The Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation vs. Planned Parenthood political drama this week was fascinating to follow. This, of course, was the news that Komen was withdrawing all grant funding to Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screenings for low-income women. After a groundswell of public outrage over their decision, Komen’s founder and CEO, Nancy G. Brinker made a public announcement upholding their decision and trying to assure people that it wasn’t politically motivated—the subtext that it had nothing to do with the fact that Planned Parenthood services include abortion. Then when her explanation only made the backlash worse, Brinker announced they would reverse their decision and fund Planned Parenthood at least for this year. This drama all happened over the course of four days.
When listening to people’s conversations about this unfolding drama—especially around my nursing-type friends and colleagues—I was surprised at how many of them were surprised that the Komen foundation would do such a thing. The sacred hot pink halo hovering over the Komen foundation has blinded most nurses—as it has blinded most of the general public. It has never been PC to critique the Komen foundation’s stated “race for the cure” of breast cancer. It was also interesting to discover how many people didn’t realize that Nancy G. Brinker is far right leaning politically. She has long been a major Republican donor, and was named Ambassador to Hungary and then Chief of Protocol (e.g.: official ‘party planner’ for visiting dignitaries to the White House) under Bush.
In 2010 the Komen for the Cure foundation pulled in $311,855,544. The top administrators make over $500,000 per year. And although many Race for the Cure pink t-shirt wearing participants think that most of the money they are raising goes to fund breast cancer research, only ~20% goes to research. At least a million dollars a year seem to be spent on legal fees for the Komen foundation to sue anyone using ‘for the cure’ or anything approximating a pink ribbon in their marketing. Breast cancer has become big business—even for the supposed non-profit Komen foundation. Barbara Ehrenreich (of Nickeled and Dimed fame) uses the term “Cancer Industrial Complex” when discussing everything that profits from cancer—and especially from breast cancer. Writing in November 2001 in Harper’s Magazine (“Welcome to Cancerland: A Mammography Leads to a Cult of Pink Kitsch”) Ehrenreich reports that the breast cancer industry is estimated to be a $12-16 billion dollar a year business in the US, between all the breast cancer centers, radiation centers, mammograms, surgeries and drugs (doesn’t include breast cancer research spending).
And then, of course, there are the dismal statistics pointing to the fact that all the increased breast cancer research, increased focus on mammograms, early detection and treatment, really haven’t changed the death rate from breast cancer. On the Susan G. Komen website—in amongst the flashing hot pink merchandise to buy—is Nancy G. Brinker’s declaration that the Komen foundation has “changed the world.” The world is pinker perhaps.