Edit Note: Updated on May 8, 2019. Read my updates at the end of this post.
May has evolved into Breast Cancer Awareness Month part 2. Or maybe it’s part 1 since May comes before October. Regardless, May ushers in the season of races. I first wrote about my discomfort with too much racing, not enough curing five years ago.
Yikes. Five years later and we are still talking about the same things – the vast amounts of dollars being raked in from all these races and the dismal amount of money (considering the huge budgets) being earmarked for research to find that elusive cure.
This post (again) focuses on the BIG race, The Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, specifically the Twin Cities version. (I lived in the Twin Cities for years and still live nearby, hence my interest).
So, I am asking (again), can we really keep calling this particular race, a race for the cure?
I don’t think so.
Because “to race” means to hurry in competition in order to complete or finish something. Cure means to restore to health or wellness or get rid of an illness or disease.
Neither appears to be happening. Urgency seems lacking. There certainly is no cure.
All this “racing” has been going on since 1983. The Susan G. Komen Twin Cities Race for the Cure® has been going on since 1993 and has grown into one of the largest such races in the country. The number of participants (in the Twin Cities event) has grown from 2,500 to 40,000.
Lots of racing. Not much curing.
Again, can we really keep calling this a race for the cure?
I did a bit of wandering around on The Susan G. Komen Twin Cities Race for the Cure® website and thought I’d share a few of my observations.
First of all, the race is always scheduled for Mother’s Day, because well, you know, there’s far more potential to rake in big bucks when you tap into a female-oriented holiday plum-full of emotions about mom, grandma, family and all that other warm and fuzzy sentimental stuff. The timing makes perfect sense from Komen’s point of view.
This year’s event is once again held at Southdale Center (hey, that’s the mall I mentioned in my memoir, btw) in Edina, Minnesota because of course when you’re finished racing, what better way to spend the rest of your day than to go shopping at the mall, right?
As stated on the Susan G. Komen Minnesota site, the intent of this event is to raise funds (at least this is honest and listed first), bring awareness (about what?), celebrate cancer survivorship (feels patronizing to me) and honor those who have lost their battle (ugh… still embracing the battle talk, and I do not feel my mom is being honored here).
Getting even more specific it goes on to say this:
The Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure® is a unique event, designed and implemented to promote positive awareness, education and early detection of breast cancer. It has proved to be an enormously effective way to reach many women and men with the message that breast cancer is not necessarily fatal if mammography and breast self-exam become routine. As well as being a road race for runners, the Komen Race for the Cure is an emotionally charged event that attracts many first timers and recreational runners. The Komen Race for the Cure is an opportunity for thousands of women, men and their families, running or walking, to spread the breast cancer message within their communities.
I broke the above down and came up with these thoughts on this segment:
- To promote positive awareness, not just awareness, positive awareness. What does this even mean?
- Early detection – still the main message, even though it’s an incomplete, rather stale one. Early detection is NOT a guarantee of a cure and it certainly is NOT prevention. We all know mammography has come under tremendous scrutiny of late. And breast self-exams per se are not even recommended anymore.
- Not necessarily fatal – what about the stage iv people? Guess they’re left out. Again. And do you hear the subtle blaming message tucked in there? Sounds a little like finger wagging at metsters – if only you’d had that mammo or done that self-exam you might not be dying now. Do you hear the shaming message? I do.
- The race is an emotionally charged event. This is true enough, however, I would say the race exploits people’s emotions and vulnerabilities. I wrote more about this in my earlier post, so I won’t rehash it here; but I will say, please stop assuming all of us love the crazy (too often demeaning) pink shenanigans going on at such events.
- The race is an “opportunity” for people to “spread the breast cancer message within their communities”. What message? Very vague, don’t you think?
Who writes this stuff?
Next, I visited the race information page in order to learn about fees.
To participate you must pay a fee of $25 (early registration fee) or $35 (later registration fee) or $40 (same day as race fee). I also found it interesting that even children under age 12 pay fees, again, based on time of payment ($12 early) or $17 (later) or $20 (day of race).
So just going with the early registration fee of $25 and multiplying this by 30,000 participants (a conservative number according to the stats), this gives us a grand total of $750,000 raked it from this one race. Now granted, there are expenses, involved. All participants get a t-shirt, a race bib, wrist band and refreshments.
I am no mathematician, but these races bring in a lot of money. You can read Komen’s FY15 report with specifics here (p. 14).
Why aren’t more of these dollars raised being spent on research?
Again, lots of racing, not much curing.
Considering Komen’s substantially sized budget, is 20% on research (check bar graph on p. 14 of report) enough?
I say, no it is not.
In all fairness, Komen has stepped it up. Somewhat. There does appear to be more focus on metastatic disease issues. In the FY15 report it states:
Nearly half of Komen’s new research funding in FY15 was focused on metastatic breast cancer.
It also states:
Landmark report from Metastatic Breast Cancer Alliance (Komen is founding member) found MBC research to be underfunded and identified opportunities to close gaps in understanding MBC and support for people living with MBC.
It took over 30 years to conclude that MBC is underfunded, that there are gaps in understanding it, as well as gaps in support for those living with it? Seriously?
Komen has always been about racing for the cure, so this “oversight” makes no sense at all. It also makes me wonder how much further along we might be in this “race” had more dollars been spent on research over the past 30 years.
I want to be very clear that I commend race participants for wanting to do something. They care. They want to make a difference and they do. But there is potential for them to do so much more if only Komen would shuffle dollars around AND update the messaging.
The burning question for me is still this one: is 20% spent on research acceptable when as the race name suggests, we are racing for the cure?
And this one, can we really keep calling this a race for the cure?
I say, no and no.
What about you?
Remind others as often as possible to, think before you pink. Part of this thinking should include reading and sharing: four questions to ask before you participate in or donate to a breast cancer walk.
May 2019 Edit Update:
Here is the most recent fiscal report I could locate: The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc. Annual Report Fiscal 2016-2017.
To Komen’s credit, it has stepped things up and is more focused on metastatic breast cancer than it was.
As stated on page 6: In FY17, we increased our investment in metastatic breast cancer research to more than 40 percent of our $30.7 million in research funding.
Is this enough?
I saw no budget bar graphs in the newer report (as were presented previously in the 2015 Fiscal Report on p 14.) Interesting. No bar graphs showing the breakdowns of spending makes transparency a bit fuzzier. At least it does for me.
The bold goals of research and health equity (p. 10) seem a bit late, though, of course, better late than never. But again, why has it taken 30 years to get to this point? (I’m just asking.)
Also noted, still using same, worn out battle talk on the race page.
Komen has made progress, yes. But is it enough?
That’s for each of us to decide.
Personally, I donate elsewhere.
Do you, or have you ever, participated in such races?
Do you feel May has turned into Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Part 2?
Do you think 20% of Komen’s budget earmarked for research is adequate, especially since we are “racing for the cure”?