Fundraisers for cancer. They’re everywhere. And their variety is ever-increasing. Racing, running, walking. Now you can even don your snowshoes and make a contribution to breast cancer research.
But I have attended none of these events.
It’s not that I don’t recognize their importance. I heartily support – in spirit and with dollars — anyone who chooses to participate, on behalf of me or anyone else. There’s a lot of money raised at these events and that money can one day, I hope, help the scientists eradicate cancer for good.
The Susan G Komen Foundation, the best-known organization supporting research for breast cancer, sponsors many of these events. Each year, thousands of people raise millions of dollars for the Foundation, money that is put to work to educate and screen women and fund research by scientists. Some even goes to the Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Foundation, the group working on the type of breast cancer I had.
Recently, the Komen Foundation has drawn fire for its Planned Parenthood fiasco, but that’s not its only problem. Others are described in this article and this blog post. Although the Komen Foundation started out with the best intentions, like many other organizations, the more it grew, the more money involved, the more political it has become. I stand with those who have said there should be no politics in women’s health – ANY aspect of women’s health.
But that’s not why I don’t race.
People who have attended these fundraisers – whether sponsored by Komen or another organization — tell me that the vibe at these events is heartening, the energy amazing. Men, women, children. A solemn but celebratory atmosphere full of that “can-do” American spirit. A shared experience. A way of mourning those whose lives were ended by cancer. A step toward healing.
Initially, I chose not to participate because I believed doing so would actually prolong my adjustment to life with and after cancer. Even now, when I hear of someone else who’s been diagnosed, it’s hard to abide by that mantra, “Her story is not my story,” and the residue of fear from my experience is resurrected, at least temporarily.
I will never deny that cancer has affected my life, but it is not the only thing that does, and I do not want to be defined solely by that experience any more than I wish to be defined by any other life-changing experience. Cancer has perhaps changed who I am but it is not me. I am, first of all, an individual, with a particular set of habits and talents, not “the one who had cancer.”
But back to those races.
Noble as all these events are, and as necessary as a cure is, they are based on the wrong premise. Running for the cure implies an underlying acceptance of cancer, and that acceptance has now progressed even to the expectation of cancer, so that we focus our attention on cancer as a rite of passage instead of recognizing the causes and acting to eradicate them.
There’s also the problem of corporate involvement and funding of these events (Kentucky Fried Chicken, anyone?), and the constant flow of pink products – T-shirts, water bottles, banners, ribbons, and even pool cues. These sponsorships and products, also have their underlying message, much like the radio ad I mentioned in an earlier post.
Corporations make a lot of money off these events, either in direct merchandise sales or as a tax write-off for sponsoring the events. Want to fight breast cancer? Buy a car! Cancer is a commodity to be bought and sold.
The larger problem I have with these events is the same problem I see with schools having bake sales. If you have to have volunteer organizations raise money for the work a government-funded organization is supposed to be doing anyway, something is very wrong. If our national politics and priorities were straight — funding more health care and fewer missiles — there would be plenty of money for the National Institutes of Health, the American Cancer Society, and the National Cancer Institute to actually find a way to wipe out cancer. And if we stopped subsidizing and bailing out the corporations that befoul our environment, foundations like Susan G Komen would be unnecessary.
When that day comes, when organizations start scheduling a race to obliterate the causes of cancer, I’ll be the first to lace up my running shoes.