By Bill Couzens
Back in 2003, at the height of significant losses in my family due to cancer, the one repetitive thought, the metaphoric itch I couldn’t scratch, was the outlandish idea of a future with less cancer. At the time, cancer and prevention were not words that were used together.
In 2004, with the support and guidance of an outstanding board of directors, I organized Next Generation Choices Foundation in order to proceed with that mission. While the foundation has a long handle as its official name, we eventually became known by our elevator pitch name: “Less Cancer”.
Cancer prevention had pressing relevance for me. At the time, cancer prevention wasn’t as commonly known or as relevant as it is today, and with two small children, I was not willing to accept the idea that cancer was just an expected stage of life that we could sometimes beat.
Today, largely in part because of evidence-based science, we know cancer has little to do with luck good, bad or otherwise. Cancer is anything but happenstance.
The more I connected with people across the country and communities around the globe, the more I learned I was not alone. Cancer was everywhere, and the incidences of cancer, according to all the best science, was increasing.
While I initially wanted less cancer in the world, I did not have the background or expertise to do much more than state the goal, let alone the unique skill set necessary to plan and strategize for seriously addressing the problem. What I had was the will to find the best and the brightest experts to endorse Less Cancer’s evidence-based science and medicine platform.
Last week, when I first heard of First Lady Melania Trump’s campaign “Be Best”, I initially thought: Oh, really?
How are America’s children supposed to “Be Best” when far too many children are food challenged and others have no access to healthy drinking water or a roof over their heads?
The poorest communities are losing hope to even obtain the tools in school to help move them out of extreme poverty.
Personally, I know how I am when I’m hungry, so I’m not sure how kids can be charged with good decision making under circumstances much more severe than anything I have faced, not knowing where their next meal is coming from or where they will be sleeping.
For children to be their best they need the very basics.
I reflect on my journey to protect the public’s health, especially those who cannot, such as children, and I know the hurdles that come with such a tall order.
Truth be told, while I’ve had my share of critics, much like my first thought hearing about Mrs. Trump’s campaign, the people who really mattered and made a difference guided and supported me and the work for Less Cancer. I now believe that when people wish to do something positive for the next generation we need to think less about the particular type or flavor of the messenger and more about how we can all circle the wagons to work towards protecting the next generation.
The pursuit of my mission to see less cancer in the world was initially, and still is, relentless.
Part of my job is understanding the intentions and the intelligence behind the work.
It’s not good enough only to have intention; we must also have the intelligence.
It’s not good enough to ask children to be best when they are struggling to stay alive.
The best physicians and scientists continue to help with our work, so as an organization we continue to provide the best evidence-based information so we may best serve the public, especially those like children who may not always be able to help themselves. By educating communities along with facilitating continuing medical education and promoting health policy at local and national levels, we can and do protect many people including those least able to protect themselves.
In 2003, I first learned about the science that cancer could in fact could be prevented. It was not a conversation people were having at the time, and for a long period of time people conflated the idea of a preventable disease with something for which had full responsibility.
My hope for the First Lady is that she will see launching her new campaign as only a first step, and that accessing the proper resources to truly accomplish “best” are a critical next step.
I know for Less Cancer that we have so much individual power amongst our various supporters that collectively, we have raised the bar on public health and the environment. For children to be their best, The First Lady and all of those involved with the Be Best campaign will need to be at their best every step of the way.
Mrs. Trump said, “It remains our generation’s moral imperative to take responsibility and help our children manage the many issues they are facing today, including encouraging positive social, emotional, and physical habits.”
Advocating for children must be bipartisan, but it also must be realistic. We live in a time where many experts are concerned that the next generation will have worse health than previous generations. This may be the first time in history where we understand that the next generation will in fact be unhealthier.
I am happy to help Mrs. Trump’s efforts, or anyone who wants to help children be their best, but first I ask if we can make sure the children we are asking to “be best” are adequately and properly fed, have clean drinking water, and have roofs over their heads.
This is America, a country of open, loving arms, and now is the time to be our best to protect the next generation.