31 Days of Impact – Day 19, Michael Ziener
The story of breast cancer is the story of people. Learn about Komen’s impact and work in the fight against breast cancer as told through the eyes of breast cancer survivors, researchers, community health workers and advocates. Read more stories.
MICHAEL ZIENER, CHICAGO – Co-Survivor and Advocate
“It never ceases to amaze me how fierce the true fighting spirit of breast cancer survivors can be. Sure, there are down days and down times, but this fight will be won. There’s not a doubt in my mind.”
“Cancer has claimed the lives of the people I loved most in this world, the people who gave me life. For them, and for each person whose life has been crushed by this disease, I will work, walk, race, talk, give … do whatever it takes to help end breast cancer forever.”
“We’re men, women, children, all fighting for a cause that’s so much bigger than we are, but still somehow defines us to our very core.”
Being a man in a pink world is actually quite interesting; first of all, I sure have a lot of pink ties. As Executive Director of the Chicagoland Area Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, I also have a somewhat unique perspective on our organization and how we attack and approach this disease. It’s not just a woman’s disease; it’s a man’s disease too, because there are about 2,300 or so cases of male breast cancer diagnosed each year. But we men are also affected by the disease when we lose our wives, our daughters, our mothers, sisters and our friends. This perspective is important.
When I was nine years old, my mom passed away from breast cancer—she was only 39. My dad walked into my room one day and said, “Son, I have to talk to you.” I remember that I went into a sort of slow-motion state of shock. I can remember the things that were on the countertop, the type of weather it was, and then my dad actually sitting there saying, “Mike, I just wanted to let you know that Mommy’s sickness … it really got a little bit more serious last night, and … she passed away.”
Those words just changed how my life was going to be from that moment on. My fight started right then, and it feels like breast cancer has been a part of my life ever since. In my role as head of Chicago’s Komen affiliate, I get a chance to win the fight a little bit every single day. It’s a win when I stand in front of 1,800 women at a conference sharing the story of what happened to my mother and it touches someone else. It’s a win when her story, her life, travels through my words and motivates someone in that crowd enough to go and get a mammogram. That is my goal.
The wins keep me going. When we’re able to save a life, when our grants help a single mom on the south side of Chicago get her mammogram, or follow-up exam, or access to treatment if she’s diagnosed, when that happens, I know—and my mom knows too—that we have made a difference. We’ve had an impact. We are winning the fight.
From my point of view, we’re all fighters. We’re fighting for ourselves, for our friends, for our parents, and for our communities. I fight for my mother, and my mother’s mother, who died of breast cancer before I knew her. I fight for my father’s mother who died of breast cancer before I knew her. And I fight in honor of my father, who battled five different cancers (two stage IV cancers of different types), who just last month lost his arduous battle with metastatic prostate cancer – 24 years battling this nasty disease after he lost his wife to cancer. I am now 39 years old, the age my mother past away. In this year, I had to explain the very same message my father told me as a child to my 3 year old regarding his grandfather. I’m one man who will never give up the fight.
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About the author
Nancy G. Brinker promised her dying sister, Susan G. Komen, she would do everything in her power to end breast cancer forever. In 1982, that promise became Susan G. Komen and launched the global breast cancer movement. Today, Komen is the world’s largest grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and activists fighting to save lives, empower people, ensure quality care for all and energize science to find the cures. Thanks to events like the Komen Race for the Cure®, we have invested more than $1.9 billion to fulfill our promise, becoming the largest source of nonprofit funds dedicated to the fight against breast cancer in the world.