Komen Montana trying to move past national controversy; keep fundraising totals up

Komen Montana Executive Director Nancy Lee

The Montana affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure is trying to move past controversy surrounding the national branch. The country’s largest breast cancer foundation stirred up a political firestorm after cutting funding to Planned Parenthood at the end of last month.

That decision was quickly reversed and Planned Parenthood is once again available to receive Komen grants. But the director of Komen Montana hopes it all doesn’t result in less funding for the women who need it most.

Not too surprising, Executive Director of the Montana Komen branch Nancy Lee works in a Helena office highlighted by pink. Pink notebooks and pink wall hangings; her desk is covered with stacks of pink brochures. The organization’s biggest event is coming up.

“Last night we sent out a notice for folks who had participated in the Race for the Cure in the past letting them know the registration time was starting up,” she said.

She’s looking at the pile of emails that have come back in response. It’s all hate mail.

“Both sides are angry, so there’s not a win,” Lee said.

The messages split about 50/50. Half say they’re pulling support because they can’t believe Komen would give money to an organization that also offers abortion services. The other half support Planned Parenthood and say the whole national funding debacle is turning them away from Komen.

Lee says she is responding personally to each message—saying Montana is a long way from the national issue between Komen and Planned Parenthood, “an issue Komen Montana had no input on, we had no involvement in. It didn’t affect within our state.”

She says the Montana chapters of Komen and Planned Parenthood have never had any formal connection.

“We’ve never received a grant request from Planned Parenthood. So we’ve never funded them at the Montana affiliate,” she said.

Lee says the two organizations have always had a positive relationship, because they have the same focus when it comes to breast cancer.

“It is something that is close to our hearts,” said Planned Parenthood of Montana President Stacy James, “We have many survivors that work for us.”

The two groups are holding a press conference this week in Billings. James says it shows a shared focus on women’s healthcare. Planned Parenthood Montana provides about 4,000 breast health screenings in its five clinics across the state. Some low-income women who receive these screenings have no other options to get tested. Funding for those screenings doesn’t come from Komen now, but James is glad it could still be an option later on.

“And I’m hoping we can work on projects together to help cover services for women that maybe do fall through the cracks,” she said.

Komen Montana Executive Director Nancy Lee says ultimately her foundation raises money to fight breast cancer. To do that in a rural state like Montana, you have to keep your options open.

“We can’t do it alone. Komen Montana can’t do it alone,” she said. “Planned Parenthood does not fill the gap alone. We have a lot of healthcare providers in the state, they can’t do it alone. We find that we all work together and maybe we can get something done.”

Lee says breast cancer doesn’t pick and choose who it affects, so Komen shouldn’t pick and choose who gets early screening.

“You get early screening, 98 percent survival rate. That’s what it’s about,” she said.

Komen Montana is holding their annual Race for the Cure on May 19th in Helena.

Also on Tuesday, Missoula’s Partnership Health Center announced a breast health grant of more than $45,600 from the Avon foundation. The Health Center says it has received support from the foundation for 6 straight years.

Grant funds will be used to educate women on the benefits of early breast cancer detection. The Partnership Health Center program operates in Missoula, Mineral and Ravalli Counties.

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