Komen : Raising Awareness of Hollow Gestures

A while back, I was sitting outside at a café, enjoying dinner with some friends, and a loosely organized parade of people sporting a cornucopia of pink items came walking by.  Some wore pink shirts, some pink headbands; even a few pink tutus were present.

By and large, they were laughing, jovial, and noisy.  Seemingly unprompted “woooo!” bursts sprang erratically from the crowd.  One block ahead, the procession would turn left and head to their final destination somewhere else in town.  What I presumed, and later confirmed, is they were taking part in an event sponsored by Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

My reaction?  Anger.  Gritted teeth.  A small lump in the throat.  So much of what I was seeing seemed wrong.  I don’t doubt that the majority of the participants were coming from a good place when they signed up to participate – maybe they thought they were simply doing something positive, perhaps doing it in memory of a loved one.  Without question, participating in that event and raising money was ultimately a greater good than, say, spending that day sitting on the couch watching reruns.

What I question, though, is just how much good it was doing, and for whom.

Susan G. Komen for the Cure presents itself as a nonprofit organization interested in finding a cure for breast cancer.  In absolute dollars, they do collect a large amount of money that goes to fund cancer research.  What may surprise you, though, is what percentage of their revenue goes to actual research for a cure – only about 17% of it.  Even if you include the dollars spent on prevention and treatment – equally important missions – the percent of revenue used still totals under 37%.  The majority of their budget is labeled as “education”, which – pardon my cynicism – is essentially advertising for more revenue to Komen.

One thing we know Komen is doing with their donated revenue is bringing lawsuits against over 100 small charities across the country for using the words “for the cure” in their marketing.  When not litigating, they issue threats and warnings to other non-profits to cease using the color pink in any conjunction with the word “cure”.

It’s important to focus on the percentage going to research instead of absolute dollars Komen directs to research.  Why?  Because for decades, the amount of income that Americans give to charity has remained constant; Komen isn’t creating any more charitable giving with their relentless pinkwashing and marketing, they simply funnel more of it their way – to be used primarily to subsidize more marketing, not research.

Speaking of marketing,  I can’t shake the feeling that these obnoxiously loud and bright displays have a whole lot more to do with the participants than the disease.

Of all the things one can imagine doing to either fight that evil bastard cancer, or alleviate the pain and suffering of those that have been forced to live with it, putting on an abundance of pink clothing and accessories and giggling my way around densely populated public places isn’t one of them.  Perhaps, those that do are more interested in the attention it brings them than the attention it brings the cause?

The excuse that these garish displays are necessary to “raise awareness” holds no water.  Let’s be honest – everyone is aware of breast cancer.  Everyone.  Although they can’t lay claim to such cheeky slogans as “Save the Titties”, cancers of the colon and rectum kill more people every year than breast cancer does – were you aware of that?  Pancreatic cancer kills almost as many people.  Lung cancer kills over three times as many.  Families who struggle with Angelman’s Syndrome or a host of other rare diseases actually do need to raise awareness for their cause – public events in those cases serve an altruistic end.

When I think back to those days of cluelessness and uncertainty with my mother in the hospital, then the days of pain in the oncology ward where reality unfolded in plain view, I can’t imagine associating any of it with laughs and smiles.  Cancer is ugly.  Cancer hurts.  Cancer is hell.

All people grieve differently; but if someone is interested in giving something from themselves – time or money – there are much more effective ways to give.  Ways that focus their benefit on substance more than spectacle.

You can give cash to organizations more fervently committed to a cure like the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, or the Cancer Research Institute, both of which contribute over 85% of their revenue to research.  St. Jude’s focuses on pediatric cancer, and Stand Up to Cancer uses an innovate approach to the issuing of its grants.

Instead of spending three or four hours walking around in pink outfits, maybe you could volunteer at your nearest oncology unit and speak to lonely patients.  Bring them candy, or magazines.  Ask the devastated family members in the waiting room looking through the wall of vending machines with thousand-yard stares if there’s anything you can do to help; pick up dinner for them, run an errand to ease some of the burden.

I don’t begrudge anyone looking to help other people; just make sure other people is who you’re helping.

25 thoughts on “Komen : Raising Awareness of Hollow Gestures”

  1. You were talking about “celebrities” being advocates about their disease yet you support the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. DID YOU KNOW……that the Chair”man” of that foundation is none other than Evelyn H. Lauder (1936-2011) was the Senior Corporate Vice President and Head of Fragrance Development Worldwide for the Estée Lauder Companies Inc. Let’s emphasize the “BEAUTY” of women, while there are women out there who struggle everyday with their looks. This happens to be a VERY EXPENSIVE company.

    My point here is don’t bash one charity while supporting another who is still wrong!!

