Photo by Riccardo Annandale

Recently, I was working from home with the TV on in the background, listening to Oprah Winfrey and Van Jones chat away as if they were at my kitchen counter.

Oprah is one cool do-gooder with enormous resources and reach, and she seems to effortlessly accomplish dreams the rest of us have yet to dream. The wealthy piece is indeed a benefit, as she can and does so smartly use her influence to make the world a better place, reduce suffering, educate the uneducated and kick ass on poverty. Yes, she’s impressive, and her actions speak to all of us, across widely varying and diverse demographics. For me service is not just for those with vast resources — it’s a responsibility for all of us.

As Van and Oprah continued talking in vague generalities, I caught myself nodding, hanging on every word, especially when it came to them talking about not reacting to the current administration. Oprah was speaking on the benefits of “staying in the light” instead of succumbing to negativity. She proceeded to say that darkness is spreading so fast these days that we must all become “warriors of the light.”

I wanted to interrupt Oprah. The conversation was stirring me up — it made me uncomfortable and anxious. I thought to myself, wait a minute. We all know we must do more than stay in the light. As my brain was racing ahead, Oprah then brings up the shootings in Parkland, Florida, the workers and leaders of the Civil Rights movement. “The darkness is there to show you your light,” said Winfrey. My darkness around cancer losses is what showed me the light. Sometimes being in the light is more than flipping a metaphoric switch.

Oprah’s words of wisdom hit a raw nerve for me. It has made it difficult for me to express myself on this issue because I know deep down, being the light is not always enough. Doing the hard work does not fix everyone, it doesn’t bring back loved ones, it doesn’t undo loss. Unfortunately, I know this first hand.

Trying is not enough, but sometimes, from a place of survival, intention is all you have to get closer to the light. For me, that intention is what motivated me to reach for the intelligence and evidenced-based science that guided us to eventually building an organization that provides solutions.

Staying in the light is doing more, not just by philosophically taking it in, but by serving our communities in more significant ways and then sticking to it.

The challenge is being committed to the light. To knowing answers do not come quickly. To understanding the reality that often people who stand in the light, stand there for a long time and they stand alone.

If we are to stay in the light, we will do so by fully committing to the task with the work that drives us — sometimes that “drive” is an unconscious decision. Oprah says, “Do not give your energy to that which you really don’t believe in. Do not spend an ounce of your time on that.” I agree wholeheartedly. That said, we must surpass the low bar of merely talking “staying in the light” talk; we must walk the “staying in the light” walk.

No matter what issues you care about — from cancer prevention to gun control to homelessness and everything in between — no one should let truisms eclipse the necessary business of taking action, of rolling up your sleeves and committing to the work, which sometimes means having tough conversations and sometimes with people who are still very much in the dark.

You don’t have to be rich, powerful or a genius to make change. Getting to work is how you stay in the light.

I was neither a scientist nor a physician when I started this organization in 2004. I merely listened to what bugged me. I was motivated to do my best to prevent any suffering associated with cancer, one conversation and one action at a time, frequently twelve to fifteen hour days, seven days a week. Since then, I have knocked on every door on Capitol Hill. I have worked for policies and education to address the preventable cancers which account for over 50% of all cancers and which can be addressed through education, policy, and advocacy. As a pioneering organization in cancer prevention, we have collaborated with the best and the brightest to provide solutions.

The status of cancer has been grim for the last 100 years; Less Cancer works with the understanding that the least we can do is get a handle on those cancers that are considered preventable.

I share this because I fundamentally believe that we are all capable of doing our part, large or small. We all have something to offer and we don’t have to wait until we are billionaires to contribute meaningfully. And we all need to understand that often outcomes of being in the light do not always provide instant gratification.

For me, staying in the light is not a mantra, it’s a commitment and it’s a job.

There is no other option but to be in the light.

There are things we can do every day in our own families, in our churches, our schools, and in our communities that can make a difference. We need to look at how we can be the difference as opposed to looking for what is different.

As many look for steady leadership in these times, we all need to seize personal opportunities to lead from within. More than the soundbite of slaying darkness with light, we must leave ourselves open to responding to the call darkness brings. We must not ignore the call, but rather answer that call with the intention and commitment to stare darkness down with the mission to bring light.