Susan G. Komen for the Cure is arguably one of the biggest names in breast cancer advocacy, known widely for their 3-day Race for the Cure fundraising events that take place in cities across the United States. Nancy Brinker, the organization’s founder and until recently, chief executive, is highly regarded by some and highly criticized by others, especially since the national organization’s 2012 move to end Susan G. Komen national’s funding for breast health programs run by Planned Parenthood. Though the decision was reversed, the damage to the organization’s image and fundraising has persisted.
While the articles, blogs, and academic voices regarding Susan G. Komen abound, we never learn or even hear mention of the distinction between the national organization and its local affiliates – community-based organizations spread out across the country, led by local governing boards and run by local staff, raising money not for Susan G. Komen’s national research agenda or Nancy Brinker’s salary, but for local programs benefiting local populations of medically underserved women. While many hope to make Nancy Brinker and her brand pay the price for the questionable policy decisions of Susan G. Komen, it is in fact the most vulnerable among us who pay the ultimate price.
I am a direct witness to the impact of this fallout on the uninsured, low-income woman or man in my community who is in need of a mammogram, breast ultrasound, or breast biopsy. While I am concerned about policy decisions made by national representatives of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, I am much more concerned with everyday women and men who have historically benefited from the financial support of Susan G. Komen affiliate organizations. While related and financially connected, there are significant differences between the national organization and its local affiliates that need to be highlighted. Unlike the 3-day Race for the Cure events, which raise funding for Susan G. Komen’s national organization, the majority of the money raised through the 1-day Race for the Cure events organized by local Komen affiliates across the country goes directly to that region’s non-profit hospitals, health departments, and breast health programs in support of screening and diagnostic services, treatment support, and breast health education programs. The dedicated individuals running those affiliate programs have about as much direct connection to or responsibility for Susan G. Komen’s national policy decisions as any one of us has to decisions made by our national “representatives” in the U.S. government.
If you count yourself as a former supporter of Susan G. Komen who has become disenchanted with the organization and decided to redirect your support elsewhere, I ask you to consider the following. The Komen Affiliate Network is the nation’s largest private funder of community-based breast health education and breast cancer screening and treatment programs. While breast cancer education, advocacy and other related organizations abound, Susan G. Komen affiliate organizations are the only source of private funding for patient screening and diagnostic services. As the Breast Health Grant Support Manager at our local non-profit hosptial, I can tell you that while we need each and every grant we receive for education and outreach programs, it is the funding from our Susan G. Komen Florida Suncoast affiliate that enables us to provide mammograms, ultrasounds and biopsies free-of-charge to low-income, uninsured women in our county. Anyone suggesting that there are many alternative sources of funding for patient breast screening and diagnostic services is wrong. Here in Florida, Susan G. Komen Florida affiliates are the only source of such funding.
When you withdraw your support from your local Susan G. Komen affiliate, you are withdrawing support for the women in your local community who need but cannot afford breast health screening and diagnostic services. I’m talking about the woman working behind the cash register at your local Publix grocery store, the woman who cleans your home, many of the women working in your doctors’ offices and child daycare centers, the women in the fields cultivating and harvesting the fruits and vegetables you eat, and so many others. And unless you live in one of the very few states that has opted to accept federal funding for the expansion of Medicaid, you should know that the need in your community is not going to decrease as a result of the Affordable Care Act. Our policitians may have abandoned these women, but we should not.
To find out what local programs are funded by your local Susan G. Komen affiliate, go to http://ww5.komen.org/Affiliates.aspx, click on your state, and then on your local affiliate’s website select “Grants,” and go to “Current Grant Recipients.”
Michelle Stears is the Breast Health Grant Support Manager at Sarasota Memorial Hospital, where she works with uninsured, low-income women and men in her community to ensure they have access to the breast health screening and diagnostic services they need, as well as surgery and treatment needs post-diagnosis.