    1. Breast Cancer Research Foundation donates 85% of their proceeds to, you know… what’s in their damn title: Breast Cancer Research. I don’t give a shit if their chairwoman worked for Estee Lauder. I judge people and organizations by their actions, not bullshit claims about their integrity. Here is a charity that does exactly what it says on the tin, and yet you discredit them through ad hominem attacks at their executives (which has nothing to do with breast cancer by the way. her views of female beauty just simply don’t factor into her job as chairwoman). Shame on you.

      1. Thank you for writing this. I have been trying to get this message across as well. I have metastatic breast cancer – to the liver. I will die of breast cancer.

        These pink campaigns very rarely go to anything that will help a cancer patient except make the early stage ones feel good. The money goes goes to “awareness,” another word for pamphlets. Who is not aware of breast cancer in this day and age? Many people don’t understand the details though – that early detection doesn’t save lives. 96% of women with metastatic disease (the only form you die of) were diagnosed early stage, including myself. I had every expectation of living a long life, and that turned out to be wrong. Why? We don’t know, not enough research into the mechanism of metastases.

        What we need is RESEARCH. Did you know that 30 years ago, before the pink ribbon and Pinktober was conceived, 40,000 women a year died of breast cancer? Do you know how many died last year? 40,000. We have made no progress in stopping the death rate. What we have done is find a whole new category of breast disease called DCIS. DCIS is not a cancer and cannot kill. Yet because it appears that some will become invasive (and others will not) we MUST treat it as a cancer and do mastectomies on these poor women. And, many may never have gotten sick.

        On the other end of the spectrum, my spectrum, we are still dying of breast cancer. Nothing has changed except that we live longer with the knowledge that our deaths or looming. We are finding drugs that extend our lives, but those have nothing to do with the pink charities.

        Those of us with mets are not survivors, we are not warriors, we are living with a terminal illness. We know we are going to die. We can’t run races, we are on our 7th chemo, on oxygen, in wheelchairs, and we know that this pink hoopla is not for us. And it hurts us. Our disease is treated like a cute little pink party, with boob shaped cupcakes and fun races and lots of girlish bonding that has zero to do with the reality of living with terminal cancer.

        Please read this to learn more:http://www.healthline.com/health/breast-cancer/turn-from-awareness-to-research

        And, do not donate to any charity that focuses on the word “awareness” over research. Do not buy anything with a pink label. We must stop the trivialization of a very real disease.

        Thanks for this fantastic artile.

      2. Thank you for comment. Sometimes when I reading comments, I wonder how long it took them to come up with such nonsense.

  2. One other problem is that a lot of the breast cancer fundraising hasn’t really increased donations for cancer research, just taken a larger share for breast cancer research. There was a time when this was a good thing, but today it has swung too far.

    This isn’t even by accident. Increasingly I’m seeing fundraising events “to end women’s cancers”, that don’t mention that 80% of the research spending is on breast cancer. As a result ovarian cancer research is dramatically under funded, particularly when you consider how lethal it is.

  3. Thank you for sharing this; I couldn’t agree more. What these “pink ribbon” events do is trivialize suffering in the most repellent “can-do marketing” kind of way—at the exclusion of all other human afflictions. As though it’s a competition among diseases! I feel the same way when I see a Hollywood star, recently afflicted by any given disease, becoming the spokesman for that particular disease, and no other. I call it the “fix me first” syndrome. My family history includes schizophrenia, prostate cancer, colon cancer, and breast cancer. Imagine any star coming out for schizophrenia! I decline to give to any marketing organization; I give to those charities who quietly, carefully, are doing great work toward a specific goal. No “woo-hoo,” plenty of hard work, sans marketing.

  4. I totally agree. I am terminal with metastatic breast cancer. I have been living with cancer since I was 34, my oncologist told me I probably had it for 8-10 years before I was diagnosed. I was a supporter of Komen for awhile…then, I realized how much money was NOT going toward breast cancer (research, awareness, etc…). When I saw how much the CEO earned, I was appalled. I started to research other organizations and found a local one where 100% of donations go to people with breast cancer…it is called The Pink Ribbon Advocacy. Komen to me means…Komen and line our pockets.

  5. Where do find info on where the money is being used/spent that non-profits get in donations? Would love to know if the National MS Society actually uses money raised from their Walk MS fundraisers for research and such.

    1. Charity Navigator has information on almost every major charity, including transparency and how much of their budget is actually spent on services.

      1. But… to be honest, Charity Navigator rates Susan G. Komen very high… In all honesty, that leads me to question how effective/accurate the web site is in calling out bad charities. :/

        1. Charity Navigator only evaluates their honesty in saying their money goes where they say it goes. Komen admits that they spend almost all their money on “awareness and education” and only 17% goes to research. So charity navigator will rate them high.

          You have to use your own discernment in finding a worthy cancer. Most of their money should go to patient support activities (gas money, help with finances, plane rides, etc) or it should go to research. Awareness is an anachronism. And bey very careful of Keep A Breast, which is a horrible charity that really has NOTHING to do with breast cancer.
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