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“Rumblings & Grumblings,” My Response to Ms. Brinker

When October ended, I thought I was putting pink commentary to bed, at least for a little while.

As it turns out, I’m guess I’m not quite ready to “tuck in the pink and turn out the lights.”

Recently the Sacramento Bee featured a response from Nancy Brinker, Susan G Komen for the Cure®’s founder and CEO, to the question, Do you think there can ever be too much pink?

Ms. Brinker was reacting to an earlier piece called “The Conversation:  Pink Inc. Has Many Starting to See Red,” by Francesca Lyman, also featured in the Sacramento Bee. Clearly Ms. Brinker was on the defense in her response. She answered exactly how one might expect she would. She stayed true to her perfectly canned PR form by simplistically stating that, of course, there can never be too much pink. In fact, she wants more pink. She went on to say that nearly all people Komen recently surveyed agreed with her; seemingly implying disagreement is almost unthinkable.

Ms. Brinker took things a step further in her response and referred to the concerns of those (like me) who disagree with her as “grumblings.” Immediately a chain of reaction of sorts was set off in the blogosphere. Bloggers were offended. Bloggers were upset, even angry. Bloggers felt dismissed and brushed off. Some immediately challenged Ms. Brinker. Bringing up Goliath offered an excellent commentary as did new (to me) blogger Mommography. Check out these and other great posts.

Once again, I struggled as I contemplated taking on the big  “K.” Should I keep quiet or should I speak out? Does it really matter? Perhaps everyone has grown weary of “pink dialogue.” I know I have. And October is behind us, so it’s time to move on now, right?

If only we could. For those of us directly impacted by breast cancer, there is no moving on from breast cancer awareness month. We are acutely aware of breast cancer 365 days of the year.

So much for keeping quiet!

Like so many others, I found Ms. Brinker’s word choice to be condescending and patronizing. I found her word choice to be demeaning, belittling and perhaps even bordering on insulting.


In my opinion, it’s simply because the word “grumblings” has a negative connotation. No one wants to be labeled as a grumbler. No one even wants to be around a grumbler, at least not for very long.

By making such a dismissive reference, it seems to me Ms. Brinker would like all the annoying grumblers to just go away, or at least keep quiet. It seems she feels as if we are like that pesky, buzzing mosquito one cannot shoo or slap away.

But why does she wish to so casually dismiss the “grumblers?”

I can’t figure out why someone in Ms. Brinker’s leadership position doesn’t instead simply state she wants to listen to “grumblings,” that in fact, she is eager to listen to them.

Isn’t that what leaders do?

Wouldn’t that better serve everyone’s “agenda”?

Another question that keeps coming to mind is if “all things Komen” are so perfect and so “untouchable,” why does Ms. Brinker feel the need for all this defending?

Is it perhaps because the 98% five-year-survival rate statistic thrown around is often misused or even misrepresented?

Is it perhaps because some 40,000 women are still dying every year from breast cancer?

Is it perhaps because only 19-24% of Komen’s funds are allocated for research?

Is it perhaps because the faces of those living with metastatic breast cancer have almost been lost in the pink?

Is it perhaps because there hasn’t been quite as much progress as Komen claims there has been?

Maybe it’s not so surprising after all you are being so defensive, Ms. Brinker.

But back to the grumblings…

All we grumblers have ever wanted is genuine awareness. All we grumblers have ever wanted is to be listened to. All we grumblers have ever wanted is true discussion and an attempt from Komen and others to realize our discontent with pink really has nothing at all to do with a color.

In true discussion opinions are stated. In true discussion there is an equal amount of listening to the other side.

The latter still seems to be missing from your “discussions,” Ms. Brinker.

But it doesn’t have to stay that way.

And by the way, the “grumblers” aren’t going away anytime soon. In fact, we’re starting to unite!

                                                                                                 Accidental Amazon 

Have you ever been called a grumbler, if so, how did that make you feel?

Do you have a “grumbling” to share?

