What not to buy me for my birthday

If you’re still searching for the exact perfect gift for my upcoming birthday, here’s a tip: don’t buy this.


It seems the marketing machine at Komen is looking to get a little more mileage from CEO Nancy Brinker’s book by cross-promoting a Promise Me perfume. Thanks to my blog friend Katie at Uneasy Pink for bringing this to my attention.

The more I learn about the Komen organization, the more I resent the “for the Cure” part of its name. IMHO we pink-ribbon girls do owe a debt of gratitude for the de-shaming of our disease compliments of Komen, but I don’t yet see what the organization is doing “to end breast cancer forever,” as it says in its mission statement.


We all know the story: Nancy Goodman Brinker promised her dying sister, Susan G. Komen, she (Nancy) would devote her life to ending  breast cancer forever. Suzy was diagnosed in 1977, in the dark ages of BC, and sadly she died from the disease at age 36, leaving behind 2 young kids and a grieving family. Give the Goodman family credit: they channelled their grief and put it to good use. In 1982 Nancy’s promise became Susan G. Komen for the Cure® and “launched the global breast cancer movement,” whatever that means.

Komen says that today it is “the world’s largest grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and activists fighting to save lives, empower people, ensure quality care for all and energize science to find the cures.”

Perhaps Komen is best known for its Race for the Cure®, which has raised a ton of money and Komen claims to have “invested more than $1.9 billion to fulfill our promise, becoming the largest source of nonprofit funds dedicated to the fight against breast cancer in the world.” I love the idea of an army of pink in races across the globe. Walk, run, push a stroller, whatever, but get kitted out in pink and raise some serious cash. No argument from me on this one.

I wasn’t well enough to do the Houston race this year, but several people I know did, and the race was a success, financially and from a feel-good standpoint.  One of my sweet friends, Paula, did the race in Salt Lake City and was kind enough to put my name on her back, something that touches me to the depths of my soul.

I have no argument with Komen’s claims to be the BC authority, nor with the money raised. However, it does bug me that Komen’s quest for “the Cure” has been so fruitless. While I very much appreciate Komen making BC the most glamorous cancer, where is the Cure? Komen has been working since 1982 to find it, and yes it certainly is a complicated bugger, but I’d sure like to know what progress has been made.

Forgive my pessimism, but I don’t see what Promise Me perfume is going to do to find the Cure. Katie was kind enough to break down the math on Komen’s latest marketing cash cow, and basically here’s how it plays out:

A 3.4-oz bottle of Promise Me Eau de Parfum sells for $59.00. Of that, 13.5% goes back to Komen , but only $1.51 per bottle will be spent on research.

No, that’s not a type-o.

$1.51 a bottle goes toward research.

Now, I’m not going to get into the many ways in which this is completely whacked, but suffice to say that $1.51 a bottle isn’t going to find “the Cure.”

I’ve looked at Komen’s figures before and was shocked to see how precious little is devoted to research. I’ve heard survivors who do the Race for the Cure complain that every penny of the entry fee goes to cover administrative expenses. Again, where is the Cure?

At the risk of sounding like the granny in the old-school Wendy’s commercials who asked “Where’s the Beef?” I do wonder where’s the Cure.


A quick peek at the charity navigator website talks a lot about Komen’s program expenses, fundraising expenses, and administrative expenses, with nary a mention of research.

Thus, I will not be buying the new Promise Me perfume, no matter how seduced I am by its “alluring Floriental fragrance combining classic elegance with a modern twist.”

I don’t even know what Floriental is, but I know I don’t want it. Even though its “initial impression is fresh and uplifting.” I can get fresh and uplifting from a bar of soap, thank you very much.

The marketing material claims that “as the fragrance becomes one with your skin, the floral bouquet blossoms in the heart, revealing sensual femininity.”

Oh, so that’s how I get my sensual femininity back after having both breasts chopped off? By spritzing some Floriental toilet water to lend “warmth and opulence and envelope the senses with a long-lasting trail”?????? How about find the Cure, so women like me don’t have to go through what I’ve been through? How’s that for an idea?

