Then, life happened. While I did well in my statistics courses, I tanked in computer programing and calculus. FORTRAN was the death of me and I still have nightmares over card readers, !JOB and !END and trying to figure out what was supposed to happen in between those two commands. I made a D my first semester of FORTRAN. I retook the class and I think the graduate assistant simply gave me a C to make sure I stayed out of his class. I was awful at programming and was just as bad in advanced math. I have eight hours of Ds in trigonometry and calculus.
I switched over to business and found I could still use statistics and all was not lost. Accounting was a new art form and the concept of marketing entered my vocabulary and I ended up graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a major in marketing management. I enjoyed that for quite some time and had a career in business until my daughter was born in 2000.
My last statistics class was over 30 years ago. I’ve forgotten more than I ever knew, but I do remember a couple of key factors. In a non-clinical setting (i.e. marketing), you can make statistics say/mean almost anything. In 1983 I wrote a paper on how to lie with statistics and I learned how easy it was to make something look much more important than it really was. That gave me a healthy mistrust in simple numbers without having substance behind them. Rex Stout said it best in his novel, “Death of a Doxy,” when he wrote, “There are two kinds of statistics, the kind you look up and the kind you make up.”
Fast forward to present time. Believe it or not, I’m not completely anti-Komen. I believe that local Komen affiliates are providing seriously needed services in their local communities for people (mostly women) who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. I have absolutely no problems with local affiliates being strong supporters and for being the first responders for the newly diagnosed who have no idea where to turn when they hear the words, “breast cancer.” Because Komen is such a marketing juggernaut, that name is typically the first resource a patient may think of.
HOWEVER (that’s a big BUT), my admiration ends right there.
Where do the local affiliates get their money? Their funds typically come from locally managed “Race for the Cure” or “Relay for the Cure” events. Note the key words … “For the Cure.”
Last year I was in Philadelphia in April, a few short weeks before their Mother’s Day “Race for the Cure.” This year, I’m returning to Philadelphia at around the same time and I’m expecting to see the same signs promoting the annual affair.
Note these quotes in encouraging people to fundraise: “Remember, coming and walking on Mother’s Day is an important way to get involved… but it is your fundraising that drives our power to save lives and cure breast cancer!”
In the Frequently Asked Questions, “Where does the money go?” is near the top. The answer?
“We (Philadelphia affiliate) keep 75% of money raised here at home to support our work in 15 counties. We contribute 25% to breast cancer research.”
I’ve seen that 25% statistic thrown around quite a bit so I decided to pick up the phone and call the Philadelphia affiliate office to find out exactly what it meant. Elaine Grobman (CEO of Komen Philadelphia) graciously spent time answering my questions and was very patient with me as I pushed to understand exactly what she was saying, as well as my desire to understand what is stated in Komen’s national records.
According to Ms. Grobman, every Komen affiliate submits 25% of their income (raised through races, relays, corporation donations, sponsorships, private donations, etc.) to Komen national office in Dallas. It was my understanding that those monies were put into Komen national general funds. However, Ms. Grobman corrected me in that local affiliate payments to the national office are designated by contract to ONLY go into research.
Interesting. I hadn’t heard that before. I started digging around other local affiliate offices statements and noticed that they were saying the same thing … that local affiliate payments did not go to national administrative costs and were only used for research. The Philadelphia office sent $625,000 to the national office, all of which went into research of some kind.
This makes me feel even better about local affiliates. They are supporting their immediate community, yet investing in research to go beyond their local community. It’s unfortunate, though, that the national office is not following through on their commitment to end breast cancer.
Here’s where it gets ugly. Komen is very, very transparent about where their money goes. They like to throw around words like “largest funder of breast cancer research outside of the federal government” but they don’t acknowledge how much of their budget does NOT go to research.
Here’s some figures to consider. I’m focusing on the latest figures to date, fiscal year ending March 31, 2015. (You might need to zoom in to be able to read the numbers more clearly.)
Let’s compare Figures 1 and 2:
It gets worse.
How much public support and revenue did they declare? $250,276,362 (See Figure 1). (Although, their tax form 990 declares gross receipts to be $279,485,608, but let’s stick with the consolidated statements to be consistent.)
If we subtract out the affiliate payments from the public support and revenue, the balance is $229,366,270. This means the percentage that Komen national office actually spends on pure research grants and awards is 4.03%.
I’m not an accountant and I’m not a statistician. However, I can look at these numbers for a single year and see that the majority of Komen’s national funds are not going “for the cure.”
What does it take to change? Last weekend, my smoke detector batteries died and I had to deal with that screeching noise those alarms put out until the batteries are replaced. However, over the next few days, the alarm continued to screech. Turns out that it was time to replace the entire unit. It wasn’t good enough to keep putting new batteries in it … a completely new model had to be put into place.
When Komen began, the model of public awareness and education was vastly needed. However, 30 years later, it’s time to replace that model. It’s no longer acceptable to say, “Early detection saves lives” because if that were true, all early stage diagnoses would result in a 100% cure with no risk of recurrence. There are too many early stage patients having metastatic recurrences two and three decades after their primary diagnosis. More research must be given into the biology of tumors to understand how to stop metastasis long before it occurs.
Research takes money. Komen, please open your corporate wallets and designate more money into the area where differences can truly be made. No more running and racing for a cure. Let’s have research for a cure.