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In many parts of the country, it's the season of Race for the Cure. That's the event organized by the breast cancer foundation called Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Well, after a recent controversy, it appears fewer people may be participating in the races. A few months ago, the charity angered many by deciding to cut funding for Planned Parenthood. It later reversed that decision. Now, some cities are reporting turnout in line with previous years but others are not.

NPR's Ted Robbins was at this weekend's race in Tucson, where attendance was down 25 percent.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMEN: Ten, nine, eight, seven, six...

TED ROBBINS, BYLINE: Runners and walkers poured across the starting line of the Southern Arizona Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. Waves of pink, the color of breast cancer awareness, pink T-shirts, pink ribbons, pink signs saying, Save the Ta-Tas.

No protest signs, but there were fewer racers, about 7,000 compared with 10,000 last year. No one seemed to be talking about why and some, like Glen Caron, who walked with his wife and baby to support a coworker with breast cancer, were oblivious to the controversy.

GLEN CARON: No. We don't follow politics too much, so this is - we're just focused on a cure for cancer and this is our small part that we can do.

ROBBINS: Others, like Kay Chambers, were quick with a response when asked about the controversy. Chambers said she supports both Komen and Planned Parenthood.

KAY CHAMBERS: I think they're both important agencies and have great services for people. And it doesn't change my mind about the walk. It doesn't change my mind about the purposes of Komen folks, but it's just too bad that it had to work out that way.

ROBBINS: Ofie Gonzales was in a wheelchair being pushed by her family. She's undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. She said she's disgusted - her word - with how Komen handled the Planned Parenthood issue.

OFIE GONZALES: I didn't think that they thought about it clearly, you know. So, I think they just - they made a booboo.

ROBBINS: People who were upset enough, of course, didn't show up. Amarie Whetton was part of a woman's health group from Raytheon Missile Systems. She says fewer people raced on their team this year.

AMARIE WHETTON: Yeah. And we did have a hard time, though, getting people. We had to bring in people from the Susan G. Komen Foundation to come in and talk at work in order to get people to sign up.

ROBBINS: Jamie Leopold has been the one doing the talking.

JAMIE LEOPOLD: Literally, I've been going to businesses, community groups, churches.

ROBBINS: Leopold is Southern Arizona Komen chapter director. The chapter depends on the race for 85 percent of its budget. With that money, it funds breast cancer treatment, screening and education programs.

Planned Parenthood of Southern Arizona has not asked for money from Komen. If it had, Leopold said she'd distance herself from the original national decision.

LEOPOLD: We were very clear that you do not intrude on grants guidelines at the local level, and we would have adhered to our grant-making process that would have allowed any legitimate nonprofit into our grants competitive process.

ROBBINS: Jamie Leopold says the national controversy upset all sides locally, which she says actually led to some valuable discussion.

LEOPOLD: What we actually need in this nation is deliberative dialogue, a chance to talk and listen to one another across the lines. And, actually, I've been listening to people, whether they're pro-life or pro-choice around, they do not want to see politics in women's health.

ROBBINS: While participation in the Southern Arizona Komen Race for the Cure was down, it's too early to tell how much donations might drop. If it's significant, the Southern Arizona chapter may have to look at cutting some grants. Jamie Leopold says the last to go would be mammogram screening and cancer treatment. The first would be education programs.

Ted Robbins, NPR News, Tucson.




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