By my amusement turned to outrage when Anna called my attention to the Booby Bracelet Brigade. Anna provided a link to Peggy Orenstein’s take on a video featuring “Captain Booby” and friends on behalf of the I ♥ Boobies/Keep-a-Breast Foundation (KAB).
“What does ‘awareness’ of breast cancer mean, anyway?” Orenstein asked. “Awareness of what precisely? What are we not aware of?”
Noting that the American Cancer society no longer endorses self-breast exams (SBEs) Orenstein wondered why KAB is raising thousands of dollars to promote it to young women. (“BSE has not been found to find breast cancers early nor has it been found to provide any survival benefit for the diagnosed,” writes Gayle Sulik, author of Pink Ribbon Blues in a recent post. “It may be fun or even empowering to feel boobies. It definitely sells a lot of t-shirts and bracelets. But it does not save lives in the long run.” )
I would like to share my correspondence with Hunter PR account rep Lauren Szczerba. Alacer, maker of an immune defense drink mix (“Emergen-C”) is a proud KAB supporter. Hunter Public Relations represents Alacer.
I am sure Ms. Szczerba dutifully drafted a response, billed Alacer and assumed she would hear nothing more from crabby breast cancer patients.
Well, guess again sister.
My first email was very mild: I told Szczerba that many of the 155,000 pople living with metastatic breast cancer find KAB and its boobies accessories offensive. I urged her to support a group such as www.Metavivor.org that funds badly needed research–specifically on metastatic breast cancer. (I have no affiliation with Metavivor, just a vested interest in their success.)
Last year Metavivor raised $50,000 to fund a grant for Dr. Danny Welch. As Dr. Welch noted in a recent NYT article, women with metastatic breast cancer account for 90% of the mortality from the disease. But metastatic research receives 3% or less of all cancer research funding.
“Won’t you help those who really need help?” I concluded.
I was sorely tempted to add: “if only proper names were allowed in Scrabble. I bet ‘Szczerba’ would be a Triple Word Score at least.”
But I settled for “Sincerely yours, Katherine O’Brien.”
Here is Szczerba’s response:
Sent: Monday, March 21, 2011 8:44 AM
To: OBrien, Katherine
Thank you for your e-mail. We admire your passion and hear your concerns.
As you know, Alacer Corp. supports KAB’s mission to help eradicate breast cancer by exposing young people to methods of prevention, early detection and support. For Alacer, the color Pink is about power, strength and energy, and our CEO Ron Fugate has a personal connection to this cause, as his mother is a two-time breast cancer survivor. Which is why, for every box of Emergen-C Pink sold, 20 cents is donated to fund breast cancer awareness, research, and prevention efforts (20 cents per box corresponds to 50 percent of the net profit to Alacer). Since its launch in 2007, Emergen-C Pink has donated more than $300,000 in funding. While KAB has been the main recipient of those funds, Alacer Corp. has and will continue to donate to other breast cancer organizations focusing on funding research to prevent and cure breast cancer.
This past year, through our partnership with KAB, we had the privilege of awarding five $10,000 research grants last year to admirable organizations and institutions dedicated to making a positive impact in the fight against breast cancer. Recipients included California State University, Fresno Biology Department, University of California San Diego, Moores’ Cancer Center, Essentially Pink, The Rack Pack, and Bloom Natural Health. More information about the grants and upcoming programs can be found on here and on their websites: http://myemergenc.com/index.php/misc/press-room/press-releases/breast-cancer-awareness.
We feel that KAB’s work to bring attention to breast cancer while continuing to educate the younger generation, in addition to their extensive support network for those diagnosed with cancer is important, but understand and respect your opinion to disagree.
Furthermore, we appreciate your suggestion to consider supporting Metavivor. Their goal of making a difference and supporting metastatic breast cancer awareness and research is important, and we will be sure to consider potential opportunities to work with them in the future.
Thank you again for reaching out to us to express your concerns. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have further questions. We wish you all the best.
Naturally, I felt compelled to respond:
Sent: Monday, March 21, 2011 10:36 AM
To: Lauren Szczerba
Thank you for wishing me all the best. In 2011, metastatic breast cancer is incurable, but yes, I will do my best. Maybe I will take some Emergen-C.
For me, the color pink is like the famous remedy of that color sold for upset stomachs…it may coat and soothe but most of the time you’d still rather throw up.
KAB gives me the dry heaves.
My mother was a zero-time breast cancer survivor. She died of inflammatory breast cancer–which as you and the KAB brain trust undoubtedly know, typically does not present with a lump. You’d have more luck squeezing the Charmin. I don’t think the survival rate has improved much since my mom died at age 54 in 1983.
I continue the family tradition—I have metastatic breast cancer.
I hope my sister, sister in law and nieces will do what my mother and I couldn’t: die of old age. I am 46. I hope I will live at least as long as my mom, but the statistics aren’t in my favor.
In 2011, there is no cure for metastatic breast cancer.
Perhaps “Captain Booby” of KAB video fame would like to visit an oncology ward and see how STUPID and OFFENSIVE your approach is. I have a standing monthly appointment–I bet my oncologist would love to meet Captain Booby. Let me know a convenient time.
Are you and KAB truly making a difference? Not according to researchers from the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute (NCI). They found:
>No significant changes in overall breast cancer incidence in non-Hispanic white or black women or in Hispanic women from 2003 to 2007
>A slight (2.7% per year) increase in estrogen receptor (ER)-positive cancers and a decrease in ER-negative cancers in non-Hispanic white women 40 to 49 years of age
>An annual 5.24% increase in ER-positive breast cancers in black women 40 to 49 years of age
>A slight decrease in ER-negative cancers in non-Hispanic white women 60 to 69 years of age
>A continued decline in postmenopausal hormone use in all age group
The sharp decline in breast cancer incidence rates seen in the United States in 2003 has leveled off. Incidence rates are no longer decreasing, and in fact might be increasing in some groups.
Can’t you do more than bring attention to this disease in a stupid and patronizing way? Can you really be proud of the work you do on behalf of this client?
I am sure you have no intention of doing anything differently. But thank you for taking the time to write me a meaningless email full of platitudes and empty promises.
Have a nice day,