It disheartens, and at times angers, me every time I hear or read another comment to the effect that “breast cancer charities have plenty of money,” or “the fight against breast cancer is well in hand.” My feelings come from the fact that, as President of the Susan G. Komen Philadelphia Board of Directors, I know this simply is not true. But these feelings are equally as strong because, as a man with a daughter and grandchildren, I fear for their future if these types of beliefs persist.
There are a number of frightening myths out there about Susan G. Komen and, by association, Komen Philadelphia. By far to me the most damaging of these is that Komen Philadelphia is “doing well.” Don’t get me wrong, the organization is doing many great things for the breast cancer movement. It is with pride we share the numbers that track our leadership and progress in the fight over 26 years: $56.6 million in grants for local services, $23 million in funding for research and more than 160,000 free mammograms for women in need.
But the reality behind these numbers is – they simply are not good enough. To put it in a more accurate perspective, even if Komen Philadelphia maintained the status quo in fundraising from over the past three years, the organization would fall well short of meeting the needs of the populations in the 15 counties we serve in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. Many factors contribute to this, and not all are negative… progress breeds need for new and expanded services. Key contributors include:
- Changing need. The way healthcare is evolving today, even people with insurance find themselves “underinsured,” meaning they are challenged, if not completely unable, to pay out-of-pocket costs for services. Approximately 1.2 million underinsured people exist in Komen Philadelphia’s service area.
- Unmet need: Despite increase in the number of insured individuals, approximately 800,000 people in Komen Philadelphia’s service area remain uninsured.
- New need: While a very good thing, indeed, the number of breast cancer survivors is growing tremendously; an entire new funding stream is needed to support them in their lives after breast cancer – at the rate of 6,000 survivors per year!
Finally, we can’t neglect breast cancer research because right now too many women and men – even those with full coverage and the best care team – are still dying of this merciless disease. Until the day everyone diagnosed with breast cancer is guaranteed to survive it, research will need increased funding.
Komen Philadelphia and our family of supporters loves nothing more than the indescribable picture painted on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art every Mother’s Day morning – the thousands of breast cancer survivors kicking off our annual Race for the Cure with their victory walk. The hope for a cure is unavoidable when you see that endless sea of pink formed by survivors and loved ones fill the parkway for miles. The importance of all that pink will never change; Komen Philadelphia will also be strong in encouraging the community to celebrate it.
But at this point in the fight against breast cancer we have a responsibility to all we serve, as well as to their generations to follow, to help our community place a greater emphasis on the “green” that drives all that pink… that has built the current foundation of hope and that is vital to continuing our progress. Donations. Fundraising. Sponsorship. They are all critical. The funding for every grant, every free mammogram, every researcher and every educational and support initiative doesn’t materialize out of thin air. They exist because of donor dollars. If they do not increase, neither will our ability to save lives, support growing survivor communities and empower research.
I can’t emphasize it enough: right now despite what people may say, despite Komen Philadelphia’s ongoing efforts to stretch dollars to the max, find creative solutions and advocate for policy support – organizations like ours simply do not have enough dollars to do what needs to be done. From struggling economies and personal budgets, to a dramatic increase in competition for charitable dollars, there is no single person or dynamic to blame for the current situation and the short-term outlook. But there are actions everyone can take, and it starts with turning away from the myths and embracing that knowledge that every dollar makes an impact.
We need everyone who is able to support the Race for the Cure by registering or donating.
Ronald J. Harper, Esq.
Board of Directors President, Susan G. Komen Philadelphia