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Too Much Racing, Not Enough Curing?

This past Sunday was of course Mother’s Day. It was also the day earmarked for the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure at the Mall of America in Bloomington, MN. (I live close to the Twin Cities and lived there for many years, hence my interest). While watching the news Sunday night and observing the anchors beaming and smiling, I found myself feeling fidgety, uncomfortable and yes, even guilty because I was not feeling what I was supposed to be feeling. I was not feeling all warm, fuzzy and grateful. In fact, I was feeling quite the opposite. 

The story was meant to be of the warm and fuzzy type, the kind of story that makes everyone watching feel good, it was Sunday evening after all. And not just any Sunday evening, Mother’s Day Sunday evening.

The news clips captured yet another sea of pink, another shining example of the success of the pink ribbon campaigns.

The event drew in 55,000 walkers, a new record, and 2.5 million dollars were raised. The anchors proudly stated this particular race has grown to be the second largest in the world, probably due to the Mother’s Day date as well as the location; again, it takes place at the Mall of America.

After you raced for the cure, you could undoubtedly go shop for more pink stuff at the mall, right? Boy, is this smart and effective cause marketing!

So why does this kind of event make me and many others so uncomfortable? Why does it make me feel like I am a “bad/ungrateful cancer survivor” for not feeling a debt of gratitude to the “wonderful” organization behind this glamorized pink event?

In a nut shell, because all of this walking/racing, all of this pink, all of this feel good effort has done little to actually change the facts.

The incidence of breast cancer has not gone down. In fact, the opposite is true. The number of deaths occurring daily from breast cancer has not been significantly reduced. Presently very little knowledge exists to determine which breast cancers will or will not metastasize. Metastatic breast cancer continues to be lethal, yet less than 10% of research dollars are spent on metastatic breast cancer research. It’s thought that roughly 155,000 women are living with MBC, but no one knows for sure because even this statistic is not accurately kept track of!

This lack of attention given to metastatic breast cancer boggles my mind, because it’s not the primary tumor in a woman’s (man’s) breast that kills. Metastatic breast cancer does.

Another thought that keeps popping into my mind when I watch these events being covered and listen to participants being interviewed is this: generally, the people being interviewed have known someone or lost a loved one to breast cancer. This means the person they lost probably died from metastatic stage IV breast cancer.

Somehow this connection is missed.

Why?

Perhaps it’s because no one talks much about metastatic breast cancer. It doesn’t fit in nicely with the prettier, pinker side of breast cancer awareness campaigns.

The primary focus continues to be if you find your cancer early, you will be cured, but of course this is not always the case. I’m not saying it isn’t good to find your cancer early, of course it is. But awareness and early detection are not the end all.

Early detection does not equal cure, and it certainly doesn’t equal prevention.

Still, we don’t seem able or willing to move beyond awareness/early detection campaigns and messaging.

Why not?

Perhaps it’s because these campaigns are easier, prettier and way more profitable.

But is this how real success is measured?

So while I am grateful to Komen for at least sending some dollars toward research (under 20%), I am NOT satisfied, especially since Race For the Cure is their mantra. Research and cure go hand in hand.

In my mind, they need to rearrange their dollar allotments. They need to  must do better. They need to must be accountable.

Why?

Because they can attract 55,000 walkers on a Sunday morning in May. Because they are the juggernaut of breast cancer fund raising.

Did you know May is National Cancer Research month? Probably not. If you do, you are way ahead of most.

I didn’t realize it until I accidentally stumbled upon this little known piece of information. Why doesn’t this designation receive more any, attention?

What about the other cancers? Where are their media-covered races?

I am grateful to those 55,000 walkers who came out the other day. They care. They should feel good about their efforts. They want to make a difference and they did, but in my mind, they have potential to do even more.

Think of the possibilities if 55,000 walkers at such events (along with the rest of us) looked deeper, asked more questions, demanded more answers, considered other options, stopped assuming and expected more.

Everyone would benefit. We might ultimately find that elusive cure we say we are racing for.

One last thought on Race for the Cure – 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.

So I have to ask, are we really racing for a cure and if so, what’s taking so long to cross that finish line and why aren’t we in more of a hurry to do so?

Can we really keep calling this a race for the cure?

I think not.

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Elizabeth J

Monday 11th of May 2015

Great article. This is timeless. One comment somewhat different from the others I saw. My mother had breast cancer, my grandmother died of breast cancer, and I am stage 4. I think those great ladies in my life would prefer I spend the Mother's Days I have left as I did, with my kids and grandkids, rather than "racing" for a cure. There are many other days in the year for fundraisers, and that is what these races amount to, and too few days devoted to families.

Nancy

Tuesday 12th of May 2015

Elizabeth, I think you're right. I don't like the focus on Mother's Day, although, it's 'perfect' strategy on Komen's part. I hope you had a lovely Mother's Day. Thank you for reading and commenting on this oldie. You're very kind.

Leslie Gotlieb

Monday 11th of May 2015

Hi Nancy, ,I was at the race yesterday (southdale mall now). While it is not perfect komen Minnesota does many wonderful things. I think that this affiliate gives much more percentage wise to research than komen national. It also provides for the people in the community who can't afford health care. The other piece that it fills is that it connects people. It makes a community for many that need it at a vulnerable time. I think we need to find a way to work with komen and educate about metastatic bc. Not sure how but I think that each affiliate has people that want to help and end breast cancer for all. I know your post was from a few years ago but I still enjoyed reading it. As always, thank you.

Nancy

Tuesday 12th of May 2015

Leslie, I saw that the race was back at Southdale this year. How was the turnout? Personally, I wish Komen would not focus on Mother's Day for these events. I realize Komen does do a lot of good, but I still say when race for the cure is your mantra, you need to put many more dollars toward research, and specifically metastatic research. Otherwise, ditch the mantra. Thank you for reading this oldie and commenting too. I appreciate your thoughts.

Lois Hjelmstad

Thursday 9th of May 2013

Great post, Nancy. You can tell about the multiple comments that you really struck a chord.

Nancy

Friday 10th of May 2013

Lois, Thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment too. Maybe it's more that Komen strikes a chord...

Beth L. Gainer

Thursday 9th of May 2013

I know I left a comment the first time this was published, but your post is timeless, and so I want to leave another one. :)

Yes, I've already seen that ads and heard the buzz on the radio. Mother's Day pink races. It really irks me. I want to enjoy Mother's Day, and I will, but it doesn't help when nearly every holiday seems tied to "breast cancer awareness."

Nancy

Friday 10th of May 2013

Beth, You might just be my most loyal reader ever. Thanks so much for commenting on this post a second time!

usha

Monday 22nd of October 2012

HI again Nancy, It hurts when we read posts like below, http://aoand.com/profiles/blogs/graviola-tree-10-000-times-stronger-killer-of-cancer-than-chemo -many well meaning friends have been sending me alternative remedies for chemo, this one made most rounds. If it is true, It makes us wonder if the money is really going to find a cure for cancer patients/ survivor or for survival of pharma companies. Sad that when I was just out of surgery and was carrying the drain pipe and pump around for a fortnight, a company offered a free pink shoulder bag to put the drain pump and pipe in it and carry around . I thought it was thoughtful till I saw the company name embossed in the bag , although not blatant. Didnt use it.

Nancy

Monday 22nd of October 2012

Usha, I understand about the hurt and the decision to not use the bag. There are lots of questions about where the money is going and what it's being used for. I think people are looking for more transparency these days though. People are questioning, and that's how change begins. Thanks for commenting.