A new stink over breast cancer fundraising, lawsuits, and perfume

The Star Tribune is the latest to report on an issue we’ve reported on before on this blog. Their story, “Lawsuits For the Cure?,” begins:

Sue Prom helped organize the “Mush for a Cure” sled-dog race to raise money to fight breast cancer five years ago, a fundraiser that was humming along nicely until it received a letter from an attorney for the organization Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

Komen, best known for its pink ribbons, Mother’s Day runs and other mega-fundraisers for breast cancer research, asked Prom to stop using the phrase “for a cure” and to halt its request for a Mush for a Cure trademark.

“It was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding,'” said Prom, whose all-volunteer fundraiser outside Grand Marais, Minn., raised about $30,000 last year.

“People are donating money to this organization [Komen] to fight cancer — not to fight another organization fighting breast cancer….We raised thousands of dollars for breast cancer and don’t pay ourselves a dime. Then someone with really deep pockets tries to make life difficult for you. It’s not a warm fuzzy feeling you get from a beloved brand.”

Last week, the Chemobabe blog posted, “Komen Has Crossed the Line.” Excerpts:

While I have had fun making fun of all the pink crap that purports to support breast cancer patients, I have avoided direct criticism of the Susan Komen Foundation. Until now.

Friends, I have to speak up. While the unity may be 100% real, the purpose has become distorted. I feel that these women and the people who donate to them are being misled. I do not like to see people’s good intentions exploited.

I realize I’m a little late to the Komen critique party. Heck, there’s an entire blog dedicated to Komen oversight. Others have already pointed out how little of Komen’s money goes to research. More egregiously, they have trademarked the phrase For the Cure® and they sue smaller organizations for using it. …

fragrance_lg_img.jpgWhat was the straw that broke my back? It’s (Komen founder) Nancy (Brinker)’s latest product, Promise Me™ perfume.

My outrage is simple and comes in three parts: linking cancer to a perfume, the weird beauty breast cancer connection, and the misleading use of the money.

1. Many people in chemo, myself included, become incredibly chemically sensitive. I almost passed out when a woman at my gym sprayed perfume in the locker room. I was shaking and it took a half an hour for the episode to pass. The last thing I wanted to be near or around was any kind of fragrance. There is even evidence that fragrance may be carcinogenic – For the Cure® indeed!

2. Why do we have beauty products to raise funds and awareness for breast cancer alone? It is the only form of cancer that demands that we stay beautiful, even as we puke our guts out and lose our hair. Komen perpetuates this ideal.

3. This “floriental” scented perfume costs $59.00. Of that, how much do you think goes to research? If you said $1.51, you are correct! (Thanks for the math, Uneasy Pink!) Since Komen spends a minuscule fraction of that on researching metastatic disease, very little of your fifty-nine bucks is going toward a cure.

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Katen Moore

June 1, 2011 at 10:49 am

you hit the nail on the head! I was an oncology Nurse Practitioner for 15 years and during that time I only saw the Breast cancer world get bigger and bigger and that was during a time that treatment and management IMPROVED. Others with lung and GI cancers? not so loud, so not so well funded–but truly far deadlier. The reality is that no one wants cancer, but the persistent misstatement of the risk and truth about breast cancer is only hurting healthcare…ie: the fight over a useless drug Avastin.

Jody Schoger

June 1, 2011 at 1:18 pm

The breast cancer “movement” and its roots in 70’s feminism has changed into something few of us recognize. I’m grateful to Gayle Sulik, author of “Pink Ribbon Blues: How Breast Cancer Culture Undermines Women’s Health,” for her critical analysis of the turn the pink movement has taken.
And from my observation, “awareness” has led to more fear. Last week a Reuters study pointed out that women OVER-estimate their real chance of a breast cancer diagnosis. That’s sad. What’s sadder is “Promise Me” perfume, which as Lani beautifully pointed out, is bound to make breast cancer survivors ill. Most of us, since chemo, can’t stand being stuck in a room with women (and men) who are apply cologne and/or perfume too liberally.
Thanks for posting these, Gary.

    shannon hulett

    December 25, 2011 at 10:08 am

    It is not just cancer patients. Perfumes often give normally healthy people migraines often with heavy nautia. Often time a co worker will comment that she feels sick. I ask her to take away her perfume for a week and see if she gets better. Sometimes it is another product, but often their colgone/perfume is making them ill and they are not even aware that the product they love is delivering such a punch. I, personally think pink should not support perfumes or products including perfumes in their chemical make up but I also think that a much larger profit should go to the Komen Foundation than $1.51 regardless of the product. The pink branding itself is worth much much more than such a minimal reuturn.

Laurie Andreoni

June 1, 2011 at 7:51 pm

I find this latest partnership of Komen is the most offensive so far. Although they claim to educate, I’m appalled at how they brush off the dangers of BPA and other environmental toxins despite urgent actions like those taken in New York, and strong warnings by the Environmental Working Group.
I was more than annoyed by the partnership with KFC and Coke. Their response was that they were trying to reach a wider segment of the population to increase awareness. But to add a new, toxic product under the guise of promoting health? It’s nauseating, both literally and figuratively.

