At age 23, Lindsay Avner underwent a risk-reducing double mastectomy because her family history and genetic testing indicated she had a high chance of developing breast and ovarian cancer.
Her great-grandmother and grandmother both passed away after battling cancer, and as a young girl she watched her own mother fight the disease.
Avner, now 31, made a bold personal decision about her health, and that experience inspired her to arm other women with information to do the same for themselves. On the heels of her 2007 surgery, Avner founded Bright Pink, a nonprofit that educates women about early-detection support for those at high risk for breast and ovarian cancer.
In six years, Avner has grown Bright Pink into a powerful vehicle for female empowerment. With its $2 million annual budget, the organization provides 10 free programs, reaches 5 million people each year through educational outreach and has big-name corporate sponsors like Walgreen’s, the Chicago Bulls and eBay.
“I was recently in New York and a Bright Pink billboard was occupying a whole corner in Times Square,” Avner says. “That was one of those moments when you pinch yourself.”
Avner says that one of the most gratifying aspects of her job is getting emails from women who have taken action to prevent cancer—possibly saving their lives—as a result of outreach from Bright Pink. Those emails used to come in every few months, and now Avner says she receives grateful messages on a daily basis from women whose lives she has touched.
At this stage in her career, Avner says she thinks power is synonymous with influence; and she is determined to continue using hers. “I look at influence as closing the gap between the problems and the solutions,” she says. “Creating urgency around prevention—I consider that as my life’s work.”
Over the years, Avner shares that she has received advice and support from a number of powerful people. She counts Richelle Parham, chief marketing officer at eBay, Event 360 CEO Jeff Shuck, Matrix Psychological Services CEO Kurt Malkoff and Joan Hilson, former CFO of American Eagle Outfitters, among her mentors.
“I think the key to finding a good mentor is choosing someone who you feel comfortable with sharing your failures,” Avner says. “It’s not always about getting ahead; it’s also about sometimes being able to say, ‘This is a way I really screwed up.’”
With several years leading a successful nonprofit under her belt, Avner now finds herself in the position to dispense professional guidance. She mentors the women who work for her and three younger women whom she’s known for many years. Avner sets high standards for her employees, but once people prove themselves capable, she says, she trusts them implicitly.
“It’s incredible to see that you can shape young women’s lives,” Avner says.