Maybe the “top notes of mandarin, bergamot, and blood oranges” blend nicely with the “base notes of white patchouli and creamy musk” to accomplish a good scent, but if you know what “sparkling yuzu” is will you please let me know? And tell me what it smells like.

Because I think it’s the smell of innocent consumers being hoodwinked.

You’ve got 5 more shopping days until my birthday. Don’t bother with the Promise Me perfume.

14 Comments on “What not to buy me for my birthday”

  1. Eddie says:

    Yuzu is a Japanese citrus juice. It does not contain any magical anti-cancer properties as far as I know. I’m wondering what Komen does with the $6.45 it gets per bottle that doesn’t go to research. I am sure Komen does much good but, like many organizations that grow large and bureaucratic, I fear it has become more focused on perpetuating itself than on accomplishing its goals much as politicians become more concerned with getting reelected than with actual governance.
    Now about that birthday present . . .

  2. Amy H. says:

    I think Dr. S cornered the market on “uplifting.” Also I wonder how much FD&C red dye #40 & FD&C white #821 costs and how much it takes to make that pretty pink perfume color?

  3. Trevor Hicks says:

    I think with any corporate charitable campaign, if you really want to help the charity just send them the money directly. Buying a product with the label so the company will donate is an extremely inefficient way to help a cause. Those numbers you show above are depressingly typical.

  4. I’ve been over the whole Komen thing for a while now. And I’m gonna come right out and say it. They stole pink! Every time I turn some piece of junk is pink and sold as part of the “cure.” Many don’t even bother to say how they are contributing or even IF they are. I’m with you. Where’s the beef?

  5. Jan Hasak says:

    Nancy, this whole Komen merchandizing is such a sham. You hit the nail on the head with your comment “Because I think it’s the smell of innocent consumers being hoodwinked.” I hope people don’t waste their money buying me any pink breast- cancer-tinted product. I’ve had enough, and I’m glad so many voices have been raised against the movement, which is out of control. Thanks for posting.

  6. I respect Komen for all it has done to make breast cancer a recognizable problem. If you’ve read the book “Promise Me” you know that back in the beginning days the word “breasts” couldn’t be said in public, and people believed that they could “catch” breast cancer from someone else. Komen research was also instrumental in finding the BRCA 1 gene mutation.

    We’ve come a long way, baby!! I agree that the commercialism is a problem. I buy these products IF I really want the products. I understand and agree with the frustration, but let’s not forget what has been done.

    • Sara, I have read Promise Me, before I knew much about Komen. I was so torn about this, and felt a bit disloyal. Komen has done a lot toward awareness & de-stigmatizing this disease, no doubt, and I hope I conveyed my respect and appreciation while expressing my feeling.

    • Trevor Hicks says:

      I also wish to add that I found Komen to be the best of the general purpose breast cancer websites for solid factual information about the disease. I felt I would throw my mouse through the monitor the next time I saw a paternalistic “ask your doctor” (which I read as “you can’t handle the truth“) in lieu of actual data or statistics. But Komen was pretty good about including links to original sources and studies. It’s a little buried, but it’s there. So kudos to them for that.

  7. Nancy – great post. The whole perfume thing really does smell! I’ve been pondering a lot on this idea that Komen destigmatized breast cancer, because that seems to be one of the major themes when people say they are grateful to Komen. But, honestly I fear the pendulum has swung completely the other way. Yes, we talk about breast cancer, but in what terms? How many people actualyy know what it means to live with metastatic breast cancer? For example, I’m typing this post with one hand, because mets is affecting my ability to use my other arm. Mets are also starting to affect my voice and I always sound a bit hoarse. Do people really understand the devastating effects of treatment, surgery, radiation? I don’t think so, because organizations like Komen are so busy playing up the beauty and glamour of breast cancer, the “new normal”, the celebratory survivor, I really fear society is being misled into thinking that this is a less serious cancer. So yes, we talk about it, but society’s still not hearing the real truth. All they need to do is buy the perfume.

  8. P.s I wrote about Komen’s Charity Navigator rating and 2010 financials here if you’re interested……I was a dull CPA in my former life…;).

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