An open letter to Dr. LaDonna Porter
by Carol McGruder
My mother died from breast cancer in 1998. She was an extraordinarily healthy woman who just months before her death at the age of 70 routinely walked two to three miles a day. She ate a healthy diet, exercised, did all things in moderation; she was a wheat grass devotee a decade before most folks knew what it was. While no one expects to get cancer, we were all more than shocked when this woman who did everything right was given that diagnosis.
Though my mother worked all of her life, like many Black women of her generation, she was a woman of modest means, a woman who had invested all of her worldly goods into her children. She was diagnosed with breast cancer through a free screening program at a community clinic in San Francisco; she received the best care at San Francisco General Hospital from a team of top notch University of California, San Francisco, doctors. She survived 10 years from her initial diagnosis and enjoyed a great quality of life until her end.
Dr. Porter, I was shocked and angered, as were many across the state, when I saw and heard your “No on Prop 29, No on the California Cancer Research Act” radio and television commercials that have been flooding California’s airwaves. I assumed that an African American woman and a physician, though not an oncologist, would appreciate the disproportionate rates of cancer affecting the Black community.
How could you make such blatant falsehoods against this June ballot initiative? An initiative that will generate over $550 million a year for cancer research, advancing cancer research a quantum leap, a leap that will without a doubt improve cancer prevention and treatment for all Californians.
The script of your commercial says that Prop 29 does not provide any funding for treatment. As you may know, Dr. Porter, effective treatments are developed through research; there can be no treatment without RESEARCH. I am sure that I speak for all cancer victims, cancer survivors and their families in voicing our wholehearted support for Prop 29. We want to unleash the power and creativity of California’s best and brightest researchers. Contrary to your comments, Dr. Porter, this funding will stay in California, but hopefully all Americans will one day benefit from the discoveries made in our great state.
I am sure that I speak for all cancer victims, cancer survivors and their families in voicing our wholehearted support for Prop 29. We want to unleash the power and creativity of California’s best and brightest researchers.
Dr. Porter, those of us profoundly touched by cancer want to eliminate it; to do that our state needs research – research that can help us find ways to prevent cancer, help us find ways to design culturally specific programs that will get Black folks into care earlier, research that can help us find out why African American women under the age of 45 are at greater risk for triple negative breast cancer – which is the most aggressive type of breast cancer and the hardest to cure – can help us find out why, though more White women get breast cancer, more Black women die from it. These questions can only be answered through research. Dr. Porter, rather than working against progress, perhaps you would you lend your voice to helping us set that research agenda and making sure it includes the needs of the African American community.
Dr. Porter, rather than working against progress, perhaps you would you lend your voice to helping us set that research agenda and making sure it includes the needs of the African American community.
Though there were many falsehoods in your commercial, one that I took particular umbrage with was the one stating how much this tax will cost Californians. The tax will add one dollar to each package of cigarettes sold in California. In addition to cancer research, $156 million will go to California’s underfunded tobacco control program.
The savings that will be generated from preventing our young people from starting to smoke and helping smokers – of whom one out of two will die from smoking – to stop is estimated at $5.1 billion. That’s $5.1 billion in long term health care costs saved for all California taxpayers, because though the majority of us don’t smoke, we all pay the cost and bear the burden of smoking.
We cannot put a price on the savings in human life and suffering. Proposition 29 is a true win-win for everyone – everyone except the tobacco industry. It is the only entity that reaps huge profits at our expense. Big tobacco is dumping tens of millions of dollars into California in the hopes of confusing voters and defeating this life-saving initiative.
Big tobacco is dumping tens of millions of dollars into California in the hopes of confusing voters and defeating this life-saving initiative.
Dr. Porter, as co-chair of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, we ask you, did you or will you receive any compensation for your stance on Prop 29? We have a hard time believing that with all of the issues facing our community you would pick this one to volunteer your time on. If you have received compensation, we ask that you give it back. In this year alone, over 160,000 African Americans will be diagnosed with cancer. It is difficult to believe that you knowingly participated in this disinformation campaign mounted by the tobacco industry, an industry that has preyed on our community for far too long.
The African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council has over 150 years of combined expertise in research, smoking cessation, community capacity building, advocacy and public policy. We are working diligently to save the lives of Black people. Dr. Porter, we sincerely invite you to dialogue with us. We will pray for you. It is not too late to “do the right thing” and stand with us in our fight against Big Tobacco, standing as David stood against Goliath.
We are working diligently to save the lives of Black people. Dr. Porter, we sincerely invite you to dialogue with us. We will pray for you. It is not too late to “do the right thing” and stand with us in our fight against Big Tobacco, standing as David stood against Goliath.
But for those who continue to choose Big Tobacco over the health of their own people, we say shame, shame, shame. In the name of my mother, Ruth J. McGruder, shame, shame, shame. In the name of Marie Evans, who was given free Newport cigarettes at age 9 in Boston, later dying at 54 from lung cancer due to her lifelong addiction to nicotine, shame, shame, shame. In the name of the 47,300 Black people who die every year from tobacco-related diseases, shame, shame, shame.
We urge all Californians to vote June 5 YES, YES, YES on Prop 29!
Carol McGruder, co-chair of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council and award-winning advocate, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.