Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women worldwide. In the United States, women have a 1 in 8 lifetime risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer and it’s estimated that in 2020, there will be 2,620 cases of breast cancer diagnosed in U.S. men. These statistics mean that nearly all of us will be impacted by breast cancer at some point in our lives. Organizations like Susan G. Komen are increasing access to screenings and care, supporting innovative research, and educating people about breast cancer. On Tuesday, marking World Cancer Day, Paula Schneider, President and CEO of Susan G. Komen visited Salesforce headquarters and participated in a fireside chat with Salesforce Chief of Philanthropy Ebony Beckwith.
Leading Komen has allowed Schneider to pursue a personal calling. She is using skills she honed in the private sector to guide the world’s leading breast cancer organization.
“You know I did a little math before we came on stage, and with the amount of women you have in your organization, you’re going to have 2,000 of them that work at Salesforce alone that are going to have breast cancer,” Schneider said. “That’s a big number. And to me, that is totally unacceptable.”
Schneider said that she worked in the fashion industry for many years and jumped at the chance to move to Komen. “I wanted to do something that was so much more meaningful to me,” she said. “I am a breast cancer survivor and my mom died of breast cancer. My brother died of metastatic prostate cancer. For me it was kind of a no-brainer to come to Komen if I could do something that was meaningful and impactful and I could save my daughters. The responsibility is great, and we are making such progress, but there’s so much work left.”
Schneider also offered advice to people who are pursuing their passions and want to overcome challenges. “Fail fast and get back up,” she said. “You need to try new things in order to fail fast. It’s part of taking risks. And don’t sweat the small stuff. The other thing is, if you can find something that you’re truly passionate about, then do it, because you will find some tasks and some jobs that are not so fulfilling and you can move beyond these.”
Schneider noted that her colleagues at Komen and partners are actively leveraging technology in the fight against breast cancer. “We have a goal that we’re going to decrease deaths from breast cancer by 50 percent by 2026,” she said. “We have been sponsoring a woman from MIT, Regina Barzilay. She is an amazing woman who had breast cancer, and she’s an MIT scholar focused on machine learning and AI. She’s figured out ways for machine learning and AI to actually see breast cancer earlier than the naked eye. So, if that became the standard of care, doctors would be able to see breast cancer at stage zero and stage one versus stages two, three, and four where the outcomes are so much different. Technology and research are huge parts of what we do.”
Schneider stressed that big challenges remain, though. “We have 260,000 people on average, just in the United States, that are diagnosed with breast cancer every year,” she said. “We have over 40,000 that die every year. If you are African American and you get breast cancer, you are 40 percent more likely to die on average, depending on where you live. It can be as high as 75 percent, given disparities in available health care. There is much work left to do.”
Salesforce employees are stepping up to the challenge, logging nearly 2,000 volunteer hours to help Komen achieve their ambitious goals. Collectively, they have raised more than $150,000 — which includes their Salesforce employee match — to fund research for breast cancer cures. At the event, Salesforce employees completed letters of encouragement for people undergoing cancer treatment, and employees volunteered on the spot to lead this year’s Salesforce team in the upcoming More than Pink walk.
Watch a video replay of the fireside chat featuring Paula Schneider and Ebony Beckwith here.