“She would say, ‘Shame on all of you,’ ” Shawn Gardner said. “She would say, ‘Well, you’ve shown where your true interest and motivation and focus lie, and it certainly isn’t for the disease that took my life.’ ”
Eleven years ago, Gardner’s sister rolled over in bed and felt an unfamiliar lump. She soon learned she had an advanced stage of breast cancer. She was 25. That year, Heather and Shawn walked in their first Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in the District. They did it again the next year even as the cancer spread to Heather’s brain.
Now, nine years after the death of the woman who inspired its name, “Team Heather” is listed as the top fundraiser for the D.C. race, one of the largest in the country. Last year, according to Komen’s Web site, nearly 40,000 people participated in the D.C. event, raising more than $5 million.
It is too early to tell how Komen’s decision to cease funding Planned Parenthood — followed by its shifted stance — will affect its final fundraising figures this year. The D.C. race isn’t until June 2. But there’s no denying that for an organization that depends heavily on grass-roots efforts, the effect will largely depend how teams across the country handle the fallout.
And for at least one, Team Heather, the past few days have been trying.
“The word I’ve been clinging to was rudderless,” said Gardner, a teacher at South County Secondary School in Fairfax. “We are battered and bruised and beaten up and learned a great deal in this short process.”
They learned where people stood and, perhaps more important, where they weren’t willing to stand. As Twitter and Facebook revealed a country polarized, so did Gardner’s inbox. The e-mails hit the extremes, from people who were thrilled because they felt they could now donate to the organization to one from a woman who accused Komen of wanting control over her uterus.
“Shawn,” one e-mail reads, “as much as it pained me to do it because of my history with Team Heather, my affection for you, and my respect for your hard work over the years, I have notified Komen that I will withhold further support until this unfortunate policy is reversed.”
‘Red flags’ raised
The Komen organization’s board of directors and the group’s founder and chief executive, Nancy G. Brinker, issued an apology to the public Friday and said the foundation would continue funding existing grants, including Planned Parenthood’s. “We do not want our mission marred or affected by politics — anyone’s politics,” a news release read.