My mom is a breast cancer survivor.
I’ll never forget how I felt after she told my sister and me the news during my junior year of college. It was like our world had been knocked off its feet, because, you know, she was my MOM. She wasn’t supposed to get sick. These things weren’t supposed to happen to her. She needed to be around forever so that she could help me pick out the most perfect wedding dress or gently wrap her arms around my beautiful newborn baby or slap me (hard) after wasting two years of my life watching Jersey Shore.
I needed her. Any inclination of an alternative option simply wasn’t acceptable.
Luckily, she caught the cancer in its earliest stages and was able to treat it accordingly, which put her into remission pretty quickly and into full recovery. I completely realize that she was one of the lucky ones.
It was around that time that I started to pay attention to Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Obviously, when your mother has cancer, you worry about the repercussions on your own genetic makeup, as her daughter. You then worry about the genetic makeup of your three daughters—her granddaughters—and where they fall into the defunct equation of flawless genes. You want to know your fate one day and then you want to run as far away as possible from it the next. But whichever path you take, you just want to figure out how to stop it from happening all together. Forever.
So, my family became pink. Well, maybe I became pink. And maybe that’s because while I bought into the united front against breast cancer, I also liked to shop. Let’s face it; at first, buying “pink” was a genius-marketing plan. I’ll admit that I am a marketer’s dream. I stocked up and hoped that every dollar I spent made some sort of impact for the Cure.
My mother didn’t. Throughout the years since her recovery, she felt that the organization was becoming too big. She was skeptical about where the donations went and what was capitalized on. She trusted in the smaller groups that didn’t pinkify everything from elephants to rainbows and often questioned Komen’s authenticity.
Maybe she was onto something. Or maybe she was in denial. Or maybe she just had much better restraints against spending her entire paycheck on the Internet in one hot, pink weekend. Regardless of where she or I stood among the breast cancer culture forming around us, there was no denying that organizations like Komen helped underwrite medical studies, funded preventive screenings and contributed to breast cancer research. Millions of women and donors alike supported these missions.
Until last week.
Without beating a dead horse, Komen announced it would no longer provide [$500,000 - $700,000 annual] funding to Planned Parenthood—which, over time, afforded 170,000 women preventive breast cancer screenings—claiming that it adopted new guidelines that bar it from funding organizations under congressional investigation.
For lack of a better phrase, pink hit the fan.
The outrage nationwide was palpable. Women were infuriated. Accusations of political ideology trumping women’s health care were rampant and aplenty. Many critics felt that Komen bowed to pressure from anti-abortion groups (which are performed at Planned Parenthood, although none of the donated funds supported that portion of their business), while even more voiced that politics held no place in health care. Within less than 24 hours of Komen’s decision, Planned Parenthood raised almost the entire dollar amount lost through private donations (including a $250,000 one from NY Mayor Bloomberg).
In a split second, decades of pink became walls of black.
Three days after the defunding decision was made, and after endless viral backlash, Komen apologized and announced it would reverse course. It would continue to fund Planned Parenthood and would modify their guidelines to only bar funding from organizations that are criminal and conclusive in nature and not political. They said that Planned Parenthood would also be eligible for grant renewal when the current funding expired.
Which was supposed to be great news. Except now they’ve lost trust. Now, they’ve tarnished their credibility as the largest women’s health care advocate. People are vowing to hand their dollars over to the smaller, local organizations instead. And on the other (smaller) side of the coin, those who supported the fund cuts, have also now lost trust in Komen’s reversal. In other words, they managed to piss off just about everyone.
Seriously, don’t they have public relations teams to avoid these types of things?
The plot thickened when Komen’s conservative vice president of public policy, Karen Handel—who admitted to not only being a part of the decision-making process to cut funding to Parenthood, but also leading it—resigned on Tuesday. In a post-resignation interview, Handel called Planned Parenthood a political bully with a clear agenda. She goes on to say that the money in controversy, $680,000, was less than 1% of the $93 million Komen gives out every year. But then says that if they had cut funding from Planned Parenthood, it would have actually helped more women gain access to mammograms, however, doesn’t say how or where or in what capacity.
So, my question is, if you admit that the amount is so negligible to Komen, why rock the entire reputation of your establishment over a less than 1% of donated funds? Because, when you present it like that, it only reinforces the motive that this move was most definitely about something deeper than “business” and bottom lines.
Handel then goes on to say that the real motive for Planned Parenthood in what they did in “viciously attacking Komen had nothing whatsoever to do with a fight against breast cancer, but if had everything to do with Planned Parenthood’s fight to advance its own agenda for the sake of politics.”
Except that Planned Parenthood didn’t viciously attack Komen. America did. Planned Parenthood didn’t have to capitalize on this misstep by Komen, because America did it for them. It didn’t even matter if Planned Parenthood wanted to use this as political gunfire, or if they actually did, or if they stood on top of a mountain and stuck their tongues out and spit at Komen, because AMERICA DID IT FOR THEM.
And what I think Ms. Handel is forgetting in her tirade is the simple act that America got so angry with: A breast cancer organization cut funding that supported breast cancer screenings. Get rid of all the surrounding facts and accusations and indirect associations and controversies and whatever else got tangled into this web and it bares down to that simple notion. No matter how minimal that funding was in the grand scheme of things, they took it away from the very thing they are supposed to support.
You know what I think? I think an overly ambitious Karen Handel attempted to facilitate a power-move and it failed.
I understand the drive to make power moves. I make them every day. I make them when I tackle one child to the floor to put her clothes on or chase another to get a diaper on before her disaster hits the floor, or, heck, get myself DRESSED in the morning. But there’s a big difference in my power moves, which is that they result in large amounts of ingested chocolate as a reward later.
No one is giving Susan G. Komen chocolate.
I’m hoping, for the sake of breast cancer research and for all the women who have to battle this horrible disease or all the families who have endured loss at the hands of it, that Susan G. Komen can rebuild some of that public trust and refocus on its mission.
In the meantime, I look pretty good in black.
*Jen Senecal is a mom to three girls, a writer, blogger and graphic designer. Read more on her foray into parenthood at www.keekoin.com