Cancer Research Deserves A Fair Share of the “Pie”!

I’ve been a parent and/or teacher for over twenty-five years, so I have been in charge more than a few times of dividing things up in order to be sure everybody gets their FAIR SHARE! 

As an elementary teacher, I’ve heard the wails of students countless times uttering the words, “But that’s not fair, Mrs. Stordahl.” (You can almost hear them saying it yourself, right?)

When my own three kids were growing up, believe me, each one knew how much ice cream, TV time, allowance or attention the other two were getting. They knew exactly how many gifts were under the Christmas tree for each of them. They had an uncanny ability to calculate equality, or the lack thereof, in a single glance. Kids just naturally keep track of stuff like that.

Even my dogs keep tabs on who gets what. If one of them hears the dog food or biscuit container being rattled around, they are both immediately in the proper “sit” position directly in front of me, patiently anticipating what I’m sure they perceive to be their “fair share.”

My students and my own children were not being unusually greedy; they were just looking out for their own interests. They were just being kids. Eventually, after hearing phrases like, “Life isn’t always fair,” they learned to adapt and adjust to inequality at least some of the time, but that’s a process that evolved over time. And the dogs, well, they’re dogs.

I do not mean to trivialize the point I want to make with these analogies or over simplify, but getting a fair share is not a difficult concept.

The point I want to make is, in my opinion, more dollars raised by all cancer fundraising organizations need to be earmarked for research. Only through research will cures be found.

I’m all for education. I AM an educator. I’m all for improved screening, early detection and awareness, but again, only through research will cures be found. Isn’t that what everyone wants? In my opinion, research does not seem to be getting its fair share.

A startling statistic I recently became aware of is that generally speaking, only 2% of cancer research dollars is allocated for stage IV cancer research and stage IV breast cancer is a subset of that. One must accompany this latter part of the statement with the fact that 90% of breast cancer deaths are a result of a cancer developing into stage IV metastatic breast cancer. So less than 2% of research dollars spent on metastatic breast cancer, which counts for 90% of breast cancer deaths, doesn’t quite seem right to me. Again, it doesn’t seem like a “fair share” of the pie dollars.  

I also get agitated when I learn a powerful and well-respected organization like Susan G. Komen for the Cure (“Komen”) designated only about 25% of their “Net Public Support and Revenue” to research during the period from 2004-2009. Again, though this adds up to lots of dollars, it still seems inadequate, especially since they emphasize heavily the word “cure” in their self-promotion. Their motto, “Komen, Race for the Cure and every life deserves a lifetime,” is an admirable one, but if they proclaim to be emphasizing a cure, should they not also be allocating more than 25% toward research? To me, cure and research go hand in hand. Both require dollars, again, more than 25% in my opinion.

I am definitely not against Komen. I applaud them for all their hard work and for having such a noble mission. I am deeply grateful that partly because of their efforts breast cancer awareness has increased, earlier detection, along with improved education, is more heavily promoted and countless dollars have been raised. Many women, as well as men, owe them a great deal. I want them to continue the great work they do. I am counting on them to do just that.

What I would like is for Komen, as well as other organizations, to reevaluate, or at least take a look at the messages they are perhaps unintentionally sending. Do they really want to send the message they are so heavily focused on one end of the spectrum (Komen-education 36%, screening 11%, both for the same time period mentioned above)? Do they really want to send the message they are not concerned about stage IV? Do they really want to send the message cure and research are not tightly linked? Because in my view, those are the messages they are sending.

Analyzing numbers and figures is not something I do much. I want to thank Anna from The Cancer Culture Chronicles blog for doing that. Her blog is the source of the above mentioned figures, taken directly from Komen’s own fiscal reports. If you have not read her three posts entitled Komen By the Numbers and Komen By The Numbers:  the Context of Research and Komen By The Numbers:  Education in Focus, I hope you take some time to do so. They are pretty eye opening. Though admittedly, I am not skilled at analyzing the numbers like Anna, when the facts are put in front of me, I can add things up and draw conclusions of  my own.

I want to emphasize that organizations like Komen, as well as many others, are wonderful resources for families coping with a cancer diagnosis. Such organizations need our continued support. They also all need to be accountable. They perhaps need to consider retooling how their dollars are divided up. They need to consider designating a fair share to research and a fair share of those dollars to metastatic breast cancer research.

It’s only fair. It’s only right.

