It is no secret that when the stars come out, they get the attention of the masses. That is a good thing when it comes to cancer research.
Yesterday, USA Today ran a lead story in their “Life” section about tonight’s “Stand Up To Cancer” television event, and today the American Cancer Society ran a full page advertisement in the same newspaper with the headline “A question so important it will take an entire nation to answer it.” (A copy of this ad appears on our website www.cancer.org.)
But there is more to the story, and we must embrace the concept with the understanding that there is much to be done in the fight against cancer. It will take more than any organization’s single moment if we are going to succeed in our efforts to reduce the burden and suffering from these dreaded diseases we call cancer.
Our progress in cancer research and cancer treatment has been the result of a few large steps and many, many smaller ones. It has been a difficult, long haul.
I have watched us come from the dreams ignited by a war on cancer declared in 1971 to the day when we can actually analyze the genes that direct a cancer cell and provide us the opportunities to target those cells with medicines that hone in on their vulnerabilities.
When we started the war, we thought it would a reasonably quick one. 37 years later, we are still slogging through the battlefield, but the fruits of the researchers’ labors are now just beginning to have a pronounced effect on our ability to cope with this disease.
It’s ironic but perhaps not unexpected that just when we are on the cusp of significant breakthroughs that we find ourselves facing shortfalls in our abilities to fund the very research that has brought us so far.
Every year the American Cancer Society and other well-respected organizations go to Capitol Hill and cajole Congress to increase spending for cancer research. And every year it is a fight that so far has pulled off some improvements for research funding.
But the victories aren’t keeping pace with the needs.
The percentage of research grants that deserve funding from the National Cancer Institute and are actually being funded continue to decrease every year. Young investigators are paid a pittance for their labors. As a result, it is becoming increasingly difficult to attract the bright young minds of today into a field where the opportunities for future support are becoming dimmer and dimmer.
The American Cancer Society has tried to fill that gap.
Since 1946 we have given over $3 billion dollars to cancer research. We have supported 42 young researchers early in their careers who have gone on to win Nobel Prizes and made significant contributions to our understanding of cancer cells and cancer treatment. We continue today to seek out the best and brightest ideas in cancer research, and provide those new young investigators an opportunity to pursue their dreams and perhaps win a Nobel prize of their own.
If you are a business person, you would say that the return on our investment has been pretty remarkable.
The American Cancer Society takes pride in making certain that our research funds are spent judiciously and appropriately.
Raising money for cancer research is more than getting it in the front door. It is about making certain the infrastructure is in place to effectively manage that money, directing it to the most promising projects—including especially those new investigators who will have the bold ideas of the future—and accounting for the results of the research supported by those grants.
We also take pride in the broad spectrum of our efforts beyond research, including education, advocacy and service.
We take pride in the efforts of every one of our millions of volunteers and thousands of staff nationwide who commit themselves every day to provide the money and the labor it takes to address as many needs as possible of cancer patients and researchers.
We take pride in answering our phones to provide help to those in need every hour of every day, in our efforts to promote screening tests for the prevention and early detection of cancer, and our efforts to assure that everyone in this country will one day have access to the cancer treatments they need at the moment they need it.
We are all in this together, every day, every week, and every year.
So as we admire the efforts of our celebrity friends and appreciate their devotion to making awareness of cancer research a nationwide priority, let’s not forget that there is a much larger, ongoing story of needs and expectations out there that cannot not be forgotten.
We will win this war one day, hopefully sooner rather than later. We must remember those whose lives have been lost, those whose lives are in need today, and those whose lives have yet to be touched by this awful disease.
So, Hollywood, welcome aboard. We are glad you are here. You are important messengers for an important cause.
With all the glitz and glamour, let’s not forget this battle is about the real heroes.
It is about the people we love and the patients we care for. It is about the researchers who give of themselves every day to advance the cause of understanding and treating cancer. It is about the nurses, the social workers, the doctors and everyone else who do their best to ease the pain and suffering of people with cancer. It is about the volunteers who raise funds through their walks, their Relays, their bake sales and every other way to make their contributions to this total effort.
We shall never forget what they have done and will continue to do every single day.