Let me start out with being amazingly clear on this. I, in no way shape or form, remotely support cancer as a disease. It’s an awful, devastating thing to happen. My father died of cancer when I was seventeen after having it for five years and his mother had breast cancer twice, so in absolutely no way am I trivializing it. However, it’s now Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and I feel we need to address the fact that breast cancer has been reduced to a fad in our society. I want to address this even though I know my opinion will be considered unpopular.
My first issue with breast cancer awareness stems mainly from the organization most famous because of it, Susan G. Komen for the Cure. I am not trying to diminish the contributions that have been made by the group, but I have major problems with how they organize and present themselves. Through polls, it’s considered in public opinion to be one of two of the most trustworthy charities (the other being St. Jude). However, I feel this trust has been largely taken advantage of. In 2010, the CEO of the company gave herself a 64 percent raise, leading to her making $684,000 annually. This is considered to be extremely high by any charity. The new CEO, as of June 2013, vowed to take a salary cut, but has yet to release the numbers. Considering the fund’s foundation is touted as cancer research, as seen from their own taxes, Susan G. Komen only donates 20 percent of what it raises to breast cancer research. That’s an astonishing statistic, especially when one takes into account that they have come under fire several times for using misleading statistics in their advertisements. Susan G. Komen also made the unpopular and obviously political choice to stop donating to Planned Parenthood. This causes a lack of accessibility for many lower class women who were looking to Planned Parenthood as their primary option for early prevention. A common response might be that there are other breast cancer organizations and that this can’t be the overriding problem with donating. That would be true if Susan G. Komen was not known for trying to monopolize “pink,” the “pink ribbon” and literally the word “cure.” They have sued over 100 small charities for trying to use any combination of the terms after they were trademarked in 2007. So if someone is buying any of the multitudes of products with the pink ribbon on it, you are supporting a charity that has at best a lukewarm reputation, and at worst is corrupted.
One of the other major problems with breast cancer awareness is tied to this. In our modern society, many of the ways we “raise awareness” does very, very little to support people affected by these issues. Now that I know that Susan G. Komen donates so little of their profits to breast cancer research, I also know that in the end buying a Mike’s Hard Pink Lemonade is not helping someone who is suffering. To be clear, I am 100 percent on board with hands on fundraising and community service. Most of the manners of “raising awareness” we associate with breast cancer awareness are not those things. What upsets me most is possibly the rashes of statuses on Facebook, saying what color your bra is or where you put your purse, proclaiming support to those affected by breast cancer. I am a very strong believer that Facebook statuses are of little public service. It would be entirely different if we were not all very aware of breast cancer and early prevention. However, breast cancer awareness is literally a trend in our society, and it makes us feel good about ourselves. Awareness only needs to be applied to issues that are not in the public attention. For a great example of a terrible disease with far less awareness than it deserves, I recommend you check out Charley’s Fund, which raises funds to support research to fight Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. The fact that we have made breast cancer a public domain makes it far harder for women who have lost their breasts but are still held by the taboo, or for men who have breast cancer, who actually have a far lower survival rate.
Finally, my last issue with breast cancer awareness is largely personal. I am of the very strong belief that October should be expanded to be an awareness month for all types of cancer. Although breast cancer is very prevalent in our society and it still an awful disease, in the Western world there, is a considerably high survival rate of about 80 percent for those treated for breast cancer. If you have taken cancer biology, you know that the advent of Herceptin has actually made the type of breast cancer caused by HER2 dysfunctionality curable. I think that breast cancer awareness, and donating to breast cancer specifically, does a great disservice to the advancement of cancer research overall. My father died of a very rare cancer, and rare cancers are historically unfunded, despite the fact that all cancer is terrible, and that no one type should be held in the regard of more or less so. With this in mind, I encourage fundraising and donations to many organizations known for the advancement of cancer research overall, including the American Cancer Society, their offshoot of Relay for Life and my personal favorite, Sloan Kettering. I also urge that volunteering at the hospital is rewarding for anyone, whether or not you are pre-med.
Cancer is awful. No one is denying that. Charity is good. I’m not denying that either. However, I sincerely hope that as a society and as a school we will start to be smarter about how we go about involving ourselves monetarily in the latter. I think that despite most of us being young and cash-strapped, we could really do it right help the community, both local and global.