20 years later


A wife, mother, daughter and best friend, Donna Briggs was my role model. With fiery auburn hair and a witty personality and fashion sense to match, you couldn’t help but have a smile on your face when you were around her.

20 years ago today Donna passed away from breast cancer. She was 43 years old. Diagnosed at 37 by a routine mammogram that showed irregular tissue, Donna had a mastectomy at Brigham and Women’s in Boston and began six months of chemotherapy. Celebrating with a big party when the cancer was gone, everyone was shocked when it returned a few years later stronger and faster. She had a second mastectomy, and later reconstructive surgery. The cancer had metastasized in her bones, however, and another series of chemo could not stop it.

I was just 12 years old when she died, very much aware of cancer’s cruel and unfair choosing. Her fight inspired me then and inspires me still, the motivation behind Pink Initiative’s work.

According to Emily Sacahr of Ladies’ Home Journal, the last two decades have seen improvements in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of breast cancer — and in the amount of money being spent on research. What’s more, the breast cancer movement — the grass-roots efforts by women to see that the disease commands the attention of policy-makers, drug companies, and physicians — has burgeoned since Breast Cancer Awareness Month was born 20 years ago. The Internet has enabled women from far-flung locations to meet one another virtually and stay in touch, sharing critical information, advice, hope, and well wishes. At the same time, corporate America, from cosmetics chains like Sephora to Fortune 500 companies like 3M to smaller convenience store chains such as Wawa have contributed money, ideas, and products to help individual women and the breast cancer movement. Authors committed to breast cancer awareness have worked with publishers and TV stations to create huge events around the release of their books. And dozens of celebrities have gotten involved in projects as creative as breastcancer.org’s Celebrity Talking Dictionary, which helps women learn to say and understand the complex medical terms they need to speak intelligently with their doctors.

“Twenty years ago people wouldn’t even say the words ‘breast cancer,’” says Nancy Brinker, founder of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, a leading advocacy organization. “While there is still more work we can do, we have come a very long way in the fight to bring awareness and early detection to top of mind.”

RIP Donna. xoxo


  1. Anonymous5:03 PM

    What a lovely tribute to Donna.
    She would be so proud of all you have done in her memory. It is amazing how far the research and awareness has come in 20 years. Thank goodness.
    You described her perfectly. She was the best!!!
    love you and so proud of you always,
    mom and stevie xoxoxoxo

  2. So sweet Emily. I have been moved by reading about Donna on your blog and encourage all of the women in my life to do self exams and get a regular mammogram-I am so sorry for your loss, and so proud of how you have honored this special woman.



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