Susan G. Komen for the Cure isn’t curing anything. This is an organization I used to really support. I have a history of breast cancer in my family and the two naturally met. But the more I’ve learned about Komen, the more upset I’ve become at the way their organization works.
This isn’t going to be an exhaustive list of everything I find to be wrong with Susan G. Komen for the Cure [Komen, herein]. I’m going to touch on a few of the more egregious points and some of the things I’ve learned most recently. A lot of people have rosy Pink glasses on when it comes to Komen; today, I’m asking you to suspend whatever you believe about this nonprofit and think critically about them. If you walk away still liking them, that’s fine. But I hope people will at least be open to the idea that this organization isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Komen and KFC
This obviously has tons to do with curing breast cancer, right?
Yes, as in that KFC, Kentucky Fried Chicken. (Or in its more recent, PC form, “Kitchen” Friend Chicken.) What’s a nonprofit that’s fighting breast cancer doing partnered with a fast-food chicken chain? Good question. The NY Daily News article sums it up well:
“‘So, in effect, Susan G. Komen for the Cure is helping to sell deep-fried fast food and, in so doing, help fuel unhealthy diet and obesity across America, an odd plan given that diet and obesity certainly impact on both the incidence and recurrence of breast cancer,’ Freedhoff wrote [on her Weighty Matters blog]. And suggested that a possible alternative would have been for KFC to just hand over a check for breast cancer research to Susan G. Komen for the Cure.” [bolding mine]
The reason KFC didn’t just give Komen a check is obvious: that wouldn’t sell chicken. KFC needed to be pinkwashed and have the unspoken but very much implied endorsement of Komen. Because surely Komen wouldn’t endorse something unhealthy, let alone something that plays into higher breast cancer rates, right? Right?
Racing for the Cure… but what about Prevention?
Everybody knows about Race for the Cure. Kudos to the marketing machine that is Komen, because people know their brand. But while they’re busy marketing Race for the Cure and the miles-long list of pinkwashed stuff that they co-brand and profit from, you know what they’re not marketing?
They’re not marketing the thing that normalizes a woman’s risk for breast cancer: breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding doesn’t reduce a woman’s risk of breast cancer. It’s the biological norm and what female bodies are hard-wired to do. So when we take steps to repress that natural and biologically-expected process, we’re increasing risk. The body is missing out on the changes that happen through the stages of lactation and because that’s been circumvented, risk increases. We don’t fully understand lactation or breastmilk, so it’s impossible to compensate for what happens between childbirth and repressed lactation.
In more common, mainstream terms: breastfeeding reduces risk. In more accurate terms, not breastfeeding increases risk. It’s not a guarantee or a sure-fire mode of prevention, but it’s a big deal. It’s a known factor. So if we know this, why doesn’t Komen talk about breastfeeding as a way to reduce risk?
…the Cure is not enough; we need both treatment AND prevention. And that means awareness and action beyond the monthly self-exam for breast cancer, regular visits to the doctor, and yearly mammograms (which are more properly classed as detection than prevention). It means an unrelenting focus on ensuring and educating about real food (whole, unprocessed, organic, fresh and local at best), clean air, clean water, toxin-free products for home and body, and exercise among other things, and it includes emphasizing the miracle milk that jump starts it all! The evidence is clear that breast tissue is less susceptible to aberrations if you exclusively breastfeed:Breastfeeding is associated with a lower risk (a whopping 59%!!) of breast cancer in women who have a family history of the disease and at least a 28% reduction for those without one (me). And it lowers your breastfed baby girl’s lifetime risk getting breast cancer by 25% ! Sadly, millions of people have never even heard of this. Public service campaigns are often outmarketed by industries that are driven by the need to increase profits for shareholders, not by an interest in advancing health.
Business Depends on Not Finding a Cure
To answer the question I posed at the end of the last section, why not talk about it? Maybe because their business model depends on the existence of cancer. Maybe not; maybe there’s another reason or a whole litany of them.
Regardless, at the end of the day, Komen (and all its payees) are left without profits or a Cause when breast cancer is cured. Maybe not immediately, but that’s the deal. There are lots of health problem-related charities in the same boat, so I’m not knocking the entire model. I’m bringing it up here because Komen is particularly rich and stands to lose more than the average nonprofit. There’s a mini-economy surrounding Pink Ribbon sales and a lot of people stand to lose a lot of money when breast cancer rates decline and it’s no longer the Cause du jour.
Hope in a Bottle: Cancer Patients Should Smell Nice
What celebrity nonprofit is complete without their own fragrance line?
Komen released their perfume, “Promises,” earlier this year. Not surprisingly, it’s made with stuff I wouldn’t want around my healthy family, let alone near a cancer patient. Breast Cancer Action sums it up well:
It seems hypocritical that Susan G. Komen for a Cure would create a perfume that contains potential carcinogens while simultaneously claiming to fight “every minute of every day to finish what we started and achieve our vision of a world without breast cancer”? That’s what Breast Cancer Action thinks, too. No amount of shopping for pink ribbon products will rid our world of the breast cancer epidemic. [early bolding mine; end bolding theirs]
Why create a perfume with known potential carcinogens in it? Because it will SELL. Because selling is what Komen does best. They took that perfume on QVC and I’m sure they made a mint; nevermind that there are ingredients in their perfume that are known to be harmful. I guess that’s just not important to Komen for the Cure.
It leaves me wondering: Would Nancy Brinker, CEO of Komen for the Cure, have given this perfume to her sister, Susan G. Komen? Would she have given it to her during her illness? Would she give it to her now, had she survived? What would Susan think of the mass-marketing of products being the focal point of an organization claiming to be devoted to curing her disease?
Reprinted with permission from Amy West