Monday, June 07, 2010

Why bother? (calling all you angels)

One of my best friends, who himself recently lost his mom to cancer, donated to my ride, observing, however, that he has become much more reluctant to donate to medical charities.

He wrote, "We have all been doing it for years and I see so little improvement."

As a man who, when he was a boy, lost his Dad to a brain tumor, trust me when I say that I understand that sentiment. Brain tumors are notoriously difficult to address. They're harder to remove, radiate or get chemotherapy drugs to than most other cancers. I won't repeat what I've already said about my journey in which I lost and regained hope.

For most of that journey, I felt the same way about medical charities, and even about cancer research in general. "Great," I would think after reading a study. "You extended the average life of a cancer patient by two weeks." Thinking of Dad's last days, during which he was bedridden and uncommunicative, I would wonder what the benefit of 14 more days of that would be.

You could say that I became a bit cynical.

It didn't help when big walkathon and bikeathon fundraisers started becoming more common and many of them, including one I participated in, ended up spending much, if not most, of the money raised on administrative costs.

So, I also understand about charities. One of the main attractions of the Pan-Mass Challenge is that 100 percent of the money goes to the Dana Farber Institute and Jimmy Fund, which have impressive records of achievement, like the recent prostate cancer vaccine and the potential new treatment for melanoma.

That said, I feel similar to my friend about charities: I don't want to do just anything, I want to do something--something that will make a difference. In my dad's case, medical research did make a difference; it did extend his life. Not by much, but I realize now that every day counts.

However, nobody can bring back my dad. I consider a large part of the money I raise as an investment that will hopefully pay dividends for my children in products like the prostate cancer vaccine--and now the possible breast cancer vaccine--and a longer life expectancy should they ever be unlucky enough to develop cancer.

I'm driven to this by the memory of the love I've lost and by the hope for those I love more than myself.

My friend losing his mom was one of the many straws that broke the camel's back and got me back into this cancer fighting mode.

...another straw was my best friend's wife losing her mom to a brain tumor, especially since I had officiated at their wedding, which deepened our bond and created in me an unexpected ongoing sense of responsibility for their relationship.

...another straw was a friend from high school, now a school teacher and mother of two, who was diagnosed with, suffered through treatment for and continues to recover from breast cancer.

...another straw was my former colleague who had to have her thyroid removed due to cancer, which means she's on synthetic thyroid for the rest of her life, which isn't (surprise, surprise) such a great replacement for the real thing.
Those all made me angry...and, for a change, I'm trying to put my anger to good use--for a cause that has already worked miracles and presses relentlessly forward, working for more miracles every day.

Because while there are those of us who can't see the improvements made by Dana-Farber and the Jimmy Fund on a daily basis, and so it seems to us like no progress is being made in fighting cancer, there are those to whom those improvements are daily miracles that extend over lifetimes.

And so, if it's from an angry optimism like mine or your own personal history with cancer like my friend's or from some other source, I'm calling on all you angels to support the advances made by Dana Farber and the Jimmy Fund.

And if you won't do it for the good friends we have and the good friends we have lost, do it to force me to shave for the first time in 25 years.

I'm working to make cancer history. Will you help me?

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