My involvement with breast cancer fundraising goes back a long time. Twelve years ago I trained extensively and raised more than $12,000 to take part in two consecutive 3-Day walks in Los Angeles -- trekking 60 miles from Santa Barbara to Malibu.
The first year, I walked in soaking wet sneakers during a fierce California storm. My friends and I shook uncontrollably from the cold and helped each other set up soggy camp tents. We nursed horrible blisters, endured the winds and cars on the Pacific Coast Highway and linked arms to help those who said they couldn't go on.
It was truly a wet, muddy, humbling experience. It was beautiful.
A year later, I did it all again. The training. The fundraising. The commitment.
I continued donating my time and money when the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation took over the 3-Day events. The foundation was just getting going back then. However, in a few short years its ubiquitous pink ribbons were everywhere, attracting even more volunteers, participants and corporate sponsorships. Soon Komen events were in every large city across the country and the organization expanded internationally.
Like many, I saw it as a nonprofit model of success.
Although I no longer take part in the long walks, I have kept giving -- supporting 3-Day walkers over the years and most recently an online donation of $100. The money I've given is not a huge amount, but it is significant for me: A divorced, middle-aged woman who has been underemployed for the past four years and is helping to finance her daughter's college education.
To be part of the pink sisterhood battling this dreaded disease made me feel as though I was doing something good.
Doing good. The Susan G. Koman foundation has indeed done a lot of good. It has helped countless women get care they cannot afford. It has funneled billions of dollars into breast cancer education, prevention and research.
However, Komen did not do good last week. The decision to prevent Planned Parenthood from applying for grants generated outrage as well as a social- and traditional-media firestorm.
For the first time, many of us saw the woman behind the foundation, CEO Nancy G Brinker. In her taped video message and subsequent interviews, Ms. Brinker appeared remote and strident -- and, honestly, her unfortunate hair style didn't help. The outrage over the Planned Parenthood decision continued to build momentum. Within a few days, Komen's board had voted to reverse itself in an effort to do damage control.
Over time, Komen may find its footing and continue to prosper, or it will be permanently damaged by recent events. My feeling is that we've not heard the last of this issue, but time will tell.
Like millions of women, I turned to my social media platforms last week by tweeting and posting my displeasure -- using words like shameful, unbelievable and outraged.
Then, after I had blown off a liberal amount of steam, I did what I should have done before blithely sending off my hard-earned cash. I researched. In a nutshell, here's what I learned.
The very wealthy Nancy G. Brinker (founder of the foundation named in her sister's memory) pulls down over $400,000 a year as CEO of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure -- not the $5 million as reported in some blogs. She was appointed U.S. ambassador to Hungary by her friend, George W. Bush, and later was chief of protocol for his administration. Brinker is rumored to be playing a role in George W's presidential library that is being built in Texas. She is a major donor to conservative politicians.
Last year, Susan G. Komen for the Cure spent more than one million dollars on legal fees to aggressively stop small local groups from using the words "for the cure" in their efforts to raise money to fight breast cancer. The official party line from Komen is that forcefully protecting their brand will stop "confusion" in the marketplace. Maybe. Yet, is it good policy to go after well-meaning adults -- even teens and children -- when everyone is working toward the same goal of raising money to end breast cancer? This single-minded focus of protecting their brand seems strident -- much like Ms. Brinker herself.
Karen Handel, who describes herself as a lifelong conservative republican, was probably the architect of last week's disastrous Planned Parenthood decision. Handel, a failed gubernatorial candidate from Georgia, was vice president of public policy for Komen until stepping down today, and is a long-time opponent of Planned Parenthood. Ms. Handel has spoken often about her desire to stop funding of the organization, and in her own blog Ms. Handel wrote, "since I am pro-life, I do not support the mission of Planned Parenthood."
Nancy Brinker can certainly hire anyone she sees fit, and she can certainly support whatever political candidates and causes she wants. However, now that I have done my research, I know that this is not the big-tent nonprofit I thought it was. So much can be told by the people at the helm, and the Komen leadership is not in sync with my beliefs. I will do more research and find other cancer organizations to support.
For me this has been a lesson learned. I was wrong when I tweeted: "Shame on you, Susan G. Komen." I should have tweeted: "Shame on you, Susan G. Komen. And, shame on me for not doing my homework."
This post originally appeared on Dating Dementia.
Bio: Nancy Wurtzel blogs at Dating Dementia (www.datingdementia.com) about her journey making big changes at midlife. Read her slightly twisted and often funny take on marriage, divorce, parenting, baby boomer issues, careers, relationships and caring for an aging parent with dementia.