A labor of love for Lee, the Pink Agenda is an organization of young professionals who raise money to find a cure for breast cancer.
Marisa Renee Lee: Pink Agenda is an organization of young professionals who have essentially made it their mission and goal to raise money primarily for Susan G. Komen for the Cure and the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. We feel that those two organizations are the most effective and efficient breast cancer nonprofits in the country - in the world really, globally. And we believe that our generation has the ability to contribute to finding a cure for breast cancer and to helping people who are currently struggling with this disease, but because we’re young and we aren’t oncologists and we don’t work for these direct care service programs and we aren’t researchers at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, our best bet is to just raise the money, raise the awareness amongst people our age, and give it to the people who can use it most effectively.
Question: What inspired you to found the Pink Agenda?
Marisa Renee Lee: I went out one night with one of my friends and had a couple of drinks, came home, watched a really dramatic episode of Grey’s Anatomy and at the time my mom was battling stage IV breast cancer. It was-- She had an 8-centimeter mass in her breast. It was all up and
down her spinal column, all her leg bones, her arms, her ribcage, hips, everything, and within her chest cavity and all of her lymph nodes, so fairly far in terms of progression. And I had spent a year at home after college helping my family to adjust to this diagnosis and working and just spending time with my mom and trying to be super type A, organize and manage a situation that is somewhat unmanageable. And at this point I had moved to New York and I was working and still doing this balancing act of calling doctors and running uptown to Sloan when my parents had visits there and keeping in touch with the latest research and trying to stay on top of everything while working. And I- while I was in the city I felt like I was having a great time and I was enjoying my job and it was tough balancing the mom situation but I just- I still felt as though there was something else I wanted to be involved in. And I didn’t know what and I didn’t want it to just be this thing to put on your resume for business school. I wanted to do something that I was really passionate about and really excited about and this episode just showed--and I apologize for those who aren’t Grey’s Anatomy’s fans--but it showed George’s dad on the operating table and the inside of his body and what it looked like with this cancer. And at the time I hadn’t really made the connection between what cancer looks like and what cancer is and what is literally going on inside of my mother’s body right now, and that did it for me and it was just-- I was a wreck but woke up the next day having made the decision that I was going to throw a party to raise money for breast cancer. The party turned into an organization when someone tried to write us a check for $5,000 and I realized I couldn’t accept a check personally because that’s kind of weird and there was no one else for them to write the check to so 7
2 hours later we were in an organization officially recognized by New York State
Card: What’s wrong with non-profits?
Marisa Renee Lee: It’s pretty interesting. I was turned off by the nonprofit world and made the decision to move in to finance during my senior year in college because I just- I felt as though there were too many nonprofits, a lot of inefficiencies, a lot of people who just, as far as I was concerned, weren’t working hard enough on behalf of these really important
causes and on behalf of people who really need and could use their help. So I decided that the best thing for me to do would be to make money and be around people who were making lots of money and get them to give it away but give it away responsibly. That’s why what we’ve created isn’t-- It’s not a typical nonprofit. We don’t provide services really. All we look to do is provide individuals with resources via our web site and direct contact with me if they have questions and a loved one’s just been diagnosed with breast cancer, and we give money to the people who we feel actually can use it really well but it’s- they are two completely different worlds, both really competitive especially in New York, and I really enjoy both of them. I like what I do for a living. I enjoy my coworkers, I like working with my boss, I like commodities, but this is- I needed something else. And this has now also become sort of an outlet for my grief in addition to it in the past being the most proactive way for me to deal with this disease as far as I was concerned.
Question: How did your mother react to your starting The Pink Agenda?
Marisa Renee Lee: She wasn’t surprised. She basically said, “Of course” and “Make sure you can keep up with your work and you don’t take too much on. I know your tendencies and do the best you can,” and then she signed herself up as a volunteer. “What can I do? Can I stuff envelopes? Can I go to this event? Can I volunteer at that event?” “Mom, news flash: You have MS and stage IV breast cancer and you’re not exactly in the best of health and you should probably just sit still and relax. That should be your only goal.” But she wasn’t surprised. My parents are obviously very proud. Before she died she made it her goal to make it known to as many people as possible
that she did not want any flowers; she only wanted donations made to our organization in