ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Over the weekend, the Susan G. Komen Foundation held meetings in more than a dozen communities. The purpose was to talk with people who have registered for the foundation's three-day walks this year. The annual walks are key fundraisers for the breast cancer research and treatment organization, but the recent controversy over Komen's grants to Planned Parenthood has raised concerns.
As Shannon Mullen reports, some walkers are worried that it might be harder to get donations.
SHANNON MULLEN, BYLINE: On Saturday morning, about two dozen women and a few men braved wintry weather to show up at the public library in Wakefield, Massachusetts, just north of Boston. Most of them were wearing something pink.
BRIDGET SPENCE: We have a pretty packed agenda today. First, I'm going to talk about...
MULLEN: Bridget Spence is a Boston coach for the Susan G. Komen Foundation's annual three-day walk. Since the event started nine years ago, its participants have raised more than $600 million nationwide for Komen's central cause, curing breast cancer.
SPENCE: I want you to leave here today saying, yes. Yes. I can raise $2,300. Yes. I can walk 60 miles in three days. And yes, I can sleep in a tent.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MULLEN: Spence says some of her veteran walkers are worried about meeting their fundraising goals this year, so the organization sent them a letter with talking points in case potential donors have questions about the Planned Parenthood controversy. It says Komen is, quote, "committed to ensuring that all women, regardless of race, social status, political or religious beliefs, have equal access to breast health services."
When the issue first made headlines, breast cancer survivor Dana Fagerquist was one of those who worried about backlash.
DANA FAGERQUIST: I had just - just - signed up to walk again and I thought, I'm never going to get support.
MULLEN: Fagerquist is focusing on donors who know about her personal battle with the disease and she says her feelings for Komen haven't changed.
FAGERQUIST: This isn't about politics for me. It's about finding a cure for something that's affecting one in eight women, including myself. And I have three daughters to worry about.
PAT GREELEY: My name is Pat Greeley. I started walking in 2000. I lost my sister four years ago. I promised her I would keep fighting - keep fighting because the last thing she said is, this has got to stop.
MULLEN: Greeley says Komen's work kept her sister alive for years after her diagnosis, so Greeley's walking this year, even though she thinks the foundation's recent actions were political and a mistake.
Other longtime Komen supporters are more conflicted. Eileen Cummings says she's raised $45,000 for the foundation in seven years. Last week, she thought about cutting ties.
EILEEN CUMMINGS: I'm back with hesitation. I'm watching to see where it goes from here, but I can't walk away from these women who have taught me that cancer is not a death sentence.
MULLEN: Ultimately, Cummings agreed with the other walkers at the Wakefield event, including a few newcomers, that all the political back-and-forth is beside the point. There's still no cure for breast cancer.
And that was the main theme of their coach Bridget Spence's presentation.
SPENCE: We live in a world with breast cancer. That means, in the hour and a half that you spend with me today, 45 people are going to be diagnosed. Forty-five people in an hour and a half.
MULLEN: But Spence also told the group, when the disease is caught early, the five-year survival rate is now 98 percent, up from 74 percent 30 years ago. And she said that's progress every Komen walker has helped pay for.
For NPR News, I'm Shannon Mullen.
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