Health & Medicine

Breast cancer group claims Sacramento Komen chapter appears to copy its idea

Today is huge in the “think pink” advocacy community. It’s the official beginning of Breast Cancer Awareness month and a traditional kickoff day for a crucial fundraising period.

But one local advocacy group is seeing red.

For years, the Albie Aware campaign has joined with KFBK radio personality Amy Lewis each October to tell the stories of “31 Survivors in 31 Days.” It’s been an effective way for the organization to share experiences of battling breast cancer, inspire survivors and patients and raise money for early testing and public education.

So effective, perhaps, that the wealthier, heftier Susan G. Komen Sacramento chapter has come up with the same idea. For the first time, Komen Sacramento is unveiling “31 Days of Survivor Stories” online with a goal of raising $31,000.

That theme is a little too close for comfort for Cindy Love, executive director of Albie Aware. The nonprofit foundation was created in memory of Albie Carson, who died of breast cancer in 2002 because she was unaware of testing and treatment.

Did Komen Sacramento, the proverbial Goliath to Albie Aware’s David, steal outright a successful marketing campaign from a sister organization?

Komen’s top official says no. Executive Director Kelly Plag says any similarity with the Albie Aware campaign is merely coincidental, purely unintentional.

Love begs to differ: “The breast cancer community is small, really small, especially in Sacramento. How could they possibly be in the dark about another group’s campaigns?

“I’m not going to call anyone a liar, but you’d have to be in a cave not to know we’ve been doing this for years,” Love said. “We asked them to quit, and we didn’t even get a call back.”

Plag remembers the conversation differently. “We said we’ve already unveiled it and invested in billboards and social media. I apologized if it’s perceived as an idea coming from Albie Aware. The KFBK thing never came up while we were developing the campaign. I called Cindy and apologized.”

Love said the way the two executives left it was that Plag was considering the idea of pulling the plug on the Komen Sacramento’s campaign. She said that was the last she heard from Plag.

Years ago, Love said, her organization did Komen Sacramento the courtesy of dropping the phrase “for the cure” from an Albie Aware event. She said the Susan G. Komen organization had presented them with a cease-and-desist request.

Plag said that tiff predated her tenure at Komen Sacramento. Previously, Plag had worked with a grass-roots breast cancer awareness group called Save Our Selves.

To Love, the disagreement is not just over intellectual property, but goes right to the core of Albie Aware’s financial survival. If Komen Sacramento presses ahead with the “31 Days of Survivor Stories,” donors may get confused and money meant for Albie Aware may end up in the coffers of Komen Sacramento, she said.

“This is going to be difficult and confusing for our supporters,” Love said.

Still, Love said, her organization has had a “banner year,” with about $200,000 in donations from private parties and events. The money is earmarked for local education, medical tests and breast cancer screenings. Albie Aware is again working with KFBK to air its survivor stories on the radio this month.

Plag said 75 percent of money raised by Komen Sacramento goes back to the community and 25 percent goes to the Susan G. Komen Foundation program to support breast cancer research. Even UC Davis shares in some of those research funds. Overall, Komen Sacramento has distributed $18 million to the 19 Northern and Central California counties it serves, Plag said.

“I understand why they would be upset, but we’ve been collecting stories since July,” Plag said. And she said there may be an upside to the confusion: more compelling survivor accounts will be told overall. “If she’s telling 31 stories and we tell 31 stories, that’s only 62 stories of the thousands of breast cancer survivors in the region.”

Plag said if Love truly believes Albie Aware will lose donations, she is welcome to apply for grants from Komen Sacramento.

Said Love: “We’ve worked very hard over the past 10 years to establish ourselves. Our mission is quite separate and we don’t wish to collaborate.” She added that Albie Aware had twice applied for grants from Komen Sacramento and been denied – without comment.