMRF’s laser-focus on accelerating cures helped launch a new generation of nonprofits, many of them women-led, that, together, shifted the entire advocacy landscape toward medical research. And if our approach as women leaders has been characterized by our “can-do” and “must-do” spirit, a corollary has been our bias toward sharing and mutual support. Especially now, in an age when science and technology are moving faster than ever, the more we can help one another succeed, the better we can make things for everyone. 

Read More