A couple of months ago I was just going into the swimming baths and a woman came in behind me and asked the receptionist, ‘Could I leave some leaflets for you to display about a local healthy eating and weight loss group?’ And the woman behind reception said without pausing, ‘No, we don’t display leaflets.’ So the woman with the leaflets turned round and left.
But that was blatantly not true, because on the counter, right there was a cardboard leaflet holder containing leaflets for a cancer charity’s ‘Race for Life’ event taking place in Liverpool. This event is not for a breast cancer specific charity, but the leaflet has a picture showing women in pink t-shirts, and the irritating slogan of ‘Join the girls’, (well it irritated me), implying that this is an event for women. At the time I had a sense of feeling that it was wrong, a health facility supporting a national cancer reearch charity, but not a local health group.
And, the ‘Race for Life’ event happened this weekend. I was reminded of that because one of my squash friends told me she was taking part in this event. I said, ‘I hope you’re not wearing a pink t-shirt!’ and she laughed. But she told me she was doing it with her friend, whose boyfriend’s mother has just been diagnosed with breast cancer and is now being treated. And she wanted to do something.
I totally get that. She wanted to do something.
She wanted to do something that will show that she cares, that might raise money that could stop cancer happening, or improve the treatments for cancer. I totally get that. But.
I didn’t see the event, but Ronnie was in the park with coach Karen and they saw it. Thousands of women wearing pink. What do they think this all achieves? This is not being critical of their intentions. They think it’s doing something ‘good’. And this is the only way the breast cancer culture offers them a way to do that.
In the USA these events are more prolific and higher profile. As Gayle Sulik describes them:
“It sounds fun. Solidaristic. Important. Meaningful. Sanctimonious. In some ways it is.”
Now, I start to feel like my fellow blogger Anna Rachnel over at The Cancer Culture Chronicles who recently wrote a series of in-depth pieces about how Komen, the largest breast cancer charity in the USA, spend their money, much of which is raised by women doing running and walking events.
So, I’m not an accountant like Anna, but I started to look at the figures that these cancer charities in the UK are working with. Cancer Research UK, who organise the Race for Life events, and are entirely funded by the public, have an annual income of £514 million. I’ll just repeat that. £514,000,000. That’s a lot of money.
In order to raise that amount of money charities have to be seen, they have to have a profile, spend money on marketing and pay staff – it costs money to raise money. On the first page of Cancer Research UK’s accounts for 09/10 they state that of every £1 donated by the public, 80p will go towards their work of research, information and policy influencing. And 20p is the cost of doing that.
And then I looked at the figures for the largest breast cancer charity in the UK, Breakthrough Breast Cancer. Their annual income is just over £18 million. They don’t have an obvious figure for how they spend each pound they receive, but on their financial review (page 28) they list the cost of generating income as £6.8 million. Now I’ve already said I’m not an accountant, but to me that looks like about 62p of each £1 is used for their work, and 38p is the cost of generating it.
There are other breast cancer charities in the UK, but these are the first two that I looked at. I mean they do good things, don’t they? But there’s duplication here. All charities spend money, some of which the good public raise for them, on ‘costs’, that means rent on office space and advertising and promotion and salaries. When we raise money for them, we’re paying for all that too. Surely they could reduce costs? Just a thought.
Because spending less money on costs means more money could be put into research. Research that’s currently being done, but also in the areas where some of us in the breast cancer community want to see it going. On prevention, and I don’t mean the ‘blame the patient’ lifestyle risks version of prevention, I mean a serious look at everyday carcinogens and environmental links to breast cancer. And the other area lacking in research is treatment for metastatic breast cancer, or stage IV breast cancer, which is currently incurable. Statistics for metastatic recurrence vary depending on the source but this quote states 25%. It’s from the New York Times article on 17 Jan 2011 about stage IV breast cancer:
“But about 25 percent of those with early-stage disease develop metastatic forms, with an estimated 49,000 new diagnoses each year, according to the American Cancer Society.”
So given that nearly 48,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in the UK, there’s a lot of women who’d really like a cure for stage IV. I mean ‘really like’ is an understatement. Our lives literally depend on it. Our ‘survival’.
As it happens the same day this Race for Life event takes place is also National Survivors Day. So what does that mean? From their website:
“Who is a cancer survivor? The National Cancer Survivors Day Foundation defines a “survivor” as anyone living with a history of cancer – from the moment of diagnosis through the remainder of life. National Cancer Survivors Day affords your community an opportunity to demonstrate that it has an active, productive cancer survivor population.”
So how does someone with stage IV feel about being called a survivor, when they know that breast cancer will probably kill them? And does blogging count as active and productive?
A friend sends me a link to a short film, the Pink Well Breast Cancer Survior Dance Tribute to celebrate National Cancer Survivors Day in Houston, Texas. Gloria Gaynor sings ‘I will survive’ whilst hundreds of women parade in pink wigs and tinsel, in sparkly pink dresses and feather boas, and smile and dance. I’ve included the link here, I could only bear to watch a few seconds, but if you’re curious…
Meanwhile, the same friend is off for more scans for her metastatic breast cancer. She is 40 years old. Scans to see if her weekly chemotherapy treatments are having an effect, if she might get a period of stable disease. And for those of you who haven’t experienced intense medical treatment, we’re talking about every week of your life interupted by at least one medical appointment, hours of sitting round waiting for treatment, then waiting for results from scans, living her life in three month chunks. It means visits to clinics where other patients hopefully ask her when she’s going to end her treatment. It means serious side effects and unexpected hospital stays due to complications with her heart and lungs. Feeling like a prisoner because her doctors say it’s not safe for her to fly right now, so she has to cancel a short break on a retreat, which is just what she could do with right now. And anyway, her treatment is so intense she can only think about taking a few days away at a time.
Do you think she would like a pink wig or a feather boa? Do you think she feels like dancing and celebrating survivorship?