A few months ago I wrote, “The Komen foundation and its awareness campaign has come to symbolize our nation’s high profile effort to eradicate breast cancer, yet many critics are wondering if Komen has careened off course.” It’s now October, “Pinktober,” and the voices of dissent continue to rage against Breast Cancer Awareness Month’s endless stream of pink products. While Komen is not responsible for every pink item sold in the name of breast cancer research, Komen is the big dog on the fundraising block and has taken the brunt of the breast cancer community’s criticism. Many consumers are no longer confident Komen, or their pink product partners, are transparent and accountable for monies raised in the name of breast cancer research. Others wonder if this sentimental sea of pink has overshadowed the original purpose of the campaign: a cure for breast cancer. Regardless, neither bodes well for future fundraising.
In an attempt to help Komen and the breast cancer community see one another’s point of view, I have invited Leslie Aun, National Director of Marketing and Communications for Komen for the Cure®, to address the anger and concerns of the breast cancer community. Perhaps I’m naive, but my hope is that this will be the first in a series of open dialogs with the goal of uniting, on common ground, while voicing our disagreements and working, together, to implement clearer fundraising and search for the cure mechanisms.
While Komen and the breast cancer community have numerous disagreements, Komen has raised significant funds for breast cancer research and has made breast cancer awareness a household phrase. I think everyone will agree the awareness movement has careened off track, but I want us to be mindful we “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.” This forum could be a unique and important opportunity for all of us to effect positive changes within the pink community, but we must work together and approach this dialog with the best of intentions. I hope we don’t use this as a forum to beat one another up or to be defensive, but to brainstorm constructive approaches to more transparent and accountable methods of fundraising for, and funding of, breast cancer research.
As far as the mechanics of this first forum, Leslie Aun will write something in response to the Pinktober backlash. Readers, I hope you will use the “Comments” section of this blog post to reply to Leslie and Leslie, you comment as well. I am only the moderator. No one has attempted to bring both sides of the breast cancer fence together until now. In a perfect world, we would be seated in the same room, but every first has to have a start. If this forum is deemed a successful first “toe in the water,” perhaps we could move our dialog to Facebook, Twitter or Skype.
Leslie, I give you the floor……
Yes we know that some people feel there is pink overload. But as long as a woman dies of breast cancer every 74 seconds, we don’t think there is enough pink. And despite the criticism that we often hear, most people are very comfortable with the amount of pink they see. In a recent study we conducted of the general public, 87% said there is not too much pink, while 85% say they are more likely to buy a product or service if they know it will benefit the battle against breast cancer.
In terms of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, that pink represents hundreds millions of dollars that go directly to fighting breast cancer. We funded nearly $70 million in research this year alone (including 18 grants looking at the causes of breast cancer) and another $93 million in grants to educate and provide help to low-income women in thousands of communities across the U.S. who are uninsured and don’t have resources for basic medical care, much less cancer care. Women who can’t afford things like wigs and co-pays and trips to the doctor—not to mention groceries and childcare. Despite those efforts, there is a tremendous amount of need that still goes unmet. It would be wonderful if we could raise that money by direction donations, but despite best intentions, not everyone will (or can) write a check, and will support the mission through their purchases. So we’re not going to apologize for the pink.
For those who say there is already plenty of awareness of breast cancer—sorry, again we must disagree. Not when women are still asking us if underwire bras cause breast cancer or when huge numbers of women fail to get regular screenings because they think they’re not at risk. Without constant reminders, people get complacent, and the recent spate of conflicting recommendations about mammography isn’t helping. We women are often so busy looking after our children, spouses and parents that we don’t always look after ourselves. We have new data from a survey of 1.5 million women that shows that 50% of women over 40 – with coverage — actually don’t get regular breast screenings. One of my dearest friends died of breast cancer three years ago at age 42 because she hadn’t bothered to go to the doctor in several years and wasn’t diagnosed until Stage 4. She was just too busy with her career and her family.
We know that our approach doesn’t suit everyone—some people think we should spend all our money on research, while others say we need to focus entirely on environmental factors. Other criticize our corporate relationships—never mind that they enable us to raise major research dollars and bring awareness messages to vast new audiences. We do listen to those with different views, but at the end of the day, there is no single right answer, no breast cancer silver bullet—the battle against this disease must be waged on multiple fronts. No woman has ever been cured of breast cancer because one group spent time and resources attacking another. There is room for many approaches.
Despite what you might hear, real progress has been made in terms of detection, treatment and survival. The five-year relative survival rate for early-stage breast cancer (cancer that hasn’t left the breast) is now at 98%. In just the past 20 years, breast cancer mortality rates in the U.S. have dropped by 31%. It’s not at all unusual anymore to meet women who are living strong and productive lives long after their diagnosis.