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Cancer Politics

by Alex Iwashyna

in Charity, Resentments

Two stories on cancer nonprofits caught my eye this week, Susan B Komen for the Cure decision to defund Planned Parenthood because of a politically driven investigation by Congress, and Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong nonprofit helping Lance more than anyone else with cancer.

Livestrong image

Let’s start with Lance who is current being investigated for doping and perhaps a Three Cups of Tea type of fraud. Now so far, it seems that the promotion of Lance and Livestrong is a mutual exclusive to making each other look good rather than a money issue as it was for Greg Mortenson.

However the nonprofit helps Lance’s image by creating a positive side to the possibilities of fraudulent wins of the Tour de France, it has a fake image itself. While Livestrong does help families with cancer navigate insurance, raise awareness and inspire, it spent next to nothing on cancer research since its inception and will not be funding any cancer research from now on.

“The foundation gave out a total of $20 million in research grants between 1998 and 2005, the year it began phasing out its support of hard science. A note on the foundation’s website informs visitors that, as of 2010, it no longer even accepts research proposals.” -Outside Magazine

20 million sounds like a lot but it was over 7 years, and in 2005 alone, Livestrong raised $52 million.

It’s actually quite similar to criticisms of Susan B Komen. The brand, the bracelets, the T-shirts, the endorsements become the main focus of the nonprofit as it becomes the face of cancer and giving money to actually change cancer outcomes is secondary.

And while it’s been said many times, people are pretty aware of cancer these days. Even putting aside “awareness,” I think empowering and inspiring people suffering from cancer is important and it’s a big part of the Livestrong mission. But it shouldn’t come at the expense of creating better treatments and cures for them.

Komen spent $1 million of donor money per year going after smaller nonprofits who use “for the cure” in their events because it’s their brand. I guess the nonprofits helping people isn’t as important as the brand name. Livestrong has spent $1.8 million even though it sold off its name and created a for-profit company at Livestrong.com as opposed to the the nonprofit at Livestrong.org.

Now I haven’t given to Susan B. Komen in years and have never donated to Livestrong. But despite me, both groups raised over $300 million and $48 million in 2010, respectively.
Komen Logo
But even putting aside Susan B Komen’s branding machine, why are they not working with Planned Parenthood anymore? Even after posting on Facebook about how low-income and the uninsured are not getting screened enough for breast cancer on January 27, they end funding for one of the largest providers of women’s healthcare for uninsured, under-insured and low-income women.

“Komen has a long history of providing funding to various Planned Parenthood affiliates for such services as manual breast exams and referrals for mammograms and biopsies to check suspicious lumps for cancer. Although that money is not used for abortions, the Komen Foundation may have yielded to demands from antiabortion groups to sever its ties to Planned Parenthood.” -LA Times

Komen’s explanation of the halt is because PP is being investigated by Congress. The investigation is into whether PP uses any federal funds to perform abortion. I guess it’s a guilt until proven innocent stance. Is the funding temporarily held until the investigation is over? It doesn’t seem it like.

Perhaps it is driven by antiabortion groups as many wonder. If that is the case, fine. Komen should admit to it. They should stop any funding going to hospitals which perform abortions (and most do).

Just because antiabortion groups want to paint Planned Parenthood as the face of abortion, doesn’t mean it is. Planned Parenthood helps many women who would otherwise never receive mammograms or be able to afford an ultrasound. They perform 4 million breast exams yearly, and for some affiliates, Komen provides their budget for breast exams and outreach programs.

And if it isn’t driven by the politics of a woman’s body, Komen should’ve waited until they had a plan in place to support the women who will be affected by PP’s lost of funding.

Or is Planned Parenthood just bad for the brand? Maybe low-income families are, too?

They could hire Lance Armstrong to run a Race for the Cure. Oh wait, he’s being investigated by the FDA – does that count? (Update: The investigation has led Armstrong to be stripped of all his Tour title and banned from cycling for life.)

