Evelyn Lauder // Women's Health Advocate, Philanthropist & Photographer

“In capturing a singular moment, photography has also helped me learn how to let go of things I want to hold on to so tightly. You can’t hold back time, but you can look forward to what’s coming next and do everything in power to create the best possible future”  - Evelyn H. Lauder

Evelyn Lauder, referred to in the NYTimes yesterday as the, “Champion of Breast Cancer Research”,  passed away this weekend due to ovarian cancer - after living with a diagnosis of breast cancer in 1989 and then an unrelated occurrence of ovarian cancer in 2007. Lauder was a Holocaust survivor, teacher, Estee Lauder executive, mother, wife, grandmother, philanthropist, women's health advocate, photographer and breast cancer survivor. Lauder was uprooted as a child in Vienna due to the Nazi occupation. Her family emigrated to New York via England, where she was separated from both parents - her mother was in an internment camp and her father working until he could relocate his family. Lauder credited the difficult war years with making her ‘very strong”, and allowing her to grow into a significant role in the Estee Lauder companies, and ultimately towards making a profound influence in the efforts on behalf of breast cancer.

In 1992, Lauder created the  Evelyn H. Lauder Breast Center at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center for treatment and diagnosis of breast cancer and clinical research.  In my blogpost, October // a Pink Month and Women at Risk - I referenced that it was Lauder who gave out the first pink ribbon in 1991.  The NYTimes cited Lauder as, “ creator of the Pink Ribbon campaign, a worldwide symbol of breast health. In 1993 she founded the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, (BCRF) which has raised more than $350 million.”  Over the years, Lauder didn’t speak of her own health, “my situation doesnt really matter”, while working tirelessly to raise money and increase awareness on behalf of breast cancer research.

Two weeks ago, I was touched momentarily by Evelyn Lauder’s presence, when a client and I walked into the furniture showroom, SUITE NY, during a routine day in the home furnishings market. Co-principals Kris Fuchs and Maria Sepulveda sponsored The Pink Swan Project in partnership with the BCRF.  The showroom was filled with amazing pink, white and distinctively decorated chairs. The ‘Project’ asked a number of interior designers, architects and fashion icons to customize the classic Arne Jacobsen Swan Chair in honor of the Month, to be auctioned on CharityBuzz.  The creative interpretations were as varied as the designers, Kelly Hoppen, Madeline Weinrib, Margherita Missoni, Vitoria Hagan and more.

The Pink Swan Project

We unexpectedly walked  into the “pre-event” preparations happening in the showroom. Photographers and stylists were getting ready for the cocktail event and auction that evening. Kris spent time with me passionately discussing the project, showing me the chairs as well as  “Salon Beauties”, a collection of Lauder’s personal photographs. Her mother-in-law Estee Lauder, collected the Head Vase Ladies - and then Evelyn, an accomplished photographer, artfully photographed each one filled with bouquets of fresh flowers.  The collections was exhibited at The Gagosian Gallery UK this past September. It was a personal and beautiful display, all for sale to benefit BCRF.

Kris explained that Lauder had not attended the annual gala luncheon the previous day at the Waldorf Astoria and they were unfortunately not expecting her that evening as well.

Evelyn Lauder lived with breast and then ovarian cancer for 22 years. In that time, as she lived with and treated her own illness, she facilitated awareness and research that would help countless others. Companies like SUITE NY,  gain support from their respective industries and carry on the work that Lauder began when she made the pink ribbon ubiquitous with breast cancer.

October // a Pink Month and Women at Risk (WAR)

National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, NBCAM, has grown into an international event, promoting breast cancer awareness and information. The mission of countless organizations is to provide women with greater access to screening services and large fundraising efforts for continued research and support. For me, as for many, it hits close to home, I think about and remember friends, and others, who have had or have been touched by breast cancer. My son Brett, asked me recently, “How and when did Breast Cancer Month become so big?” while I was working on a partnership with Women at Risk, LV2BFIT and Paintings by Janet Mait for this month. There are so many events through the year, “months” that acknowledge many diseases and organizations. Why does breast cancer receive so much attention?  There is not a single “answer”, rather a culmination of public awareness, serious marketing, and so many individuals and families touched by the disease who have chosen to work tirelessly to create and bring the attention to the month of October. Brett, a football fan, filled me in on how the NFL acknowledges Breast Cancer with an abundance of pink gear on the field and with significant fundraising. The New York Times feature, Sunday, Oct. 16th, reported on the “Pinking of America”, the article focuses on the Dallas Cowboys, Nancy Brinker and the Susan G. Komen Foundation - and the extent of the marketing and promotion of “pink” .  It is due to the zealous and unwavering commitment of Nancy Brinker and players like the Houston Texans wide receiver Derrick Mason (again, Brett shared this with me) who will wear pink cleats this season to honor his mother on the field - those who have spoken out loudly on the subject of breast cancer.

NBCAM started 27 years ago, in 1985, with a week long event to provide info and awareness about breast cancer. It was a partnership between the American Cancer Society and a maker of several anti-breast cancer drugs, Imperial Chemical Industries. The goal was to promote awareness of early detection through mammography.

In 1991, the first pink ribbon was given out to participants in the Susan G. Komen Walk for the Cure in NYC. In 1993, Evelyn Lauder, of the Estee Lauder Foundation, established the pink ribbon as the symbol of breast cancer.

In 2009, NBCAM celebrated 25 years of Awareness, Education and Empowerment. The event spread nationally, and has now become an international event, with supporters, activities and fundraising worldwide.

Women at Risk, WAR,  at New York Presbyterian Hospital, was founded in 1991 as a grassroots partnership of physicians and patient/volunteers focusing on early diagnosis.  WAR has expanded, growing to meet the needs of women in the New York Metropolitan area for women at high risk for breast cancer and also for women undergoing treatment.

My dear friend, Laurie Bass Sklaver, became involved with WAR after diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer at NY Presbyterian, first as a board member and then as President. A number of Laurie’s friends joined her at this time, inspired by her motivation to help others, who like herself, had to cope with the process, from diagnosis to treatment and more. Together, we joined Laurie and WAR, attending the annual luncheon and supporting their mission. In 2004, The Laurie Bass Sklaver Symposium was created by Laurie’s family in her memory. In recognition of Laurie, and her postive energy, this event follows her beliefs that knowledge was the first step in the fight against breast cancer. The annual Symposium provides in-depth information and discussion on a different topic each fall.

For me, it is always with Laurie in mind, that I want to do “something” in October.  As I imagine it is for so many others as they think about their friends, mothers, sisters and the other women in their lives who have been affected. Breast Cancer awareness is a successful month, as a result of impassioned and determined people.

Today, millions of people worldwide come together to support efforts on behalf of breast cancer in the month of October. Breast Cancer has touched and resonates with the families and lives of so many ... and that must be the reason it has grown and has made October a month to celebrate, donate, support, learn and shop, for the cause.