Weeks before race, local Komen group is hopeful that controversy will not cut into participation
Registration and donations for St. Louis' Susan G. Komen Global Race for the Cure are running about 10 percent below the rate at this time last year, but the group says the numbers don't represent a trend.
About 60,000 people took part in last year's race, says Helen Chesnut, executive director of the Komen St. Louis affiliate. As of Friday afternoon, about 28,000 had registered for the event June 23. Last year, the group raised $3.1 million; on Friday, more than $1 million had been raised.
Chesnut stressed that the registration numbers had fluctuated 10 percent in both directions and added that it was too early to know whether the numbers will be up or down by the time of the race.
"We really won't know anything until we get really close to the race. I can't trend it. At midnight on June 22, the night before the race, is when we usually hit about 60,000."
St. Louis has had the world's largest participation. Coming in second last year was Italy. Participation in St. Louis peaked in 2010, with roughly 71,000 people joining the race.
"If you ask me why we had that many two years ago, I wouldn't be able to guess," Chesnut says.
Participation is being watched keenly this year in the wake of a public outcry over efforts within Komen to deny funding to Planned Parenthood. Komen later backed off the decision, but its impact has lingered. For example, the Washington Post reports that registration for the race in the nation's capital is down 40 percent from last year.
Asked about the apparent fallout, Chesnut said, "We're really focused on our mission. Our national organization made a mistake. But we've moved on because there are too many women who need our help in this area. That's who the losers are in all of this if people choose not to participate in the Race for the Cure."
Komen's reversal hasn't pleased the Archdiocese of St. Louis. It praises the group's efforts to detect, prevent and treat breast cancer. But the Respect Life Apostolate says the archdiocese "neither supports nor encourages participation" in the race because of Komen's decision to allow affiliates to offer "financial support to abortion-providing facilities."
The local Planned Parenthood has praised Komen's reversal of the decision and says it will once again seek funding. Its applications were rejected previously.
"Yes, we will apply again, and we hope that our funding proposal will be granted," says Paula Gianino, the group's president and CEO. "Planned Parenthood is a significant provider of breast-health services, clinical breast exams and in educating women on the importance of doing monthly breast self-examinations. Breast cancer is not political, and Komen’s funding should not be based on political pressure."
Although Planned Parenthood here has never received funding from Komen, Gianino says her group has "always been supportive of (Komen's) work and the race because we believe we share a mission of saving women’s lives."
Whether its donations are up or down nationally, Komen is escalating funding here for breast cancer research. Washington University School of Medicine says scientists at the Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center are getting $5 million in new grants from Komen.
Much of the money will be used to help researchers do a better job in identifying which women with estrogen receptor-positive (ER-positive) breast cancer are at highest risk for recurrence and to find more effective treatments for them.
Heading up the project is Dr. Matthew Ellis, professor of medicine and chief of the breast oncology section at the School of Medicine. “Our goal is to screen drugs to find the one that will produce the best outcome for the patient with the least toxicity,” he said in a statement issued by the medical school.