Unable to heal her mother’s breast cancer, Marisa Renee Lee sought a way to make an impact on the disease that ultimately took her mother’s life. Her desire to eradicate breast cancer and find some meaning in her mother’s battle became her driving force as well as a coping mechanism. Born was The Pink Agenda (TPA), a not-for-profit committed to raising money for breast cancer research and care, as well as awareness of the disease among young professionals.
Marisa was preparing to graduate from Harvard when she learned her mother had stage IV breast cancer. Her mother had experienced many health challenges over her lifetime, including multiple sclerosis, so wellness was always top of mind for the family. “She was someone who, given her health challenges, took really good care of herself. She had mammograms twice a year. More than anything [her diagnosis] was a shock,” said Marisa.
Forming an organization was never Marisa’s goal, instead, it happened organically as a way to cope with her mother’s disease. She vividly recalls her moment of inspiration: “It was after watching a really dramatic episode of ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ when the character George’s father was cut open after a heart attack and it turned out he had cancer. I realized what the disease looked like on organs, and realized this is what was happening inside my mom’s body. I needed to do something.”
TPA was founded in the spring of 2007 and started as a party at The Princeton Club which Marisa hosted alongside co-founders Liana M. Douillet Guzmán and Jaquelyn M. Scharnick to raise funds for breast cancer research. Marisa’s mother passed away less than a year later on February 28, 2008. “I was so broken by my loss, I needed something else to help me put the pieces back together. My mom was my best friend and I needed an outlet for my grief or else I thought I might lose my mind.”
Reflecting on the need to advance research, Marisa explains, “We’re in a place where we could see certain forms of cancer actually be eradicated in our lifetime.” Today, TPA has contributed over one million dollars to fund breast cancer research and care, and has galvanized young people across the nation to find a cure. This October, TPA will host its 9th Annual Gala in New York City, and continues to expand through its chapters in Washington D.C., Atlanta and Boston.
“This organization is a major part of what remains of my mom--my memories, my family and The Pink Agenda,” said Marisa.
Outside of the hard work that goes into leading a non-profit, Marisa currently serves as managing director of My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, a non-profit based on the White House's effort to improve the lives of boys and young men of color, an issue Marisa worked on previously during her tenure at the White House.
“Before my mom died, when she was no longer undergoing treatment, I promised her that while there would be sad days after we lost her, there would be no bad days. We would find a way to only produce good things from this loss we were forced to experience, and I think we are doing okay.”