Komen, Susan Goodman (1943–1980)

By: Samantha Dodd

Type: Biography

Published: November 10, 2021

Updated: November 10, 2021

Susan Goodman Komen, namesake and inspiration for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation and Race for the Cure, was born on October 31, 1943, in Peoria, Illinois, to Marvin Leon Goodman and Eleanor (Newman) Goodman. Her younger sister, Nancy Goodman Brinker, was born in 1946. Susan grew up in Peoria and attended Richwoods High School, where she was named homecoming queen and was a member of the first graduating class in 1961. In 1962 she enrolled at the University of Missouri (Mizzou) where she studied art history. A year later she left Mizzou to work as a professional model in St. Louis and her hometown of Peoria. The majority of her modeling work was for catalogs and department stores such as Bergner’s. In 1966 she married her college sweetheart Stanley Komen, owner of Sheridan Village Liquor (later known as Stan’s Wines and Spirits). Together the couple adopted two children: Scott and Stephanie.  

In 1977, at the age of thirty-three, Susan Komen was diagnosed with breast cancer. In Peoria, she received treatment from her family doctor, who claimed that he could cure her. A surgeon performed a subcutaneous mastectomy. After a few months, the cancer returned and spread to her lung and underarm. Komen visited the Mayo Clinic where she received radiation therapy. After the radiation therapy proved unsuccessful at the Mayo Clinic, she turned to M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, for treatment. When she arrived in Texas, she was a Stage IV cancer patient. Her medical team put her on an aggressive and intense chemotherapy treatment plan.

In between rounds of treatment, Komen volunteered at health facilities in Peoria and often sat and visited with terminal patients. During this time, she also continued her modeling career. She sported a new line of short wigs in advertisements and appearances. After a number of operations and rounds of chemotherapy, Susan Goodman Komen ultimately lost her battle against cancer, and died on August 4, 1980, in Peoria, Illinois. She was thirty-six years old. She was buried in Parkview Cemetery in Peoria.

Nancy Brinker, a resident of Dallas, Texas, founded the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation in Dallas in 1982 in honor of her promise to her sister. That fall, the foundation hosted the First International Women’s Polo Tournament and Lawn Party at the Willow Bend Polo and Hunt Club in Dallas. Though the polo match was postponed due to inclement weather, the event still raised $30,000 for the foundation. Due to the event’s success, the foundation made plans for the following year to host another tournament and to include additional sporting events at the Dallas Galleria, as well as a luncheon, with a goal of raising $100,000. Friends of Nancy helped to organize a walkathon and a 5K run. In 1983, 800 participants took part in the first Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Dallas. Former First Lady Betty Ford served as the featured speaker at the luncheon and kicked off the weekend’s program.   

As of the 2020s the organization simply known as Susan G. Komen, formerly known as Susan G. Komen for the Cure and originally as the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, addressed breast cancer research, community health, global outreach and public policy initiatives related to women’s health. The organization had funded more than $1 billion in cancer research both nationally and internationally.

Visit the Texas Women Project's standalone website

The Handbook of Texas Women project has its own dedicated website and resources.

Visit Website

Nancy Brinker with Catherine McElvily Harris, The Race is Run One Step at a Time: Every Woman’s Guide to Taking Charge of Breast Cancer & My Personal Story (Arlington, Texas: Summit Publishing Group, 1995). Nancy G. Brinker with Joni Rodgers, Promise Me: How a Sister’s Love Launched the Global Movement to End Breast Cancer (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2010). Dallas Morning News, October 17, 1982; June 26, 1983. Susan G. Komen Papers, DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University. Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation Records, DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University.

  • Health and Medicine
  • Women
Time Periods:
  • Texas Post World War II
  • North Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Dallas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Samantha Dodd, “Komen, Susan Goodman,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 02, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/komen-susan-goodman.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

November 10, 2021
November 10, 2021

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: