Thursday, February 02, 2012

Life After Komen ...

Every blister was a lie.

That's how I feel tonight, 48 hours after writing my post about giving up on Komen.

I've spent a good part of the past two days learning things I should have known for the past 10 years.

But I wanted to believe.

I walked my first 3-Day in 2001, three weeks after September 11th. Maybe that heightened everything. Maybe the feel-good atmosphere was rarified air that I desperately needed to breathe. Maybe it was seeing Adam, who had been missing from my life for too long. Maybe it was the pink sorority I pledged for those few days. Maybe it was the need to be a part of something bigger than myself, to feel the palpable power of numbers and good.

I walked my second 3-Day in 2005. I had fallen away from the event when Pallotta TeamWorks shut down, after Avon used Pallotta's framework to begin its own series of events. It was ugly. I should have seen the ugliness as a sign. But I didn't. In the fall of 2004, I had met Brooke Ellison. I was at the premiere of "The Brooke Ellison Story," Christopher Reeve's last film. I was in the green room afterward, waiting for my friend Marlea who was doing the publicity for the event. I paced while I was waiting, and then suddenly stopped. I realized, in that moment, that I was able to pace, that I was able to walk, unlike Brooke, who I would meet in person just a few moments later. That night, I vowed to walk the 3-Day every year until a cure was found.

I walked every year – 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 (I was registered for, but had to skip, 2011) – and each year, friends and family supported me, many monetarily, some logistically. One friend was very honest and told me that she could no longer support Komen but that she wanted to support me, so she didn't contribute money, but gave of herself instead. From her perspective, Komen and all it stood for had become nothing but a business, and as a business, she believed, it wasn't in their financial interest to find a cure. I remember being taken aback by her cynicism.

But she wasn't being cynical so much as I was being naive.

I know that now.

Still, I walked. Every year. Events lost a bit of their luster for me. The route doesn't vary from year to year. Once 3-Day staffers have secured permissions from municipalities, they don't reinvent the wheel. So the route became rote, but I met new people on every event.

The people. The amazing people.

I lost touch with Pat, the woman with whom I walked my first event in 2001. But I met Catherine on the route in 2005 and we still exchange Christmas cards. I met Erin, Shel, and Mike in 2006. We're all still in touch. The group who adopted me in 2007 and I have mostly lost touch, but I met Amy in 2008 and she is one of my dearest friends. She walked again in 2009. It was nice to begin an event with someone I knew. In 2010, I was on my own again, but I met a couple of girls at Opening Ceremonies, first-timers. And on the route, I met Michael, a force of nature. And later, his wife Monica. We're still in touch, too.

They are what I am holding on to now as everything I wanted to believe about Komen disintegrates by the hour.

Nancy Brinker has done the most to disillusion me. I was on the event in Chicago in 2009 when her son told us that President Obama had awarded her a Presidential Medal of Freedom. You've never heard such cheering.

Today, I wondered if he was rueing that decision.

The more I hear her talk, the more I hear her try to spin the decision to sever ties with Planned Parenthood ("This is not a political decision," she says. It's ostensibly based on an investigation happening in Congress. How much more political can you get?), the more I hear her sound like the politician she's become (George W. Bush appointed her Ambassador to Hungary), the heavier I sigh.

It is indeed a business. An enormous business. I find much of the merchandising behind it annoying and opportunistic – no, I don't need a pink KitchenAid mixer, thank you very much – and some of it downright disgusting.

Did you know that Smith & Wesson donates a portion of its proceeds from the sale of a pink-handled pistol to Komen?

I cannot tell you how much I wish I was making that up.

Look closely. You can see a ribbon on the barrel.

The absurdity of it is almost too much to comprehend.

I've heard the laments from women over the years who decried October and its requisite painting of pink. "But we're trying to help them," I told myself.

I truly thought we were. Helping them, I mean.

But for all the years and all the money and all the research, we still don't have a cure. Today, 1 in 8 women will battle breast cancer.

The question is: Why?

This film should provide some answers. In an astonishing stroke of perfect timing, "Pink Ribbons Inc." arrives in theaters in Canada tomorrow.

Watch the trailer. See if you get as incensed as I did when you see that the first-ever breast-cancer ribbon was salmon and how it came to be pink.

And read "Cancerland" from Barbara Ehrenreich. It was written in 2001. Nothing has changed for the better. It's only gotten worse.

I still believe in a cure.

I still believe in a world without breast cancer.

But I now believe that walking there isn't the way.

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