Excerpt: 'Promise Me: How a Sister's Love Launched the Global Movement to End Breast Cancer'


I can't begin to remember what was on the program. Some of the kids were genuinely talented, but there were a few painfully unpracticed performances on school band instruments, I suppose, maybe a mangled magic trick or two, a few fruits of tap and ballet class, some cheerleading and gymnastics, but of course, the whole program was inherently adorable because our appreciative audience was composed of people who adored us. I trotted out for my Rosemary Clooney number and delivered that thing like a wrecking ball.

Understand that I was a chubby little girl— and not endearingly chubby like Darla in The Little Rascals. More of an ungainly chubby. Like Chubby in The Little Rascals. But I'd never been made to feel self-conscious about it, so when the time came, I put myself out there, completely confident, uninhibited, the way consistently loved children naturally are. (How I wish I could go back and bottle a little of that chutzpah for my grown-up self.) Thinking back to that moment, it's plain to see that the first thing Mom did to prepare me and my sister for a life of service was to nurture in us a sense of self-worth. The very first step toward giving to others is grateful recognition of our own assets.

They say you're happiest doing what you did as a child, and those were the moments I remember most: when Suzy and I were fully engaged, performing— not in the sense of putting on a show to generate applause— performing in the sense of doing. Performing an act of kindness— or an act of will. Generating a response. I probably could have been a good theater producer.

"If there's a dog that needs biting," Daddy used to say, "Nancy's the one to bite it."

I've always excelled at backstage cat-herding and organization, but I'm a pretty good entertainer, too, and you have to entertain people at least a little if you want them truly on your side. Suzy was the visual artist. She understood the dynamics of drama and spectacle, what it takes to sweep people in and make them fall in love with an idea, a place, or a cause. In retrospect, I understand how moving it must have been for these terrified parents to see their healthy children dance. Our neighborhood variety show was a resounding success. There was no lack of applause for the Clooney number, but my "bibidi boo bot" may have been a little off , because the next day, Suzy tactfully suggested, "Next time, Nanny, it might be better if I sing and you sell tickets."

Mother drove us to St. Francis Hospital on Glen Oak Avenue. Elated, Suzy and I marched to the administrative desk in the front lobby and presented the receptionist with a crisp white envelope containing $50.14 in pure polio-killing, spine-saving, all-American do-gooding cash. A few days later we got a thank- you note from Sister Walburga, the hospital superintendent, assuring us the money would be "put to very good advantage."

Nuts and bolts. Dollars and cents. Cause and effect. The lesson wasn't lost on Suzy or me. This is where the rubber meets the road, I realized.

This is where will meets way.

A fundraiser is born.

So began Suzy's and my charitable life together. It was my earliest inkling of what goes into the chemistry of change: moment meets messenger, information becomes action. Hearts and minds shift to a new paradigm, money happens, and it all comes together.

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