I had just completed seven weeks of radiation when I attended my first Komen Race for the Cure nine years ago. I walked the survivor's walk down the Philadelphia Museum of Art's steps, stunned by the hundreds of women by my side. Somehow, my family found me in that sea of pink and I fell into the strong arms of my two daughters and husband. We hugged and wept as time and circumstances stood still and we were safe, and I was still here to celebrate.
Now each year my daughter proclaims, "I cannot wait for the race. It's my second favorite day of the year!" What's her favorite? Her birthday. A celebration of my life is second only to her own. The fun food at the Wawa tent and the chachkes collected on that day add to the festivities.
And there you have it: Race day, celebration day, memorial day, Mother's Day, pink assault and freebie give-away day all rolled into one: The Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. And then last week, politics intruded. Komen was pulling its funding from Planned Parenthood, denying hundreds of thousands of women access to breast cancer screening. I got angry and my immediate response was to start the Facebook page, I WILL NOT RACE. In this context, I had to stand for something greater than myself and even greater than my family. Now that it is "resolved," will I be attending? I'm not so sure.
As an Ashkanazi Jew, I'm aware of rampant breast cancer. I do not carry the BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 genes as I have already analyzed my Polish and Russian DNA. I am so grateful for access to genetic tests since I am raising daughters.
A cancer journey has many stops along the way. As I walked from survivor to thriver, I learned more about Nancy Brinker's political affiliations and even let cynicism join me as I saw an increasing number of pink spatulas and batteries in store aisles. It's the same Barbie pink that has been used to sell me things since I was a kid. I continue to wonder why there are no rust-colored weed-wackers for prostate cancer or gray-colored ice cube trays for lung cancer.
I put Brinker's politics and business acumen aside because she has done so much. She promised her sister Susan to eradicate breast cancer and she's worked hard. We now say the word "breast" in public. She's pinked the NFL to care about women's anatomy. She has raised millions of dollars for research. She's given my family a way to celebrate every Mother's Day. But for me, and evidently others, when Komen pulled funding for Planned Parenthood, she went too far. The pink curtain had been pulled back and, although the mega-charity reversed its decision, the questions have just begun.
This startling voice of the people reminds me of the age-old Jewish teachings. It's comforting to have access to the sage Hillel's wisdom in this context:
If I am not for myself, who is?
I am responsible for my health and for my own ethical story.
If I am only for myself, what am I?
If I only care about my access to good or even adequate health care, screenings, tests, etc., then — really — what AM I?
And if not now, when?
Now is the time to learn about and fund other breast cancer organizations. Some discuss prevention and some provide screening to underserved populations. Some move us from surviving to thriving. Many operate on a shoestring.
On the I WILL NOT RACE page, people have suggested the creation of smaller events to fund other initiatives. It's time for the next chapter, for other organizations to shine. Maybe this year we will celebrate and memorialize life wearing whatever color T-shirt we want.
Gari Julius Weilbacher is a personal life coach and a communications and development consultant www.gariweilbacher.com.