My Personal Breast Cancer Story with Paula Schneider

Every 13 minutes, one woman will lose her life to breast cancer. That is unacceptable. As we enter into National Breast Cancer Awareness month, Paula Schneider shares her personal breast cancer story.

About Paula

Paula Schneider is president and CEO of Susan G. Komen®, responsible for the strategic direction and day-to-day operation of Komen’s research, community health, public policy advocacy and global programs. 

Schneider brings a personal perspective to Komen’s mission as a breast cancer survivor whose mother died of metastatic breast cancer. 

“I know from personal experience the devastation of breast cancer, and the power and impact of the Komen mission to end it,” she said. “I am determined to do all that I can to build on this iconic organization’s mission to end breast cancer, for everyone and forever.” 

Schneider is widely regarded as an expert in organization management and finance, serving as president and CEO of American Apparel and Delta Galil Premium Brands and as president at Warnaco Swimwear Group. She served in strategic advisory roles at the private equity firm, The Gores Group. 

A featured speaker at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit in 2016, Schneider also was named one of Los Angeles Business Journal’s 500 Most Influential People for 2016 and garnered the National Association of Women’s Business Owners Inspiration Award in 2010. 

As Komen’s president and CEO, Schneider is responsible for the world’s largest breast cancer research portfolio (almost $1 billion in funding to date), and a network of more than 80 Komen Affiliates serving millions of women and men in the United States and globally.


Adam (00:00):

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Adam (00:31):

From Susan G Komen, this is Real Pink, a podcast exploring real stories, struggles, and triumphs related to breast cancer. We’re taking the conversation from the doctor’s office to your living room.

New Speaker (00:45):

We’re thrilled welcome back a very special guest to the show today. Paula Schneider, the CEO of Susan G. Komen. Paula is going to share her personal breast cancer story with us today. How it’s impacted her family and why this job is so personal to her. So Paula, welcome to the show. Thank you so much.

New Speaker (01:05):

Thanks for having me.

Adam (01:05):

Yeah. Well, I always love to get to talk to you. I’ve always really thought your story is really amazing. And I think your perspective of breast cancer and on dealing with it is really important for all of us in our listeners. So let’s just go ahead and get started there. Tell us a little bit about your personal experience with breast cancer.

Paula (01:24):

Sure, It started with my mother, my mother had breast cancer. She had it first through that one. My best friend in the whole world, her mother had it as well. And then I got it, which was really challenging. And then my mom actually passed away from metastatic after I had it. It’s been a common theme in our family and I was in my forties and I was diagnosed with stage two triple negative breast cancer. That was almost 14 years ago, which was really challenging, right? Because I had two young kids at home, two little girls and, you know, crucial times where I really felt that they really needed their mother, nothing. Any mother would ever feel that there’s not a time that their kids would need their mother, but you know, it was a moment in time. Very, very scary. And I got the diagnosis and had to put one foot in front of the other and get through it.

Adam (02:28):

Wow. Wow. That’s always tough. And I appreciate you even sharing about, you know, your extended family and your immediate family that battled with this as well. Just talk for just a minute about recurrence. I know that that’s always on the mind of, of survivors and I can even imagine more so for you since you’ve had multiple people have lost their lives to metastatic cancer, um, how do you work through the emotions of that? And do you have any advice for our listeners on how they can remain hopeful?

Paula (02:57):

There’s a lot of really interesting that’s being done in research on metastasis and why it metastasizes and, you know, clearly that’s the cancer that kills, right? It’s not breast cancer. That’s going to kill you right off it’s it’s if it metastasizes, no matter who you are, once you’ve had a cancer diagnosis, then it’s always in the back of your mind that this could come back and it’s a very scary place to be, but you gotta, you know, you, you sort of have to tamp that down and be able to find joy every day and live through it because if it comes back, it comes back, but you don’t want to spend every day worrying about it. You’re hoping it doesn’t, but there’s a lot of people that do everything perfectly. They’re healthy, they eat well, they exercise and it comes back. And you know, there’s a percentage of people that it will come back and it’s challenging.

Paula (03:47):

We’re working at Komen on figuring out why and spending our, the majority of our research dollars on figuring out either how to help people that have, are, have to live with metastasized breast cancer to live longer and healthier lives or to even stop it, which would be the goal right from metastasizing. Um, so those are the things that, you know, I think about every day, there’s an, of course, you know, working in this field there’s and you hear about, okay, there’s someone who, um, was diagnosed, diagnosed again, and now it’s metastatic. And you know, of course that plays on your head, but for me, I have to compartmentalize it and say, okay, you know, I’m doing the best that I can, and I’m doing the work that I want to, to help other women. And I’m hoping that it happens to fewer and fewer as we go on down the road.

Adam (04:38):

And, you know, in the work that you’re doing is making such a huge impact for so many people nationwide. And I’m so thankful for that. Just personally, speaking of personally, you’ve got two daughters, I would imagine that having two daughters just motivates you in pretty amazing ways and, and drives your passion for this. Cause can you talk just a little bit more about that?

