Tragically, breast cancer has become a cause du jour in many quarters. A devastating, life-shattering disease has slowly been reduced to a boutique charity in a nation driven by superficial displays of concern. It’s in style to show support in October by joining friends for marathons or events, and there is no better way to prove one’s socio-political awareness than by rocking the iconic pink ribbon of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation.
Though there has been rampant speculation surrounding the legitimacy and motivation behind Komen’s [misuse] of statistics to generate false hope about the benefit of mammography screening,’ according to MedPage Today, there has been even more concern that only a miniscule amount of the foundation’s almost $400 million assets are being allocated to fight breast cancer at the base level.
Only 20.9% of these funds were reportedly used in the 2009-2010 fiscal year for research “for the cure.”
Health screening is 13.0%. Treatment is 5.6%. Fundraising is 10.0%. The largest chunk of the pie is going toward “public health education,” 39.1%… 11.3%, spent on “administrative costs.”
In addition to these startling numbers, or lack thereof, is the fact that the onslaught of education and awareness brings in millions more for an organization that spends the least amount of money on actual treatment.
Let’s be clear: All the facts, figures and studies won’t bring back the hundreds of thousands of mothers, sisters, daughters and grandmothers that are being mourned around this country daily. It is also not the most effective course of action to place SGK on a pedestal when the foundation owns stock in General Electric, one of the largest manufacturers of mammography machines in the world.
In short, SGK spends more money on spreading the word about early detection with questionable figures, thus increasing the number of mammograms, which increases their profits, while paying their executives more money than they actually spend fighting the “cure” that’s in it’s name.
We could talk about the fact that several of Komen’s sponsors are pharmaceutical companies that profit from cancer, but the fact is that we spend too much time rocking pink ribbons already and not enough money on actual prevention and treatment. According to research compiled by writer Emily Michele:
Susan G. Komen for the Cure only spends a possible 53% of its research funding for a cure, or — about 11% of total revenue . Donate a dollar “for the cure?” Only about a dime of that will go toward research that might actually be designed to cure cancer.
With African-American women being the victims of the most aggressive form of breast cancer, and higher mortality rates than their counterparts, we can not afford to get caught up in the hype. We owe it to ourselves to research our options beyond the pink ribbon. We owe it to ourselves to donate our time, money and resources to organizations that directly benefit black women, not gives us the change that’s left over after big salaries are paid.
When my older sister was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007, my world tilted on its axis. The disease became real for me when I thought I would lose the woman closest to me in this world. Our family was helpless as she underwent chemotherapy, and heroically battled nausea and fear. This summer marked her 5th year cancer-free and I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, how truly blessed we are that she is still here, because so many of our sisters do not make it.
This is not an attack on SGK and early detection has, and will continue to save lives. I am simply stating that the breast cancer fight did not begin, nor does it end with them. Awareness is the first step, but for African-American women in particular, it is by far not the last one. Breast cancer is more than just a pretty cause, and it’s time that we look beyond the ribbon to help fund grassroots organizations around the country more interested in a cure than a paycheck.
Our sisters’ lives may very well depend on it.
*In honor of my sister, Tammie West Jones, all survivors, and those we’ve lost to breast cancer.*
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