Further reading:
The best piece on Lance Armstrong and Livestrong is from Outside Magazine.
Susan B Komen’s decision to defund Planned Parenthood from the LA Times
Further details on Susan G Komen criticisms on Wikipedia

Photo credits: Livestrong and Komen

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Abby February 1, 2012 1

The whole thing makes me sad. We’ve are longtime supporters of Susan B. Komen, and I was preparing to make another donation in my aunt’s name (who was just diagnosed with Invasive Ductal Carcinoma for the 2nd time.) Now I’m questioning where my funds should go. Guess I need to do more homework.

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Late Enough February 1, 2012 2

It’s hard to know. You could try researching http://www.bcrfcure.org/ since they are highly rated at charity watch. Although Komen does fairly well there too. (http://www.charitywatch.org/toprated.html#cancer)

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Mandy February 1, 2012 3

Bra-friggin’-vo.

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julie gardner February 1, 2012 4

I am, perhaps, as guilty as anyone of donating to causes without thorough research into where my money goes.

I love to donate to charity. It makes me feel good and allows me to think I am making a difference in a way available to me.

So this post has got me thinking. And also disheartened. But I certainly feel more AWARE than I was going in. So thanks for that.

I used Planned Parenthood throughout college for my whole-health. An abortion never entered into it. (Thankfully.)

I’m saddened by Komen’s decision, disillusioned by Lance Armstrong (well, that’s been in place for a while now) and frustrated on behalf of good people who want to or have donated to Komen or Livestrong who will now feel duped or used or disregarded.

Cancer is a horrible bitch in many more ways than one.

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Sarah February 1, 2012 5

Agreed. I’ve never given to LiveStrong and I’ve never given to Komen (I’d heard nasty things about them in the past– I don’t know if they are founded or not). I do participate in local events, and Relay for Life and even American Cancer Society (especially for their palliative care work). It moves beyond cancer, however. I saw how the Red Cross operated post-Katrina. I’ll never so much as look at them again. The politics of these issues are increasing in their influence, and we need to be mindful of that fact.

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Late Enough February 1, 2012 6

I’ve found the Red Cross to be off-putting. I did give during the Haiti Earthquake, but I feel like they pick and choose what disasters are important enough to publicize not based on which ones are the worst but which ones are in what countries. I’d be interested to hear about your post-Katrina Red Cross experience.

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Sarah February 2, 2012 7

I would agree with your premise above. I was in NOLA seven months after Katrina– St. Bernard parish, to be exact. It was one of the hardest hit areas, and the vast majority of people who died in Katrina died there. They had just lifted look and leave in the lower 9th (adjacent) and people were just starting to come back to clean up. The parish’s infrastructure was more than crippled. Firefighters and deputies were working without pay and without houses. The organization we worked with (a hot kitchen, daycare, free store, etc.) became a FEMA water pod while we were there. There was only one other– Red Cross, in a neighboring parish (serving two counties, for lack of better term). They would give each person with a FEMA card six bottles of water a day, max. We were allowed by FEMA to give a case per person per day, without card verification. Once we showed up (bringing the number of water pods to two for two counties) they packed it in, saying we could take care of it. They were no longer needed, in their minds. It was disgraceful.

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Melonie March 7, 2012 8

I can testify to the complete worthlessness of Red Cross. We were in a flood about ten years ago that wiped us out and left us homeless, without a car, and we lost about 95% of our belongings. We called Red Cross immediately the next day. We were put on a wait list and weren’t brought in until five days later. When we did finally come in, they didn’t help us find a place to stay or get a vehicle or anything like that. We got a bucket of cleaning supplies, a $40 voucher for the grocery store, and a $100 voucher for KMart. For three people. Woo! Needless to say, had it not been for our friends and coworkers, we would have been screwed. Our FRIENDS helped us find housing, a car, and donated money to help us get back on our feet and allowed my husband to stay in grad school.
Red Cross can suck it. I’ll donate blood, but I won’t give them a goddamn dime.

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ben February 1, 2012 9

Almost none of these organizations are researching causes of cancer, just cures. convenient for companies like Occidental Chemical who sponsor race for the cure as part of their responsibility after three mile island. If they looked at causes they would be at odds with the same drug companies that produce the cures. If we clean up our world we would see a dramatic reduction in cancer.

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Megan - Best of Fates February 1, 2012 10

That’s SO upsetting they stopped supporting PP.

