In October of 2012, METAvivor, with generous help from Eisai Inc., launched a fundraising campaign called MBC Aware. Rather than describing it, I’ll let this image from the campaign’s page do the talking:
The point, of course, is that metastatic breast cancer is the nasty elephant in the happy, fluffy, merchandise-crammed pink room that comprises the usual Pinktober unawareness campaigns.
A few days ago, it came to the attention of many of us that Komen, putatively referred to by us Grumblers as Big Pink, launched a fundraising campaign with Kohl’s Department Stores. Naturally, they have a celeb spokesperson, Katie Holmes, signed on, just to add that special je-ne-sais-quoi. Unlike METAvivor’s campaign, this one encourages you to buy stuff at Kohl’s, thereby earning Kohl’s Pink Cash which will help raise money for Komen. Again, I’ll let an image from the campaign’s site page do the talking.
Not only does it co-opt the elephant-in-the-room metaphor that METAvivor used, it’s the wrong elephant. To wit, the campaign’s tagline is, “Together we can start the conversation.” The site page goes on to say, “We’ve all heard of the elephant in the room. This spring, Kohl’s partners with Susan G. Komen to take on the pink elephant in the room — the topic of breast cancer. It’s a conversation no one wants to have, but one of the things we must talk about. Start the conversation today with #TalkPink.” Oh, sure. As long as no one mentions the real elephant in the room — metastatic breast cancer — you know, the kind that causes death. Wouldn’t want to spoil anyone’s shopping experience, would we?
There’s just so much wrong with this, it’s hard to know where to start. First of all, I’d like to point out that merely moving the position of the word ‘pink’ does not convince anyone with a few gray cells that this is not a rip-off. Komen has infamously pursued copyright infringement complaints in the past, with their big legal guns blazing, by going after other fundraising organizations for using the phrase “for the cure.” You may read my previous posts, Suing for the Cure and Hubris for the Cure for more details. So, what exactly do they think they’re doing now?
Secondly, the phrase ‘pink elephants’ (plural) is a euphemism associated with, according to Merriam-Webster online, “hallucinations arising especially from heavy drinking or use of narcotics.” And ‘pink elephant’ (singular), according to a cursory Google search, is associated with various disparate entities, such as several animated films, including Disney’s ‘Dumbo,’ a couple of nightclubs, a song by the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, and a collection of poems by award-winning writer Rachel McKibbens. Perhaps METAvivor should get together with all of the above and launch a class-action copyright-infringement suit against Komen. Just a thought.
Then there’s the SSDD factor (same sh!t, different day). The campaign page suggests we ‘start the conversation’ with one of several of the usual Komen topics, with brief explanations of each, under the heading ‘Learn more about breast cancer and share what inspires you.’ For instance, under ‘Breast Cancer Warning Signs’ is the bromide, “Warning signs are not the same for all women. If you notice any changes in your breasts, see your doctor.” There are nine conversation-starters in all, and not a single one of them mentions metastatic breast cancer, that much-vaunted ‘cure’ Komen purports to be seeking, or how many women and men die from MBC each year. This is Komen’s version of ‘awareness.’ As I’ve said before, if we’re not aware of metastatic breast cancer, we’re not aware.
As most of us know, Komen is not the only party guilty of that omission. In recent years, many of us, including and especially groups like METAvivor, have been trying to change the conversation, not have the same, tired, misleading conversation, about breast cancer. However, few would quibble with the assertion that Big Pink has led the pack in the pinksploitation of breast cancer awareness. This Guidestar Report is notable for the hundreds of critiques it presents about Komen. You’ll notice that Komen received an average rating of only one star out of five according the 668 personal reviews Guidestar gathered about them. You can browse them all here.
Last November, Nancy Brinker attempted to demonstrate that Komen has not become irrelevant by joining Dr. Susan Love at a symposium in New York held by Partnering for Cures. The purpose of Partnering for Cures is to help speed up the research process involved in searching for cures for several difficult diseases. Brinker and Love announced a collaboration between Komen and Dr. Love’s Army of Women, along with the Young Survival Coalition, on a study to document the collateral damage caused by breast cancer treatment, via the Health of Women (HOW) Study. Worthy topic, but still not a search for a cure.
They also announced that these three organizations joined with several others to form the Metastatic Breast Cancer Alliance. You’ll notice that the members’ list, while including several noteworthy groups, does not include METAvivor. In the MBC Alliance’s press release, they state that “Initially, the MBC Alliance will conduct a Landmark Analysis to assess gaps, duplication and opportunities in the field to gain consensus on a path forward to addressing the unique needs of those living with metastatic breast cancer. The Alliance will issue a report from the analysis in early 2014 and will aim to raise awareness around current promising efforts, and develop new approaches and actions to advance metastatic research, as well as work to understand and advance policy issues to ensure inclusion of metastatic breast cancer.”
The MBC Alliance is receiving funds from Celgene Corporation, Genentech and Pfizer. I was unable to find out who exactly is running the Alliance, where and how they meet, or who is conducting this landmark analysis. In her post on last October’s MBC Awareness Day, author and activist Gayle Sulik remarked, “I hope the Alliance will also address mounting concerns over the commercialization and trivialization of breast cancer, pinkwashing and profiteering, the lack of transparency and accountability on the part of corporations and breast cancer organizations alike, and concerns over the lack of attention to the diverse experiences and difficult realities of this disease.” So do I.
I have to admit that such efforts usually strike me as re-inventing the wheel. It’s not like others have not been working very hard for several years now to raise awareness of MBC, to raise money for direct MBC research, which is METAvivor’s primary mission, and to help provide support and information for people who are living with MBC. Do we really need the MBC Alliance? I don’t know. Believe me, I’ve served on groups like this, and the ratio of blah-blah to accomplishment is often steep. Let’s hope the Alliance doesn’t turn out to be all smoke and no fire. And one final point, has anyone else noted that Komen was founded in 1982, which means it’s taken them 32 years merely to join an alliance about MBC??
Meanwhile, METAvivor has tried to contact Kohl’s about how the Komen/Kohl’s campaign has co-opted its message about MBC. They were told that Kohl’s president would call them back yesterday, but as of today, no callback has been received. On Thursday, 2/20, Breast Cancer Action, in two posts on BCA’s Facebook page, brought the issue to light and has urged everyone to voice their response via social media and the blogosphere. I tried to find a specific name for the marketing genius at Komen who dreamed up this rip-off, but was unsuccessful. However, Komen is certainly all over Facebook and Twitter, and you can, if you are so moved, write to Komen’s current president and CEO, Dr. Judith A. Salerno, c/o Komen’s headquarters at 5005 LBJ Freeway, Suite 250, Dallas, TX 75244.
And speaking of awareness, I’d really like someone at Komen to explain something about its own awareness and apparent lack thereof. Did Komen knowingly, deliberately — and callously — rip off METAvivor’s elephant-in-the-room metaphor? Or are they just so out of touch that they didn’t even know it existed? Either way, the answer is inexcusable.