Why I Don’t Race, Run, Walk, Climb, Romp, Stomp or Even Crawl for the Cure

Photo credit: Wikipedia

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.

Golden Sneakers by Dolce & Gabbana, Italy.


4 Responses to “Why I Don’t Race, Run, Walk, Climb, Romp, Stomp or Even Crawl for the Cure”

  1. khawk34 Says:

    Interesting take on these fundraisers. I never thought about it this way…

  2. Kathi Says:

    You betcha. If you want to help someone with breast cancer, I say, GIVE one of us a car. And not a pink one either. Mine died just as I finished acute treatment. I could have used the money I had to spend on a new one to make up for the fact that I couldn’t work full-time anymore.

  3. lat Says:

    Participating in my first Komen Walk/Run a couple years back was quite an exciting event. Not because of the festive atmosphere, which it was, not because of the people -men, women, children- with creative team t-shirts, not because of the diversity of support cheerleaders along the entire route from local organizations, not because the weather could not have been more perfect, not because of all the freebies distributed… but with a particular cancer patient in mind I was able to participate with my two daughters. While there are many worthwhile organizations to support, especially those promoting cancer research, when fundraisers become an opportunity for for-profit businesses “to hook their wagon to a star” of finding a cure, the whole thing begins to look questionable on many levels. Then when politics finds its way into the mix as it did just a short time ago, it makes you wonder about the entire fundraising issue and practices.

    Medical research is very costly, but can we support nonprofits without having to buy “pink” products through businesses who pass on a small percentage of that purchase? Could it be so wrong that a for-profit business could simply provide financial support to nonprofit cancer reseach/patient support organizations because it is the right thing to do? So many people are affected by cancer, so many families are changed by cancer; Businesses are … people. So support the cause by supporting the nonprofit without needing to promote the non-nonprofit. How much more funds could be raised and how many businesses would receive a better community recognition for good works. Wouldn’t we all want to shop there then?

    So if you want to become involved in a cause, do it for the right reasons. Then enjoy the experience from beginning to end. That makes it all a win-win for all. But bypass any promotion outside of the reason you are there. They already have what they want– promotion and a huge tax writeoff.

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