Just Walk Away

June 10, 2013

Last Friday Salon posted a piece about  Susan G. Komen canceling seven of the 3-Day walks it had slated for 2014. Komen blamed “economic uncertainty and competition from other charities” but neither Salon’s writer nor its readers are so easily duped.

After all, Komen’s news of declining participation comes after years of missteps, including partnering with Kentucky Fried Chicken to sell pink buckets “for the cure” and attempting to cut off funding for breast cancer screenings and services provided by Planned Parenthood.

Finally, women are saying enough is enough.

What took everybody so long to see through Komen?

Oh yeah, women’s magazines chose to shield ad revenues rather than reveal troublesome problems with breast cancer walks. Let me explain my frustration. In 2003, I pitched an investigative feature about the financial fiasco behind Avon’s breast cancer walks to Health Magazine. The editors loved the idea and assigned me  a 2,200-word feature. I was ecstatic. It was my first in-depth feature for a national magazine. It was a topic I cared deeply about. It was my dream assignment.

I spent weeks reporting the story. I interviewed all the top muckety mucks. I collected reams of data. I made Mary read and reread the piece for coherence and flow. When my deadline came I hit the send button with a feeling of pride. A feeling that this article was going to make a difference. That I had written something smart, something interesting, something that women would want to read.

I got no response from my editor. Zero. Zip. Nada. A month went by. Still nothing. A sense of dread took root in my stomach. I somehow managed to send professional-sounding emails that relayed my concern but not my panic.

Six weeks later my editor called to tell me Health signed on to sponsor an Avon breast cancer walk in Birmingham, Alabama. The magazine killed the story. My stomach dropped.  I tried to place the story elsewhere to no avail.

Fast forward to last weekend. I read Salon’s coverage about the decline in popularity of breast cancer walks. I flashed to my long-forgotten story. Thanks to the beauty of Macs, a quick search brought up the story. I reread it, dusted it off, and pasted it below. Because it never benefited from an editor’s red pen, it’s a bit rough around the edges. But I’m still proud of it. And I’m still out here trying to shed a light on the stuff no one likes to publish.

Breast Cancer Walks Equal Big Business

Kate Kelly is not an angry person.

Friends describe the 46-year-old as light-hearted, loving and generous, someone who prides herself on giving to charities in her hometown of Republic, Missouri.

But mention the words charity and event in the same sentence and Kelly’s bright-green eyes narrow with suspicion. “I was naïve,” she says in reference to her first (and last), multi-day charity walk. “From now on I’ll look at those events with a jaundiced eye.”

Kelly’s saga began in January 2001 when a bulging envelope from a college friend in Colorado landed in her mailbox. Folded up inside was a full-page ad from The Denver Post announcing an upcoming Avon Breast Cancer 3-day walk. On top was a handwritten note. Her friend, always the social planner, was gathering a group to take part in the event, and wanting Kelly to sign on. Read the rest of this entry »