My kids and students adjusted to the fact that “Life isn’t always fair.” They outgrew their need for constant equality. Women with stage IV metastatic breast cancer can’t merely outgrow, accept and adjust. There is no stage V. They need a cure.

The last point I’d like to make is there are a couple simple things each of us can do. First of all, keep giving to the organizations of your choice, but when you sign the check, do more than fill in the amount and sign your name. (This is perhaps not a time to use the credit card). Make a comment. Tell them what you would like YOUR donation earmarked for. Ask where YOUR dollars are going. Ask how they will be used. Maybe if more people did these simple things, someone would pay attention.

Maybe then research would get its fair share.

When you make donations, do you ask where your dollars are going?

Do you specify where you’d like your donation spent?

Do you think more donated dollars should be designated for cancer research?

 

28 comments


  • Anna Rachnel

    February 14, 2011

    Nancy thank you so much for this very powerful post and for the mention of my blog, The Cancer Culture Chronicles. Although we came at this issue with different perspectives, we both reached the same conclusions. The facts speak for themselves. It is time to look beyond the pink ribbons on the products, and all of those fun pink events, and really ask, where is the money going and is it going to make a real difference in ERADICATING this disease for good? Indeed, it is also important to consider the TYPE of research as well. Obviously education is important, but don’t we need the research to back up what we are educating about in the first place? I would also urge everybody to also take minute and read this guest blog piece published today on mine and other blogs. Your post today and this guest post essay remind us that it’s time to change the conversation. http://cancerculturenow.blogspot.com/2011/02/miss-pink-elegance.html

    • Nancy

      February 15, 2011

      Anna, Thanks for reading and for your comments. The facts really do speak for themselves, I’m glad you brought them into the spotlight a bit. I think the conversation is changing a bit, not as fast as we’d like perhaps, but changing none-the-less.

  • Marie Ennis O'Connor

    February 14, 2011

    What an excellent post. I did enjoy your lead in – way to draw someone into the story Mrs Stordahl! I respect the measured tone with which you argue your points – how could anyone not agree with what you are saying here!

    • Nancy

      February 15, 2011

      Marie, Thank you for coming by and commenting on this important topic. I wasn’t sure about my lead-in, glad to hear you liked it!

  • Stacey

    February 14, 2011

    Perfect, Nancy. Why is it so clear to us, but not the people with the power to allocate those dollars? It would be interesting to hear their reasoning. And no, I’ve never dictated where my donated dollars should go, but I will from now on. Thanks for helping get this message out.

    • Nancy

      February 15, 2011

      Stacey, It does seem pretty clear doesn’t it? Research is where more money should be spent. Glad to hear you will be suggesting where you want your dollars to go in the future. Big donators get that right, why shouldn’t everybody?

  • Being Sarah

    February 14, 2011

    A great analogy Nancy about pies and fairness. Excellent! Thank you.

    • Nancy

      February 15, 2011

      Sarah, Thank you!

  • Gayle Sulik

    February 14, 2011

    Thank you, Nancy. This essay is especially compelling since it comes from a committed educator who clearly knows the value of critical thinking and meaningful information. I continually wonder what, exactly, we’re being educated about when it comes to breast cancer and how that education will result in eradication of the disease. The current strategies are not working. The data show that. Your suggestion to give directly to organizations that orient to research and how to achieve the ‘end in mind’ is crucial. I agree with you, that tasty looking pie needs to be cut up differently.

    • Nancy

      February 15, 2011

      Gayle. I’m so glad you stopped by my blog and took time to comment. Thank you. I am not against anything, I just want more research and specifically more research for metastatic cancer. I just want to “tweak” the focus a bit.

  • Sami

    February 14, 2011

    I had NO idea how the funds were divided up. I never thought to ask. I just assumed, I suppose, which is exactly what most people do too I’m sure. I am going to spread the word to my friends and family. Thanks, Nancy! You technically just gave me a gift on Valentine’s Day… yes! Also, I am sending ‘the’ e-mail your way in just a few! Be looking for it! :-)

    • Nancy

      February 15, 2011

      Sami, Thank you for commenting on this as the need for research applies to all cancers. As you know, sometimes ovarian and others seem to get lost in there somewhere. I am excited to read your emal!

