"What's missing is the truth," says Judy Brady of the Toxic Links Coalition in San Francisco. She wants to see a cure for breast cancer as much as anyone, but she and her group, along with several other activist breast cancer groups, have something to point out about the Susan G. Komen Foundation's activities: "There's no talk about prevention except, in terms of lifestyle, your diet for instance. No talk about ways to grow food more safely. No talk about how to curb industrial carcinogens. No talk about contaminated water."
"I really don't think environmental causes of cancer are acknowledged enough," said Dr. C.W. Jameson of the US National Institutes of Health. "It warrants attention so people can make better, more informed choices, as to where they live or what professions they work in." said Jameson, the director of a biennial report on cancer-causing agents published by the Institute of Environmental Sciences.
"Measuring levels of contaminants in the environment is getting better," says Dr. Michael McGeehin, director of the CDC National Center for Environmental Health. But proving the correlation between toxins and cancer can take decades from the time of exposure to the time a tumor might develop, he said.
Several breast cancer activist groups are persistent in their message, yet the circle it travels in remains small, especially when compared with that of the Komen Foundation and its founder, Nancy G. Brinker. Now the US Ambassador to Hungary, Brinker is the E.F. Hutton of the breast cancer world -- when she speaks, anyone who's anyone listens.
Brinker relies on the blockbuster PR value of the 5K Race for the Cure. The year-round calendar of cancer walks that draw grief-stricken yet hopeful patients and their loved ones, along with a fawning media, preserve Brinker and her group's image as being on the side of the average American woman tragically afflicted with breast cancer.
So most people would be shocked to find that the Komen Foundation helped block a meaningful Patients' Bill of Rights for the women it has purported to serve since the group began in 1982.
Despite proclaiming herself before a 2001 Congressional panel as a "patient advocate for the past 20 years," demanding access to the best possible medical care for all breast cancer patients, Federal Election Commission records show the Komen Foundation and its allies lobbied against the consumer-friendly version of the Patients' Bill of Rights in 1999, 2000 and 2001. Brinker then trumpeted old friend George W. Bush in August 2001 for backing a "strong" Patients' Bill of Rights, while almost all other patient advocates felt betrayed.
Brinker's support of Bush's position should come as no surprise, since the President had nominated Brinker for the Hungary ambassador post less than one business quarter earlier, at the end of May 2001. The President also no doubt helped toast Brinker's Congressional approval on August 3, 2001, less than 24 hours after the House version of the Patients' Bill of Rights, dubbed "the HMO bill of rights" by critics, passed on August 2, 2001.
In 1999, 2000 and 2001, dramatically different versions of the Patients' Bill of Rights were introduced. Critics say that both versions would have done little to provide universal coverage for the tens of millions of uninsured.
Patient protections proposed in the 2001 Democrat-dominated Senate bill, and the Republican-dominated House bill are nearly identical, but the means of enforcing those rights were a sore spot for both parties. Backers of the Democrat version said a patient's right to appeal an HMO decision was weakened under the House bill because the HMOs control who does the review. Republicans also insist that patients, after exhausting all appeals, head to federal court instead of state court where damage awards tend to be higher. The GOP-backed bill would have capped damages at $1.5 million, compared to a $5 million cap on the Democrat side. The legislation also blocks class action lawsuits. That's the bill Brinker supported.
It's no surprise that the Komen side favored the Republican position. A July 12, 2001, agreement between the President and five companies to run a Medicare prescription discount card program for Medicare patients, included a company called Caremark Rx where Nancy Brinker was on the board of directors. Another vendor, Merck-Medco, is one of the many drug companies found in the Komen investment portfolio. (Brinker resigned all board seats, including Komen, when she was appointed to be ambassador).