28 thoughts to ““Rumblings & Grumblings,” My Response to Ms. Brinker”

  1. Oh, right on, Nancy!!!

    I think that’s what gets to us all the most — that a real leader would never, ever dismiss the genuine concerns and reasoned analysis of the very people she’s supposed to be serving in the way she did, and has done, for months now.

    It’s almost laughable. But ultimately it’s tragic, because she is squandering the visibility, power and resources of Komen by not listening to us, by not revamping Komen’s priorities, while women and men die.

    1. Kathi, Thank you for your passionate statements. Komen has accomplished a great deal and deserves to be commended, but with such visibility and power it seems so much more could be done. And what harm could there ever be in merely listening? That’s the part I don’t understand.

  2. Thanks so much for the link! I really believe that we can DEMAND a better representation than what we are getting in the media. An inclusive representation of women of different ages, races and prognosis. We owe it to the people who will sadly follow behind us to try and make their treatment easier in whatever way we can. Grumble on Nancy! 🙂

    1. Carrie Anne, Thank you so much for commenting. I absolutely loved your post and you are very welcome for the link. I agree with you about the need to represent more women, first and foremost in my view, those living with mets. We all need to do our part and Komen in its role as self-appointed world leader needs to step it up a bit in my book.

  3. Nancy,

    You are so right about we in the breast cancer community being aware of breast cancer 365 days a year.

    Brinker was out of line calling dissenting voices “grumblers.” It is, indeed, insulting. A great leader, as you say, would listen to dissenting opinions.

    Great posting, as usual, Nancy!

    1. Beth, You’re right, great leaders listen to all sides and dissenting opinions. Even if you don’t change anything, what harm can come from listening? Listening builds trust, support and unity. Listening leads to inclusion. Listening leads to evaluation and fine-tuning; ultimately it leads to getting more done. Thanks for your comments.

  4. Totally agree with you. I feel as though I am an impudent child being chastised for being rude and ungrateful. Well screw that crap.

    No one makes any progress surrounded by nodding heads. Such an opportunity for leadership being wasted. Sigh.

    Grumbling forward….

  5. Since when does valid questioning and critique mean “grumbling”? Ms Brinker’s dismissive remarks and PR spun responses are an insult to our collective intelligence. I think Ms Brinker needs to grow up and bring the Komen organization with her. The cracks are starting to show……

  6. Nancy:

    I too hoped the end of Pinktober would give us all a momentary rest from the onslaught of pink spin. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Brinker’s response to the Sac Bee article was narrow, belittling, patronizing, misleading, and lacking in context. Not that this approach is unusual for the organization, but it does appear to be ramping up.

    As the ‘grumblers’ unite it should become more clear that the critiques of Komen, and the pink industry of which it is a part, are oriented toward demanding transparency while aligning missions, goals, actions, and outcomes. If Komen were to get with this program, the organization might have a chance of doing something more efficacious than selling pink products and sound bites for the cure.

    Since I was one of the “complainers” quoted in the Sac Bee article I can tell you how being referred to as a “grumbler” by Ms. Brinker made me feel. Sad. Ms. Brinker and her organization seem to think they have a lot to lose if they dial down their branding efforts. They might. But a society that wants to see a significant reduction in the incidence and mortality of breast cancer has even more to lose if the likes of Komen stay on a path that thrives on the commoditization of breast cancer.

    Gayle Sulik

    1. Gayle, Well said. I agree, being brushed aside and viewed as merely complainers and grumblers is mostly just sad and actually speaks volumes about Komen’s true colors. Thanks for sharing your perspective.

  7. I will be a grumbler, I will bitch moan and groan if I have to. Let her sit on her “Pink Throne” While we plebians are the ones who are fighting the hardest, the most and we don’t quit ..Shut my mouth? Never!!


  8. Nancy, I work tirelessly for FORCE: Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered. Though our organization is still young compared to the Big K, we are almost entirely made up of volunteers. We support the survivors and previvors world wide for both breast and ovarian cancers. WE unfurl our flag for teal and pink all year round.