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Kristie February 1, 2012 11

The whole thing just infuriates me. I didn’t know about Livestrong, and I’m disgusted. The amount of money that flows above 99% of our heads is astonishing, and it all goes to fund the game that politics has become.

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Late Enough February 1, 2012 12

Don’t even get me started on how much the candidates and SuperPacs are able to raise in a few months from big donors. How can so much money just be floating around? It’s sad that the nonprofits are not even immune.

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Susan Hale Whitmore February 1, 2012 13

Thank you very much for the current info on Komen and Livestrong. It’s so hard to know what’s happening without posts like yours!

On a different subject included in your piece: “Three Cups of Tea type of fraud” as you put it ~ there is no such thing!

Yes, there are “one man’s allegations of fraud by the subject of ‘TCofT’ ”
but there was and is no actual fraud. Simply check out ikat. org (Central Asia Institute) for:
>a list of every single one of their 250+ projects, dates, locations, current beneficiaries, etc.
>annual reports
>guest entries on their blog with eye-witness descriptions

AND the latest news: Having branched from Pakistan into Afghanistan to build schools and women’s centers, last fall they branched even further ~ into Tajikistan, a former Soviet Socialist Republic!

Sincerely,
Susan Hale Whitmore
Silver Spring, Maryland

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Late Enough February 1, 2012 14

So my understanding is that while the Central Asia Institute has dealt with some of the fraud questions (whether the projects actually happened), the fraud that I was comparing to Livestrong is how Greg Mortenson used the nonprofit and its funds to promote himself and his book similar to how Lance Armstrong uses Livestrong. As I said, I don’t believe Armstrong uses the funds the way Mortenson did although the Livestrong.com and Livestrong.org is a sketchy way to get around that.

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Katie February 1, 2012 15

Big charities like this are hard for me to get behind because they are so political…everything is about money.

And I am so jaded by politics and buying votes and support and blah blah blah.

great post.

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Ericka February 1, 2012 16

Well said, well written, well everything! It is truly sad that anything should get in the way of truly helping find new treatments, better treatments and ultimately a cure. Politics disturb me and this is just another example of the drain on our society that hard-lined political stances have!

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Jennifer February 1, 2012 17

In light of this post (which is brilliant), might I suggest that we take our donations and find someone in our community who needs hands-on support with their illness? Give your money to helping them with bills, house-cleaning, meals, transport to the hospital, childcare. Every one of us knows someone with breast cancer (and a myriad of other types of cancer). I say keep it local.

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Skye August 7, 2012 18

I am so glad you wrote about this. As a cancer survivor, I am troubled by all the bad things I’ve heard about large organizations such as these. I haven’t had time to fully check them out, but organizations that focus more on prevention seem like they could be better options for donating.
Examples:
Cancer Schmancer (cancerschmancer.org)
The Cancer Project by Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine (http://www.cancerproject.org/)
Prevent Cancer Foundation (http://preventcancer.org/)

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John October 12, 2012 19

It’s sad how most of the money that nonprofits raise goes toward administrative costs. Livestrong last year alone had $25,000,000 in such costs and the biggest majority of this is to pay the employees that work for the nonprofits. Our foundation on the other has no paid employees so 100% of all money raised goes toward doing the foundations work.

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John October 12, 2012 20

If any of you guys are looking for a good honest nonprofit look at the Brad Coleman Cancer Foundation http://www.bradcolemancancerfoundation.com We provide funding to families of children with cancer for travel and lodging expenses and also educational programs for testicular cancer awareness we have place our programs in 130 schools so far with plans to place it in every school across the U.S.

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Kelley October 19, 2012 21

The Brad Coleman Cancer Foundation has helped my family tremendously. They do what they say. I called the American Cancer Society to ask them for help. You would think that with all the millions of dollars a year they receive in the name of cancer they could help families such as mine. NOPE! They sent me to the Brad Coleman Cancer Foundation. This foundation has sent us a check every month for the last 5 months. This has help us take our mind off of where we are going to get the money to get my daughter to her treatments and let us focus on getting her well. I am telling everyone I can about how great this foundation is.

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