  • Beth L. Gainer

    February 14, 2011

    Nancy,

    Thank you for this posting! So many Stage IV patients are dying by the numbers just because of lack of research. It certainly isn’t fair. Thank you for bringing this topic up. I will certainly be more mindful of indicating that my donations should go toward research.

    Another problem is that there are so many awareness campaigns for breast cancer, but not for other cancers such as ovarian. It truly is an unfair world in which we live.

    Thank you for yet another thoughtful posting!

    • Nancy

      February 15, 2011

      Beth, Thanks for taking time to comment. I think we can at least attempt to direct where our donated dollars should go. This should be true for any charity we give to. Yes, I agree other cancers are often forgotten or at least not given enough attention in this.

  • Jan

    February 15, 2011

    Thank you, Nancy and Anna, for raising awareness of this unfairness. One reason research is not focused on Stage IV cancers is because the bigger “market” is for early-stage cancers. That is, more people have Stage I or II than have Stage IV. When the powers-that-be need to justify research funding, they funnel it toward the bigger patient population. Money speaks volumes, and that is inherently unfair.

    I agree that more money should be invested in research and I do tell cancer charities where I want my money to be spent. It’s important.

    Thanks for raising this issue, which is near and dear to my heart as a two-time cancer survivor.

    • Nancy

      February 15, 2011

      Jan, I appreciate the time you took to comment on two posts. Thank you. I am so glad to hear you DO tell charities where you want your money to go. Maybe they don’t necessarily listen, but it’s a start. And who knows, maybe they DO listen!

  • Teri S.

    February 15, 2011

    What an eye-opener! This is a very important topic! I wonder what can be done to change things, who to appeal to?

    • Nancy

      February 15, 2011

      Teri, Good to see you back and hear your comments. Thank you. I don’t know who one appeals to. Perhaps checking out the financial reports more closely of charitable organizations and letting them know where you want your dollars spent is about all we can do. Good quesion. Holding them accountable I guess is the main thing to attempt to do.

  • Lisa

    February 15, 2011

    Girl, don’t even get me started. I have serious issues with the American Cancer Society, having had to work for someone who was on the board. All I can say is that it must be nice to send board members and spouses to the Kentucky Derby for fun and “fellowship” while using donated funds. Urg, I’ve so been holding my tongue and I so want to blog about what I know…. Having worked in fund-raising for about seven years taught me everything I DON’T want to know about donations….
    :-) Lisa

    • Nancy

      February 15, 2011

      Lisa, It sounds like you have some first hand experience with this stuff. Maybe you shouldn’t hold back?? Thanks for your very interesting comments!

  • Cyn

    February 15, 2011

    Excellent post, Nancy. Research is the key.

    In the past I have given to the Terry Fox Foundation (www.terryfox.org) because its priority is funding research. Their policies are very clearly laid out and their financial statement is available online. I also give to Stand Up 2 Cancer because it also purports to prioritize research initiatives. I also give directly to breast cancer research, but my heart can’t let me focus just on my battle.

    I too would love to hear more from Lisa, if she feels she can share. A little education can be very empowering.

    • Nancy

      February 16, 2011

      Cyn, I admire you for giving your dollars to organizations you feel lean more heavily toward research. Smart woman! And yes, Lisa got me a bit curious too! Thanks for commenting, Cyn.

  • ars

    February 16, 2011

    thank you for your post, i can accept that “analogy Nancy about pies and fairness” :)

    • Nancy

      February 16, 2011

      ars, You are welcome. Thanks for commenting.

  • annie

    February 17, 2011

    As someone with a rare cancer that has only become treatable within the last decade, I thank you for this post!

    Research is the only way we can begin to beat this disease. When i was first diagnosed (5yrs ago this weekend) there was only 1 drug option . I’m now on the 4th targeted therapy with a couple more options ahead of me. Research is vital!!

    • Nancy

      February 17, 2011

      Annie, I’m so glad you commented on this. I could not agree with you more. Research is vital.

  • Heather Flanagan

    August 16, 2011

    I enjoyed reading this post while doing research for my blog; I posted a blog on this subject too, so click link below to read and also I provided a link to your blog on my site, plus it will appear in patch.com. Hope to create some awareness to the issue.

    http://www.mybreastcanceranswers.com/blog/komen-backlash-among-breast-cancer-survivors

    Your Friend,
    Heather Flanagan,
    Founder, My Breast Cancer Answers
    http://www.mybreastcanceranswers.com

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