Komen Central and South Jersey executive director Nancy Healey was set to retire July 25, 2014. (Staff photo by Lexie Yearly.)
Komen Central and South Jersey executive director Nancy Healey was set to retire July 25, 2014. (Staff photo by Lexie Yearly.)

Pennington resident Nancy K. Healey retires after 20 years with Susan G. Komen

For the past 20 years, Susan G. Komen Central and South Jersey executive director Nancy K. Healey has helped lead the effort to fight against breast cancer. And while her support remains stronger than ever for the Komen mission, Healey decided it was time for her official position with the Lawrence-based organization to come to an end with her retirement at the end of July.

The Pennington resident spent the month of July tying up loose ends and leaving detailed notes for her replacement, who had not been selected as of press time. Healey’s official last day at Komen was set to be July 25.

“It’s really important that as a leader you recognize when your time is up, when it’s time for you to leave and step aside and let someone with new vision and new energy come in,” she said. “I feel as though 40 percent of me is still ambivalent, which means it’s a good time to leave. I’d rather leave feeling like I really want to stay as opposed to leaving wanting to really leave.”

Healey leaves behind an organization, based in Lawrence, that serves 13 New Jersey counties and in 2013 was set to provide 35,000 women with breast cancer education and screening programs through local community grant programs.

The Komen mission has come a long way in central N.J. under Healey’s direction.

A breast cancer survivor herself, Healey had first gotten interested in volunteer work after she was diagnosed with cancer in 1991, when she began attending a local breast cancer support group.

She began volunteering with the support group to print flyers and speak at events. In 1994, she had the opportunity to get involved with the first statewide Komen Race for the Cure. The race continued to experience substantial growth in participation and fundraising, and eventually, in 2005, a full Komen affiliate—Komen Central and South Jersey—was created and dedicated specifically to the Komen mission.

Since beginning the Race for the Cure, Komen has only continued to increase its fundraising events and efforts: from golf outings, dinner auctions and third party events, to even organizing an equestrian event called Ride for the Cure.

Healey said one of the organization’s accomplishments has been its focus on increasing mammography screening for early breast cancer detection. Twenty-five percent of the affiliate proceeds support national breast cancer research programs, while 75 percent support local community grant programs.

Healey spends most of her time organizing the events and raising funds, but she’s also heard the stories of community members who support the organization and what motivates them to keep racing.

At the Race for the Cure one year, Healey recalled one participant’s touching story.

Healey had stood at the finish line, reading participants’ signs fastened to their backs that share why they are running, when she saw the sign a young man was wearing. He was running in honor of his wife, who had died of breast cancer a week earlier.

“I just thought, ‘How strong is he to be able to do that?’” Healey said. “And I was just so touched that I went over to him and I said something to him and I hugged him and I thanked him for coming. I told him that it’s stories like that that we carry with us that touch our lives. And those are the stories that you can then tell to somebody, and once you come to the race and you see those stories and you feel that passion, it’s really hard to walk away and say ‘I’m never coming back.’”

Jessica Morton, the organization’s director of mission, said Healey has a way of connecting with people that draws them into the organization.

“We are a grassroots organization…and I think Nancy really embraces that and embodies that and certainly works ridiculously hard for the relationships and contacts that she makes,” she said. “You can tell that people stick with us because of Nancy and the impact that she makes and how she makes people feel about Komen. I think she really, really embraces the mission and the work that we do.”

Morton, who started working with Komen eight years ago, said she hopes to see the organization continue to move forward in the upcoming time of transition.

But Healey stressed that change is good, and hopes it will lead to new ideas and growth.

“Change can really bring fresh ideas and a freshness to an organization,” she said, “and I think it’s really important that people look at change differently, not as something to be feared, not as something that comes from a bad place, but something that is really invigorating for an organization.”

Even after her official retirement, Healey said she still plans to stay involved. She doesn’t have any solid plans yet for how she’ll spend her retirement, but does hope to take time to visit her 25-year old son in Chicago and spend time with her daughter, who leaves for Indiana University in the fall.

And while she hopes Komen will continue to reach more and more women and help them prevent or battle the same cancer Healey experienced, her ultimate goal is one that doesn’t involve the organization at all.

“I really hope that someday for my children or grandchildren that there will be a cure for breast cancer,” Healey said. “And so we won’t have to have organizations like Komen.”