As a neurological disease robbed Barbara Brenner of her voice, the fiercely outspoken activist still managed to be heard.
She corralled technology, speaking through a text-to-voice application on her
Her journey from lawyer to full-time advocate began 20 years ago after she was diagnosed with
Breast Cancer Action, a San Francisco-based advocacy group, saw her words and invited her to join its board. As the organization's director from 1995 to 2010, Brenner became a leading voice for greater focus on research into the causes of breast cancer.
Although she "beat the breast cancer odds," as Brenner once said, she resigned her post because of
"Barbara made things happen in the world of breast cancer," Cindy Pearson, executive director of the National
Under Brenner's leadership, Breast Cancer Action "developed powerful campaigns that changed corporate behavior, clinical practice and research agendas," Pearson said.
One high-profile campaign was "Think Before You Pink," launched in 2002. It charged companies with using the pink ribbon as a marketing ploy and donating few, if any, profits to breast cancer causes.
Since women buy most of the products sold in the U.S., many companies "align themselves with the causes that women care about," Brenner said in 2002 on
Breast Cancer Action harshly criticized the
Even among her fans, Brenner was known as a "piranha" and "the pit bull of breast cancer," according to a 2007 profile in a Smith College publication. She received a bachelor's degree in government from the school in 1973.
In the 2011 documentary "Pink Ribbons, Inc." that examined breast-cancer fund-raising, Brenner periodically weighed in with "wise and compelling observations that will make you want to march … to force real changes in medicine and marketing," the
She considered the film part of her legacy, Brenner told the San Francisco Chronicle last year.
By then, she had also become an advocate for research into amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, which her older sister, Ruth, died of in 2006. It is better known as Lou Gehrig's disease, which rankled Brenner, who argued that as time passed, fewer people even know who Gehrig was and "the pictures of him don't indicate anything about ALS." A legendary baseball player, Gehrig was 37 when he died of the disease in 1941.
The third of seven children, Barbara Ann Brenner was born Oct. 7, 1951, in Baltimore into what she once described as a "liberal Jewish household." By age 10, she was accompanying her librarian mother, Bettie, to civil rights marches. Her father, Morton, worked in finance and the garment industry.
At Smith College in Massachusetts, Brenner actively protested the
Realizing that the law could be used to effect positive change, Brenner decided to earn a law degree from
She faced breast cancer twice, in 1993 and 1996, when she had a mastectomy.
While using her iPad to speak in 2011, Brenner said in a
On her list of "things I can still do" were play piano, listen to beautiful music, read, think, walk "as long as I do it slowly and mostly on flat surfaces," and chop fruits and vegetables.