    I am dismayed at the statistics of how much money goes toward research. I am saddened by the lack of interest on the Big K’s part to the metastatic group of women and men. Yes! That’s right, men. My father passed away from breast cancer in 1989. Big K seems to ignore men in this instance. Put them in the dust bin with the rest of us Grumblers!

    JMHO! Love ya lots Nancy!

    1. Beth, Thank you for all you do at FORCE. It has become such an important resource for so many. The statistics about the dollars Komen earmarks for research are disappointing aren’t they? And yes, there isn’t much mention of men in their awareness campaigns. I’m sorry you lost your father to this wretched disease. Thanks so much for commenting. Keep up your good work.

  9. Nancy, such a great post! Thank you for linking to Bringing Up Goliath. I’m happy to be in such great company. Your explanation of the problem with Ms. Brinker’s comment is so straight forward and right on target that it seems nearly impossible to side with Komen. We’re not asking for anything more than what Ms. Brinker wanted when she began her quest to end breast cancer. How does one dismiss that as “grumbling?” I just don’t get it. Thank you for the being the calm, rational voice next to what I consider my emotional one. I don’t always get the facts in there in lieu of being pissed off. You’re the teacher to my student post. Great job, as always.

    1. Stacey, Thank you for your comments; you’re too kind. And you’re more than welcome for the link. Your post got me going on this one. I don’t understand Ms. Brinker’s casual dismissal of those who question either. In fact, I would think she would welcome discussion along with the sharing of ideas and opinions. And thanks for calling me calm and rational, sounds better than grumbler any day!

  10. Count me in as a grumbler too! A Grumbler for the Cause. While we wait for a cure, there’s plenty we can do to reduce carcinogens, clean up the environment and reduce the risk of cancer. I think it’s unconscionable that the world’s largest breast cancer organization and America’s richest charity is not willing to prioritize prevention. Ms. Brinker’s comments are bad enough (paternalistic, you might say), but check out what SGK president Elizabeth Thompson had to say about how environmental links to cancer are based not on evidence but “beliefs and emotion.” The leadership of Susan G. Komen is showing its true colors, and it’s not a pretty picture.

    1. Stacy, OK you’re in! Seriously though, you’re right about the lack of prioritization of preventative measures/action. And the comment from Elizabeth Thompson saying environmental links to cancer being based on beliefs and emotion not evidence, is nothing less than irresponsible. Thank you for adding to this conversation.

  11. I was asked to write that article for the Bee, but unfortunately, (or, rather, fortunately) had liver resection surgery and was unable to do so. A fact which Brinker wouldn’t care about since she’s made it plain her organization does little for us metastatic patients.

    Anyway, I read the controversy with interest. I really think less needs to be said about Komen and more needs to be said about Stand Up 2 Cancer. You want research – they got research. They are the real deal.

    1. Ann, I know. I hate Komen’s failure to be more inclusive of those living with mets. It’s one of my biggest gripes. I agree, Stand Up 2 Cancer sounds like a good organization to get behind; the real deal, I like that. Thanks for commenting Ann and I hope you are healing well.

  12. YOU GO GIRL!! I am a recently diagnosed breast cancer patient (August, 2011) and quite frankly I am sick of pink! My friends are very well intentioned however if I receive another “pink” anything reminding me I have breast cancer I am not sure what I am going to do. I do not need a reminder. I want this disease to stop afflicting women and men and I want to find a cure. So, take all the marketing funding allocated every year for “pink” stuff and find a damn cure!

    Keep up the great work! So glad I found your site.

    Shavawn Carlson, San Antonio, Texas

    1. Shavawn, First of all, I’m sorry to hear about your diagnosis. How are you doing? I understand your frustrations and you are not alone. There is so much to be done and the pink blinders need to come off. As many others are starting to say too, there’s nothing wrong with pink, it’s just not enough. Thanks for your supportive comments and welcome! Hope to see you back soon!

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