When I was a child, my favorite candy was Five Flavor Life Savers. I recall being on one of our many family trips to northern Michigan, packed in among my brothers and sisters in a blue 1967 Ford station wagon. Life Savers have always had a magical way of slowing the wheels of my brain down and occupying me at the most pressing of times. It did not matter if it was a hot station wagon packed with kids or an extra-long sermon at my parents’ church. Life Savers always seemed to lift the fog of claustrophobia that seemed to settle in with the boredom of a 6-year-old boy.
Inevitably, with my six siblings in the car, trips “up north” required many stops. On those stops, as if I didn’t know what I wanted, I would carefully peruse the candy counter and without hesitation would choose the pack of Five Flavor Life Savers. Typically, once we were back in the car and on the road, one of my brothers or sisters would ask for a Life Saver. Within moments, everyone would want a Life Saver. I would be peeling the paper to my last Life Saver, trying to meet special requests for specific colors, and without fail, I would end up with only one Life Saver. I almost never got my favorite — red.
Fifty years later, I am in an all-consuming job, and my work for Less Cancer has been metaphorically aligned with childhood memories of Life Savers. Today, not unlike car rides to northern Michigan with my family as a child, I frequently give all my proverbial Life Savers away in the name of Less Cancer’s mission. It is a seven-day-a-week job. Since our founding, I have juggled part-time jobs on top of the work for Less Cancer — quite possibly the most difficult and complex of missions.
Today, we get an influx of email and social media, especially as more individuals and families experience cancer. We hear from the masses, and they want solutions. Growth is good. However, it’s a double-edged sword as demands expand in ways I never thought possible.
Since our founding, we have gone to the streets and on digital media, armed with evidence-based science, to try to protect the public with education, best practices and policies that work to prevent cancer. And yes, we are seeing the work for cancer prevention unfold in a multitude of ways, from New Hampshire to New York to California and many places in between.
I am grateful for the encouragement our organization receives. However, as an organization and as a country, we are out of metaphorical Life Savers. We can all want something, but we must all get on board to make progressive changes when it comes to cancer prevention. Never before as an organization have we had so many demands on and interest in our work — sadly, this is because we have never had more cancer.
I am mindful of America’s many losses from cancer and the suffering that accompanies each one, and I was especially upset to hear of the diagnosis and death ofBeau Biden. I am reminded that cancer knows no boundaries and touches all people. And yes, I am also reminded of all the painful goodbyes I too have had to say. Most heart-wrenching are those I know today who are in the struggle. Time and time again, I hear, “Don’t give up, Bill. Don’t stop the work for Less Cancer.” That’s what patients want — they want cancer ended for the next generation.
I did not know Beau, and I don’t know any of the Bidens. However, the story of Beau Biden brought tears to my eyes, for he is one of the many millions of Americans whose beaming bright light was extinguished far too early from this all-prevailing disease — cancer. I hate cancer. I hate everything about it. Cancer makes me angry, and I am frustrated that no matter how much we do as an organization, the pushback from cancer is daunting, and I feel it. What I do know is that it does not have to be that way. While we have a responsibility to take charge of our lives, corporations and legislators are also charged with working to end cancer. If we are ever to get a handle on increasing incidences of cancer, we all must take responsibility for change. For some, they never thought that they might have a role in turning the tide. I am here to tell you they do. We all have a role in protecting the public from cancer, and we can. Today, we may not have all the answers, but we have enough to save lives and prevent many cancers altogether.
On a personal level, I vote with my dollars — with the products and foods I buy — and will only vote for legislators for whom cancer prevention is on the agenda.
This is a time when the work for cancer prevention must not be diluted with other intentions and/or crossed with other motives. The work to prevent cancer must be focused and targeted solely on preventing cancer. On ending cancer before it starts. Preventing cancer should be our country’s number one priority.
Today, we have emerging science that points to the fact that up to 50 percent of all cancers are preventable. Yes, preventable. Cancer prevention saves lives and money. As a country, we are doing little to prevent cancer in the places we know we can. We can make a difference, and we are dragging our feet. As a culture, we cannot seem to turn the ship of convenience and profit around in favor of human health and less cancer. What we see are increased marketing campaigns for profitable cancer treatments and cancer businesses. Cancer treatment has taken center stage with chemo-aware toys, movies about the history of cancer treatment and the general notion that cancer is an expected stage of life. Our televisions, radios and digital media feeds are inundated with hospital and cancer care campaigns.
Yes, cancer treatment is needed, but if we are ever going to end cancer, we must shift resources and reprioritize cancer prevention. We need to put those same efforts into cancer prevention.
Is this the legacy we want our children to inherit? Do we wish to leave them a world of more cancer? I for one do not. To the Biden family, and all those families with devastating losses to cancer, I keep you in my heart. Please know that the work for cancer prevention will not end. Please know that the work to prevent cancer for the next generation is going forward, not backward, and that the voice for Less Cancer will not be silenced.