Susan G. Komen Foundation Has Always Been About Lies

This is breast cancer beyond the pink ribbons.Karen Handel has resigned her position as vice president of public policy for the Susan G. Komen Foundation. While she is taking the fall for Komen's epic public relations blunder when they split from Planned Parenthood last week (and then changed their minds back again), the fact is the Komen Foundation has never REALLY been good for women.

The Susan G. Komen Foundation has long been the number one breast cancer charity on the map. As the daughter of a woman who died of breast cancer in 1993, I have always thought I OUGHT to raise money for them, that I ought to FEEL them out more. After all, breast cancer is in my genes. My maternal grandmother and my mother both have the disease listed on their death certificates. And yet something always stopped me. It wasn't until last week that I finally realized why.


They have always been liars. This latest debacle is just their latest lie.

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My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 12 years old. From there it took her four agonizing years of ports placed under her skin, bones too sore to move, and dozens of pounds of flesh lost from her bones for her to die of the disease. The idea that she had succumbed to the disease flies in the face of everything Komen's PR team seems to want us to believe about the disease.

They say it's beatable and treatable. They say you should wear pink ribbons and scream about the survivors. The rhetoric is always to keep on fighting and not to succumb to the disease. It's a good message, especially for an organization that is built around the idea of helping people survive. But the problem is it's dishonest. The ugly reality beneath the pretty pink exterior is that breast cancer killed 39,520 US women in 2011 alone.

For women in the US, breast cancer death rates are higher than those for any other cancer, besides lung cancer. And yet all we hear about it seems are the survivors. 

Both have their places, but let's face it: This disease is anything but "pretty." The idea that a charity organization devoted to fighting a disease that affects so many women would be sucked into politics is unconscionable, but it makes perfect sense for who they are.

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Komen has always wanted things to be "pretty" and often at the expense of the women they purport to serve. What good does it do for a woman who feels she wants to rage against the disease to be told she has a "bad attitude"?

Handel and all of her political agenda had no place getting such a high position in a company like this. But she also is symptomatic of the larger problem in the organization. Its focus is all wrong.

It's a problem writer Barbara Ehrenreich, a writer and breast cancer survivor herself, explored for Harper's Magazine in November 2001, long before Komen had jumped into the Planned Parenthood debacle. She said: 

America's breast-cancer cult can be judged as an outbreak of mass delusion, celebrating survivorhood by downplaying mortality and promoting obedience to medical protocols known to have limited efficacy ... the mindless triumphalism of 'survivorhood' denigrates the dead and the dying. Did we who live 'fight' harder than those who've died? Can we claim to be 'braver,' better, people than the dead? And why is there no room in this cult for some gracious acceptance of death, when the time comes, which it surely will, through cancer or some other misfortune.

It's so true. In this false positivity, this infantilizing and uber-feminine delusion of "survivorhood" rife with pink teddy bears and ribbons, there is something forgotten.

To some, Komen and all it stands for has always felt like a cult of dishonesty and this current political flap only proves it. If they cared about women, they would care about making sure that every woman has the ability to get care for her cancer so she CAN be a survivor. Komen doesn't deal with the reality of breast cancer, though. They deal in the "prettification" of it.

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No woman should have to force smiles through pain and pretend everything is powerful and AWESOME or else be accused of having a bad attitude. Just as no woman should have to go without proper cancer screening because CEO Nancy Brinker and VP Karen Handel decided it didn't "look pretty" for Planned Parenthood to be a friend to Komen.

When faced with her lies, Handel only spread more lies on top of them. This organization has been about lies all along. Women deserve better than that. We deserve honesty and the ability to spend our time and money supporting organizations that truly are in it for ALL women -- the poor, the rich, the educated, the uneducated, the survivors, and the dying. They all deserve honesty and good health.

Do you think Komen has become too much of a mess to come back?


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