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Cancer Politics

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.
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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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