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Should Komen's Nancy Brinker Step Down?

Sunday, February 05, 2012


You may be wondering if there’s anything left to say about Komen and Planned Parenthood? The anger and outrage over last week’s events have prompted countless newspaper articles, television news stories, blogs, Tweets and emails from every news outlet, Komen affiliate and breast cancer advocate who’s semi-conscious. Therefore, I will not rehash the specifics of whether Komen’s decision to halt breast cancer screening grants to Planned Parenthood had anything to do with abortion, politics or Komen’s new grant guidelines; why Komen rethought their decision, or whether Komen’s differing explanations portrays them as revisionists. However, to say Komen’s handled yet another incident poorly is an understatement.

While I consider much of my personal life fair game to write about, I steadfastly wear my journalist’s hat when reporting treatment modalities, current thinking about the causes and possible cures, along with ways to lessen risk of recurrence and lead healthier lives. Until now, I’ve also tried to keep my journalist’s hat on about Komen, only reporting the “who, what, when, where and why.” I’ve even gone out of my way to provide Komen with a public forum on this blog, in hopes they would reach out to the breast cancer community, say a few mea culpas and use it as a way to mend fractured relationships and some of their own policies. While I wasn’t holding my breath, I’d hoped for a small step forward, but that was not to be. Actually, there was a lot that went on behind the scenes I haven’t told you.<PREVIEWEND>

For starters, the national office of Komen approached me last August. While the reason for their call was never clear, I seized the opportunity to invite Leslie Aun, National Director of Marketing and Communications for Komen for the Cure®, to openly address the breast cancer community on my blog about the rage and anger over “Pinktober,” the endless stream of questionable pink products for sale, as well as Komen’s ill-thought-out perfume, Promise Me, and it’s carcinogenic ingredients. I suggested a post from Komen could
“be the first in a series of open dialogs with the goal of uniting breast cancer advocates and bloggers on common ground, while voicing our disagreements and working, together, to implement clearer fundraising and search for the cure mechanisms.”
Leslie Aun was receptive. I went on to tell her that in order for this dialog to have a chance of being successful, she couldn’t defend Komen. She would need to own up to their having made some poor decisions, like partnering with Kentucky Fried Chicken and Mike’s Hard Lemonade as fundraising partners. How could Komen lead the search for the cure while taking high profile dollars from corporations that produce alcohol and greasy processed foods, both proven risk factors for breast cancer and poor health in general? At the very least, I told her Komen would need to say something like “if we had it to do over again, Komen would have made different choices.” Ms. Aun liked my idea and agreed to write something to that effect in her post on BRENDA’S BLOG. While she did write a post, it was a rah, rah, Komen’s not done anything wrong.

Ms. Aun also agreed to engage in a dialog with readers of my blog by responding to their comments.
She did not.
This was to be the first in a series of regular dialogs with the breast cancer community that we would eventually move to Twitter or Facebook, to which she agreed. She has not returned any of my calls since my readers posted their unanswered comments.

When I told a blogger friend Komen had accepted my invitation to write a post on BRENDA’S BLOG, she suggested Komen was using me to disseminate their party line and that letting them write a post on my blog would make me look bad and ruin my credibility. I respectfully disagreed, saying any failure on Komen’s part to respond appropriately would only hurt Komen, not me. That is exactly what happened.

Time and again, Komen has failed to make well thought-out decisions.
The Susan G. Komen Foundation began as a promise to a dying Susan G. Komen, by her sister, Nancy Brinker, to find a cure for breast cancer. What started off as a lofty goal has morphed into a three-ringed circus with pink money mania in the center ring. The Planned Parenthood debacle is merely the latest in a string of insensitive high-profile failures. If nothing else, we should learn from history, but Komen seems to repeatedly ignore their history of missteps, followed by repeatedly defending them.

Some Komen critics say Komen is arrogant and out of touch. Regardless, their repeated fiascos have let everyone down who’s ever lost a loved one to breast cancer; every breast cancer survivor who prays for a cure; everyone who’s ever participated in a Komen walk for the cure and every fundraising partner who’s ever donated money to Komen and other charities that raise money for a good cause. In short, Komen has lost their credibility among more than just the breast cancer community.

Most organizations plagued with serial failure to learn from their own history ask their leaders to step down. Perhaps it’s time for Nancy Brinker to relinquish her reigns and let Komen rebuild their image. This weekend, Komen sought the advice of an executive vice president at the tony Ogilvy public relations firm as well as Ari Fleischer, former White House press secretary to George W. Bush. However, in order to rebuild their image, it’s crucial for Komen to have the support of breast cancer advocacy organizations and top breast cancer social media mavens.

Make no mistake, breast cancer bloggers have the ear of millions of survivors and their families, oncologists, surgeons and researchers, corporate sponsors and the media. While the Planned Parenthood story may have originated with traditional media, it’s gone viral because of social media. If Komen wants to rebuild their image, they must gather breast cancer bloggers into their fold, listen to our concerns and once again, gain our trust. Perhaps Komen should consider giving a breast cancer blogger a seat on their advisory board. The lives of our mothers and daughters and future sisters, named Susan, may depend on the strength and credibility of Komen. Please, Komen, don’t let them down, again.


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