On Saturday morning, June 15, Susie Knopf will join tens of thousands of friends, family, survivors and community members in downtown St. Louis for the 15th annual Susan G. Komen St. Louis Race for the Cure. A long-term breast cancer survivor, Knopf will be walking in a sea of pink to raise funds and bring attention to the quest to cure breast cancer, the No. 2 killer of women after heart disease. “We are all one for those few hours and each shares a passion to end this dreaded disease,” she says. “Although we have come a long way, breast cancer is still a killer and 40,000 people in the U.S. will die of the disease this year.”
The blonde, attractive and fit interior designer vividly remembers the frightening call she received from her physician 23 years ago informing her they “found a little something” on her mammogram. “I had further tests, a mastectomy, chemotherapy, became bald, wore a wig, had low self-esteem and felt sorry for myself because I was missing a breast,” Knopf recalls. “My world turned upside down and stayed that way until I decided to get on with my life, have breast reconstruction and do all I could to help others and find a cure for the disease.”
Knopf, 68, was named to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure national board of directors this spring, the first from the St. Louis area. She has been active in the breast cancer movement with the local affiliate for many years and helped grow the St. Louis Komen Race for the Cure into one of the nation’s largest. She will serve as one of two board members representing Komen’s network of more than 120 affiliates worldwide. A former president of the local chapter of Komen St. Louis, Knopf has been honored for her volunteerism as a Women of Achievement and a Woman of Worth.
“Susie is an extraordinary volunteer for this movement, and a tireless advocate for women and men facing breast cancer,” Komen founder and CEO Nancy Brinker says. “We look forward to her wisdom and insights as we welcome her to our national board of directors.” Brinker, who has turned the pink ribbon into a universal icon of hope, launched the global movement to end breast cancer as a promise to her sister, who died of the disease in 1977 at age 36. In one generation, Komen has forever changed the way the disease is talked about and treated, touching virtually every medical advance in the fight against breast cancer.
A strong advocate of mammography, Knopf says, “One in eight women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. Although mammography may not be perfect, it is the best tool we have today and it saves lives. If one person has a mammogram and catches his or her cancer because they read this article, then I will have succeeded.” She emphasizes that there has been an increase in survival rates for early stage breast cancer from 74 percent in 1982 to more than 98 percent today. This increase is reflected in the faces of the 2.5 million breast cancer survivors alive today in the United States.
Komen St. Louis funding has supported dozens of local organizations providing breast health services for those who may not otherwise have access due to low income, lack of insurance or other barriers. Since the first Komen St. Louis Race in 1999, more than 715,000 participants have raced with a mission to save lives and end breast cancer forever. Seventy-five percent of the net funds raised in St. Louis stay in the local community to fund breast-cancer screening, education and patient support programs. “The remaining 25 percent goes toward groundbreaking global breast cancer research, including research being done right here in St. Louis,” Knopf says. Komen St. Louis has contributed almost $9 million to Susan G. Komen for global breast cancer research since 1999. At the same time, more than $20 million has come back to St. Louis area research facilities to fund vital breast cancer research.
Knopf’s green eyes well up with tears when she talks about Rik, her husband of 48 years, who died in May of pancreatic cancer. The couple founded and operated Expressions Custom Furniture. “Rik was one of Komen’s inaugural ‘Pink Tie Guys’, a group of men who serve as advocates for breast cancer awareness and breast health action.”
Knopf says helping cure breast cancer has been her passion since her diagnosis in 1991. “It makes me cry each year when I stand with the men and women taking part in the Race for the Cure. For those few hours, we are all united as we share the passion for this common cause,” she declares. “It is vital to me that we continue to bring awareness of breast cancer and cancer in general to the forefront because it is dreadful. I am hopeful that in my lifetime, we will find control of breast cancer; and that during the lifetime of my children, we will also find the cure.”