Wednesday, April 30, 2008

No Country for Old Women
(Part One)

In August of 1999, my sister and I completed a marathon event to raise money for a worthy cause: The Avon Breast Cancer Three Day. Avon (the company for women) sponsored this affair in which participants walked sixty miles over a three day period, from West Point, New York to Manhattan. It was the most physically challenging and exhausting experience I had ever endured.
Except for giving birth. And that only took two days.

But that didn’t matter. No amount of pain would stop the thousands of participants – 99.9% women - because we were united, an army of one, comrades-in-arms, together fighting this battle in the war on breast cancer.

On the first day of the event, we awoke at 4 am - sleepy-eyed and caffeine depleted - and boarded buses that took us to ground zero, the starting point of our sixty mile adventure. There, we listened to President James Preston of Avon (the company for women), who stood among us advocating the importance of our involvement in this (never-ending) conquest. He spoke compassionately, using loud speakers and visual effects, telling us about the company’s determination to win, win, win this war on breast cancer. He (could have) reminded the audience of the history of Avon (the company for women) which was founded in 1886, by Mr. David McConnell (originally called the California Perfume Company) and that in its (then) 113 year history, there had never been a woman chief executive officer.
(Which makes sense because only men know how they want a woman to smell.)

After this in-cite-ful indoctrination, we were charged up, and ready to rumble.

On the first day, we walked 22 miles in humidity and temperatures that hovered around 100 degrees, on the second day, 20 miles, and 18 on the third. At the end of each day’s march, we removed our backpacks, set up camp, ate in the mess tent, bathed in communal showers, tended to our sore, aching, tired, feet, and then slept.

Unfortunately over the three day course, some of the participants couldn’t complete the mission, succumbing to heat stroke, physical exhaustion, swelling of the feet, hammer toes, or that darn fungus foot. Some just plain went AWOL. But not me. No sir. I was able to do everything that was asked of me: (1) raise the required $1,200 (anything less would’ve come out of my pocket), (2) attend a class entitled “Ten Walking Mistakes to Avoid” (like flapping your arms like a chicken), and (3) watching a 75 minute video on how to cross the street.

Everyone involved gave their unwavering support and implicitly understood that you are either with Avon (the company for women) in its war on breast cancer or you are with the terrorizing few that strayed from the pack and actually articulated independent, (albeit “liberal”) thought about this often fatal disease. And if you are in the latter, you’re sure to get breast cancer.

(Frightened masses huddle together and ask very few questions.)

Some people even formed conspiracy theories which bordered on subversion, questioning how a company whose sales were $9 billion (last year) and whose products, applied directly to the skin (the body’s largest organ), include ingredients such as salicylic acid, aluminum starch octenylsuccinate, parabens, and fragrances - have the audacity to advocate they are working to eradicate this disease.

They wanted to know why this company pays enormous fees to fundraisers – including a $7.5 million dollar settlement that Avon (the company for women) doled out in 2005 to their former marketing joint venture partner, Pallotta Team Works (that’s 6,250 walkathon participants minimum contribution or 12,500 blistered feet), and why, according to their latest financial statements, marketing and overhead charges a whopping 22 cents on every dollar raised.

Make no mistake about it, cancer is a frightening disease and treatment options – which include chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, and/or drugs - are physically and emotionally painful, debilitating, and costly. That is exactly why I decided to participate nine years ago.

But since then, I’ve learned quite a bit about the power of those who capitalize on (never-ending) wars against “something”. Don’t forget, American’s toil under a system that allows drug companies to spend billions a year telling citizens – via any media source possible - that their doctors are too stupid to know what drugs they should be taking (“ask your doctor”) – and tens of billions more directly marketing these same products to physicians. Drug companies spend almost twice as much on advertising ($57 billion in 2004) than on research and development.
I’m not making this up!

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women - in America. Our chance of getting breast cancer is one in eight.
But our odds are six times greater than women in China and India. Why is that?

That’s what I want to know.

And until we have honest, open discussions – irrespective of what market segments are impaired by the answers (god forbid) – American women will continue to suffer from this disease. And that’s totally unacceptable to this woman.

Ding, Dong: Avon, we’re calling on you…

Copyright 2008

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