Holly Anderson

June 1, 2011 at 7:54 pm

I cringed when I read this post because, though sick of the Komen Foundation’s greedy grab, I am even more sick of the women dropping like flies to the disease. I worry that people will forget what we are (and have been) fighting for… easy to do with the commercialism and pink ribbon crap flooding the market. Komen is out of control. Please, folks, direct your ire towards the industry of pink… and Komen… and not at the disease itself.

Susan Beausang

June 2, 2011 at 12:10 pm

Komen has crossed the line yet again. 3 generations of breast cancer make me a huge believer in the cause and finding a cure but the commercialism is too much for me – and besides I’m allergic to perfume.

Nancy Stordahl

June 2, 2011 at 1:37 pm

I continue to be astounded by Komen. They seem to have lost focus on their intended mission. This latest product they are pushing seems to have indeed crossed a line. I found myself compelled to post about it as well. Thank you for giving this topic more attention.


June 9, 2011 at 2:04 pm

I am so done with Komen. I remember running the race a few years back. Days later, I got a boiler-room call asking for a donation. I explained that I just gave via the Race. Did the caller thank me for my support? Absolutely not. He just said Komen needed more money. That was it, go ahead and put me on the do-not-contact list. An ungrateful (and let me add international and sophisticated) charity such as this will not get my money ever again.
There are tons of organizations that need my philanthropic dollars. And I’m savvy enough to know that anyone can start a nonprofit organization to “educate” others. In other words, a Komen donation is, in reality, someone’s salary, not someone’s treatment. No more. I only support organizations that actually provide a benefit to the intended audience. If the money raised is for “education,” don’t bother soliciting me. Komen can take a hike.

kathi apostolidis

August 3, 2011 at 4:56 am

I had missed this post came through Brenda’s blog ( http://www.breastcancersisterhood.com/_blog/Brenda%27s_Blog/post/Breast_Cancer_Uses_Social_Media_for_Social_Change/#comment-275671470 ).
Indeed, I do know of Komen, their loss of vision and their greediness. There is too much on the web and I know also first hand by the huge amounts they ask as royalties and rights for hosting a race!! No volunteer patient org. with modest resources can afford them..
Also what I didn’t like at all is that they have paid staff earning 6figure salaries like in any big multinational!!! This is squarely not understood down here, where the only paid staff is a secretary with a modest salary well below $1000 and the Board are exclusively patient volunteers putting normal 9-7 working hours and travelling.


September 4, 2011 at 1:54 pm

With the exception of the research/admin-cost ratio, I think this is largely a big overreaction. I think it’s fair enough to be irritated over discovering how much money goes to research and how much goes instead to publicity — but I think you’re overreacting to the legal team notices. Let me explain.
It’s a real problem that organizations start up and just decide on their own that they’re going to implement a well-known phrase without checking to see whether it is trademarked already. In the real world, rather than the ideal world many of these organizations have their doe-eyed dreams set upon, trademark enforcement is real and has been around for ages. It’s not some new thing. It’s not some bullying thing, either. It is a perfectly legal option to pursue, against organizations that simply hijack a trademark without inquiry or research about whether that blatant bit of non-creativity is even AGAINST THE LAW. And even more simply, a legal letter threatening suit does not require a legal response — the organizations that Komen is supposedly elbowing out of the way financially, themselves are just kowtowing to the idea that a legal response needs to be returned (I checked, and in most all the articles, a lawsuit is NOT filed, but simply a legal notice or threat to press charges, which is a merciful, legal allowance for the organization to alter path before it gets down and dirty in legal trouble) — when instead they could just take a hit to their PRIDE, in realization that they goofed when trying to ride on the coattails of a slogan or existing trademark, and change the name as insisted. Come up with something better! Something original! These organizations are already “fighters” for a malady, and need not take up arms in fight against a legal battle they can completely quell by just sucking it up and switching their style. The only reason it is a big deal is because the copycats of the slogan FROM THE START did not take the time to investigate as to whether the name was fair territory to use, got caught, and then suddenly throw up the puppy-dog eyes in innocence. JUST CHANGE IT, and the issue is settled. PRIDE over a name is what is costing these people legal fees, when they could just simply admit that they just callously walked into a game in session without knowing the rules first, and are somehow surprised when the umpire escorts them off the field. RESEARCH YOUR CAMPAIGN SIGNATURE STYLE *BEFORE* YOU GET SENT NOTICE!
Also, I’m not sure how exactly the perfume was interpreted as targeted toward Cure-seekers themselves. I mean, some people who have cancer can’t walk because of the aggressive spread of their affliction, but are those people objecting to the Race For A Cure campaign? It’s about people who buy perfume supporting the campaign, just as the walking is for people who wish to show their support by walking — neither of which are marketed specifically to women with cancer. To say that the perfume and beauty products rub cancer battlers face in their affliction is like suggesting the Race deliberately taunts those that can no longer walk because of their struggle. It’s not true. It’s for people to show their support, and the biggest demographic of supporters are women, and women in general, buy beauty products. I think you’re trying to squeeze controversy out of this fairly tame concept.
And again, the idea that less money than expected is going to research, is definitely a big irritation — but by comparison, what amount to other companies receive for similar items, like using their name (Paris Hilton, for instance) on a perfume? Is it comparable? Did the perfume company approach Komen and ask to use their name just to sell perfume products, and ended up ripping Komen off in a bad deal? Why must it automatically be Komen’s fault, and not the perfumer who might have initiated the deception?