On Sunday, the Susan G. Komen Foundation will hold its annual Mother’s Day Race for the Cure, one of the organization’s biggest fundraising events. But this year, race registrations around the country have dropped significantly, a situation most are attributing to Komen’s February decision to cut funding to Planned Parenthood (a move it later reneged on amidst public outrage).
Just how much are registrations down? It’s hard to say overall, but cities and states nationwide are reporting lower numbers this year. In Salt Lake City, registrations for this Sunday’s race are down 23% from last year. In Sacramento, they’re down 36%; in North Carolina they’re down 40%; in Richmond, they’re down 25%; and Minnesota has seen its lowest number of registrations in a decade. In Ohio’s capitol, registrations are down 10% for its May 19 race. Places that held races earlier this year have reported similar results: In Central Indiana, participation was down 28% for its April race; in Fort Worth, 23%. Tuscon’s March race saw 25% fewer registrations. In Baton Rouge that month, registrations fell 10% (though donations were up).
The Komen Foundation has been one of the leaders of the breast cancer awareness and support movement over the past several decades. It was Komen who launched the pink ribbon campaign, now in its 20th year. And the group’s “race for the cure” is such an event that Komen had the name copyrighted.
But the group is also controversial, and not just because of the recent Planned Parenthood kerfluffle. Komen’s lawsuits to stop other charities from using pink ribbons has earned it ample criticism. The “Think Before You Pink” campaign has blasted Komen for selling pink-ribbon products containing the very toxins thought to contribute to breast cancer.
“The Komen brand’s once impeccable ranking plummeted precipitously” since February, notes Karen Heller, a columnist in Philadelphia, where registrations for this Sunday’s race are down 22% from last year. But “the breast cancer world has long been politicized” because of the serious money involved, writes Heller.
“Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among women, while heart disease is the leading killer overall. Yet there are an estimated 1,400 breast cancer charities, far more than for any other illness, the top 20 charities annually raising a cumulative $1.7 billion.”
And yet do these charities do with all that money? A large, large portion of it is spent on “awareness” and education campaigns. Komen especially has been criticized for focusing (and spending) too much on these sorts of things (last year, more than a third of its budget went to education), at the expense research and prevention efforts.
The type of education Komen supports also draw critics (including, um, me). Yes, teaching women about self-breast exams and mammograms is important, but so is teaching women about all the lifestyle factors—obesity, poor diet, toxins—that can lead to breast cancer, and that’s an area from which Komen shies away. As Gayle Sulk, author of Pink Ribbon Blues says:
“We’re not investing enough in causation and the environment, looking at how healthy women develop breast cancer.”
If you’re interested in supporting breast cancer research, you may want to check out the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation’s “Army of Women” initiative. One goal of the Army of Women campaign is “to challenge the scientific community to expand its current focus to include breast cancer prevention research conducted on healthy women.” The foundation aims to recruit 1 million healthy women of varying ages and ethnicities, including breast cancer survivors, to directly participate in breast cancer research.