Paula (04:58):

Yeah. I mean, you know, unfortunately I have the opportunity to meet with women that are young women that have been diagnosed with breast cancer on a regular basis. And it’s so sad and, you know, and I have my mom hat on. Right. And the last thing that you could even imagine, you know, would be if your own children got breast cancer. So for me, all I want to do is because it runs in my family, my mother who died and Mets, my husband carries BRcA gene mutation on his side. I don’t, but you know, it’s sort of a double whammy from all my girls. They don’t carry the gene mutation, which is great, but you know, there’s something and we just have to be really, really conscious and aware. Not a whole lot that you can do about it other than leading a healthy lifestyle.

Paula (05:46):

Which of course we do and we exercise and we, you know, do all the things that you can. In fact, that’s not a get out of jail free card. It’s not a free pass and she’ll never get it. And the only thing that’s going to cure cancer is research. But for me, you know, when I was interviewing for this job and I thought that I would be really good at it, but I’d never had philanthropy experience before and only been a business woman that has run publicly traded companies and large organizations. I thought, wow, I’d really like to give this a try. But I told the board as they were looking in the interview process that: If you find somebody better at this than I think I’d be, you need to hire them because this is super important. And I don’t want this to be, you know, where I’m just trying to figure it out where somebody else is like, I got this. But it’s been really great. I’m glad that they did choose me. It’s been the greatest career move that I could ever have. And we’ve made a lot of meaningful progress in the last three years that I’ve been here. I think it’s three years next week.

Adam (06:47):

Wow. That’s fantastic. Well, I’m glad you’re there and I appreciate that all that work. So let’s talk a little bit about your own personal journey. So can you share with us, what have you learned about yourself through this journey and how has it changed the trajectory?

Paula (07:03):

You know, a lot of people want to go a completely different direction in their life, in their life after breast cancer journey. I still love my husband. I still love my work. I still love being a mom. I don’t need to go become a Tibetan monk. None of those things happen for me and it does change for a lot of people, especially if they don’t get the support through the journey. And they realize that their life isn’t necessarily going where they want. What did change for me was my passion for my career and, and putting my career and my time and treasure into working on breast cancer. You know, I live in sort of metaphysical world where I try to be as positive and find as much joy as I can every single day. And I created my own mantra that I am, how happy I am healthy.

Paula (07:50):

And during my breast cancer trials and all of the treatments that I was going through every single day, I would literally say that a thousand times a day until it became true. And you know, that’s how I live. My life is surrounding yourself by the most positivity that you can. And knowing that there are certain things that you can’t control, but even, you know, especially in times like this right now, where you have the fight or flight going on, whether you walk outside the door and you feel like you might get sick from coven, you know, and trying to figure that out. I think I’m probably more Teflon, tough than a lot of people, because you know, I’ve had to deal with breast cancer and life threatening disease. And, you know, in triple negative is very life threatening. Um, so you just have to figure out ways to put yourself in the go forward, put one foot in front of the other and keep on stepping because there isn’t any other opportunity unless you’re going to fall into a black hole and just stay there.

Paula (08:47):

And that isn’t good either because every day that you don’t have joy and everyday that you don’t celebrate living, you you’ve lost that day. It doesn’t come to you.

Adam (08:56):

Yeah, that’s right. So true. So true. So Paula, this has been great. One final question for you and you’re uniquely poised to answer it, I think. What do you want listeners to know about the work that Susan G. Komen is doing to help in breast cancer?

Paula (09:11):

Komen is a really unique organization in that we’re 360 degree of the care that we do about breast cancer. Of course we do research, which is, there’s nothing that’s going to cure breast cancer except research. And, you know, I always back that up when people say what is it going to take for the cure to breast cancer? It’s cash, cash pays for research, research, cures, cancer. Simple, right?

Paula (09:35):

And that’s why we work as hard as we do to raise money for, for the organization. The second part is community. And making sure that people get the help that they need, because there’s a standard of care that exists today. If everyone was able to get to it, we’d have about 30% less deaths. Now that’s going to become more and more challenging because there’s more and more people that are out of work that don’t have insurance, but it shouldn’t be where you live and the color of your skin that dictates whether or not you live. Right. So health equity is a huge program for us and making sure that we are helping women everywhere. And then the third part of it is advocacy. And we work very hard with our advocacy hat on. There has been nine state common led legislation that’s passed in the last year because there’s, and this is all for women’s health.

Paula (10:29):

And there’s a lot to be said for women in pink with pitchforks, and people can join in. If you want to help, you know, you can join our advocacy as well. So, you know, if you think about sort of the three parts it’s community, it’s helping women that have breast cancer right now, and how do we help them with treatment assistance and helping them stay in treatment or helping them with our helpline, lots of ways that we can help. The second part is research. And then the third is advocacy. So, you know, we’re very well rounded and trying to eradicate this disease. And we are incredibly patient centric. All we care about is that women get the help. They need women and men that have breast cancer.

Adam (11:07):

That’s right. That’s right. It’s really been an honor to interview you. And honestly, it’s been an honor to interview so many people that have been directly and powerfully and positively impacted by Susan G Komen. So thanks for your time on the show today with us. Bless you. Thank you so much for having me.

Adam (11:25):

Thanks for listening to Real Pink, a weekly podcast by Susan G Komen for more episodes, visit For more on breast cancer, visit Make sure to check out at Susan G Komen on social media. I’m your host, Adam, you can find me on Twitter at @AJWalker or on my blog.