Ginny L. Clements Breast Cancer Research Institute Fuels Ambitious Mission

A Goal to Eradicate

By Loni Nannini

Ginny Clements stands roughly five feet tall, but her aspirations are gigantic. She is determined to revolutionize treatments for − and eventually cure − breast cancer.

Her blueprint revolves around great minds, giving hearts and innovative visionaries, all of which were on display in April at the Ginny L. Clements Breast Cancer Research Institute Symposium at the University of Arizona.

“The Institute is dedicated to advancing treatments and diagnosis of breast cancer through new imaging techniques, new biomarkers, new drugs and new ways of treating the disease,” said UArizona President Dr. Robert C. Robbins. “Since the best way of treating any disease is to try to identify it early or prevent it, these are important discussions centered around the wide range of different strategies that can be deployed. I hope that events such as this evangelize 

the message to the rest of the world that something special is going on in Tucson at the University of Arizona Ginny L. Clements Breast Cancer Research Institute.”

Established by Clements in 2020 with an $8.5 million endowment, the institute is the only National Cancer Institute Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center headquartered in Arizona. It evolved from the Ginny Clements Breast Cancer Fund, which she funded with a gift of $50,000 annually beginning in 2006. 

Clements has leveraged lessons learned over decades as an owner of Golden Eagle Distributors with her late husband, William “Bill” Clements. After his untimely death in 1995, Ginny managed the family-owned business, which was the local distributor of Anheuser-Busch products, before handing daily operations to her children in 2003. 

She has also applied leadership skills learned through serving on boards for more than 50 Arizona nonprofits.

“One of the most important things I have learned is to think out of the box and to listen. I have also learned that it takes a village, and all of you are the village. I am proud of those who have believed in this mission and chosen to help eradicate breast cancer through donations to the Ginny L. Clements Breast Cancer Research Institute,” said Clements, who is a breast cancer survivor. “I have said that it doesn’t matter what you give, if you just give − whether it is $1 or $5 or whatever is comfortable for you − just give. It is so important for research to have those dollars.”

Her diagnosis at age 15, in 1956, resulted in a mastectomy followed by chemotherapy, radiation and numerous reconstructive surgeries during a time when conversations about breast cancer were often stigmatized. 

Clements credits Nancy Brinker, founder of Susan G. Komen breast cancer foundation, for accelerating change through global initiatives research, community health and public policy. The foundation has funneled more than $3 billion into research, advocacy and resources since 1982. 

“With the Susan G. Komen foundation, Nancy is absolutely the one who opened the door for all of us survivors and for those who had breast cancer that didn’t make it,” said Clements. 

Brinker, who is the World Health Organization Goodwill Ambassador for Cancer Control, also founded the Promise Fund of Florida in 2018 to help women access lifesaving care. 

At the symposium, her keynote speech, “Developing a Continuum of Care Model to Address Healthcare Disparities in Breast and Cervical Cancer: The Promise Fund’s Approach,” highlighted the importance of healthcare access for women of all backgrounds.  

“Access to care is critical, and we know that when diagnosed early, breast cancer can be 99% survivable and cervical cancer can be 95% survivable and the HPV vaccine is critical for women,” she said. “But too many women don’t have access to care and have minimal insurance.”

Brinker said prevention and early detection can be facilitated by confronting social determinants of health, incorporating community care, and implementing a gold standard of care by partnering government entities with the private, public and nonprofit sectors.

“Our healthcare system is too complex for many people to manage,” said Brinker. “For women already struggling with rent, poverty, childcare and their own safety, healthcare is a luxury they can’t afford.”

The institute embraces a multidisciplinary approach to diagnosis, treatment and care. The integrated breast cancer team includes a wide range of physicians and specialists, a breast cancer nurse navigator who guides patients, genetic counselors and more. Other key components are researchers, scientists and students who pursue new ways to diagnose and treat breast cancer.

“This Breast Cancer Institute isn’t about me,” Clements said. “It has my name, but it is about all of you helping out. It is about people like my dear friend, Claudia, who died when she was 35 years old, and about others who have died because of breast cancer − and that includes men. When people come up to me and tell me they are survivors, I tell them they are my sisters and brothers, but I hope not to have to say that. I just want to eradicate breast cancer.”

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