From the Executive Director: Money Talks: Challenging the Status Quo of Breast Cancer

Karuna Jaggar

Executive Director Karuna Jaggar

By Karuna Jaggar, BCAction Executive Director

February was a big month for me both personally and professionally. I celebrated my one year anniversary with Breast Cancer Action. I travelled to my alma mata to celebrate Barbara Brenner as she received her Smith College Medal for breast cancer activism. While there I caught an early screening of the film Pink Ribbons Inc. And because we can’t ignore the pink elephant in the room, like the rest of you, I was angry and disappointed by Komen’s defunding of Planned Parenthood. You can read some of my comments here.

Komen’s decision to defund Planned Parenthood rightly outraged many women and men across the United States and fueled headlines questioning the status quo of breast cancer fundraising and funding, let alone what it said about how Komen prioritizes (or not) women’s health in general. Much of the coverage replicated tired and uncritical narratives about screening that did little to address the root issues of this epidemic. I was glad to see amid this media maelstrom, several important voices raising critical challenges to the status quo in breast cancer. Susan Love, Peggy Orenstein, and Christie Aschwanden published excellent pieces calling attention to the real dangers of promoting screening over prevention and the need to fully consider the number of ways in which breast cancer is held hostage by corporate interests. Heartened though I was to read their pieces, I know that unless there is some dramatic intervention this October the world will be littered again with pink noise and distractions.

We need organizations like Komen to redirect their focus away from the distraction of “shop for the cure” and the oversimplification of “early detection saves lives” because maintaining the status quo is literally costing us lives. Too many amazing women are dying. Breast Cancer Action lost a great friend and colleague when Rachel Cheetham Moro died in January. Personally, I deeply feel the loss of a sharp intellect and strong voice when Wave Geber died a few months earlier. I admire both women immensely. Their deaths, along with the tens of thousands of other women who have died in recent months,are a tremendous loss to the world and an urgent reminder that behind mortality statistics real women — friends, lovers, mothers, sisters — are dying from this terrible disease.

The recent Komen debacle once again shone a powerful spotlight on the most important issues that can finally propel us past the status quo in breast cancer: transparency and accountability. We must push for the highest standards in both from all organizations who claim to work on behalf of women with this disease. We must continue to follow the money and recognize that the source of a breast cancer organization’s funding always affects its policies, priorities, solutions, and agendas—and yes its grant recipients too. We are very clear about why the status quo exists: most breast cancer organizations, both large and small, receive significant funding from pharmaceutical manufacturers and other corporations that profit from or contribute to this disease.

It’s been one year since the deeply flawed and profoundly influential Citizens United decision declaring corporations to be persons. Nothing better exemplifies the truism that “money talks.” Money talks in every aspect of our lives—elections, classrooms, board rooms and even bedrooms,. And breast cancer is no different when money talks in doctors offices, research labs, public policy and regulatory agencies.

Corporate influence has resulted in the overemphasis on mammography as the solution to the terrible death toll. The dollars created by pink philanthropy distracts attention away from the huge role corporations play in releasing toxic chemicals into our daily environment and bodies. Prevention studies sponsored by corporate dollars that focus on women’s individual behavior (drink less wine, lose weight, have babies early) fail to address the root causes of this disease because the root causes of this disease are inextricably connected to corporate practices and profit cycles.

The new feature film Pink Ribbons, Inc., in which breast cancer activist and former BCAction executive director Barbara Brenner plays a powerful role, opened at U.S. film festivals last month. I can’t think of a more timely moment to shine a hefty spotlight on the status quo of breast cancer. The documentary, which the Toronto Film Festival called “powerful and incendiary,” pulls back the pink curtain on why we aren’t making progress in ending this epidemic.

This movie is a potential game-changer, showing just how much the shiny pink status quo has cost us — and how little we’ve gained from it. But change won’t happen by itself. Watch the documentary. And take a moment, if you haven’t already, to download our new (and free!) Think Before You Pink Toolkit. Share a link to the toolkit with 10 other people. Leave a copy at your local clinic, coffee shop, school, break room and anywhere you see pink materials. Help us build our numbers. We have a huge opportunity while this issue remains on everyone’s mind. Pulling back the pink curtain is the first step. The reality is action speaks louder than pink. The world is listening and it’s time to put the power of change into the hands of everyone we know because then, together, we can and must change the status quo.

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