Recently I had the pleasure of participating in a Conquer Cancer Foundation event at the home of my friend, Dr. Thomas Roberts and his beautiful wife Susan. Tom used to be an attending staff oncologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and an instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School before joining Farallon, one of the first hedge funds in the world to manage university endowments.
My favorite thing about Tom is not that he's a very smart and successful guy. The thing that stands out most about Tom is how nice and thoughtful he is. You might think a man of his stature wouldn't bother hanging around with someone like me, yet he's been nothing but kind and magnanimous with his time. We met on the tennis court several years ago and have been good friends ever since.
Tom is on the board of the Conquer Cancer Foundation and I've promised to help him spread the word about this devastating disease that has affected so many. Although I cannot match the funds that many generous benefactors have offered, I do have an online platform to help raise awareness. My grandfather died of skin cancer before the age of 65 and my good friend's father was recently diagnosed with bladder cancer. It seems like everybody I know has been affected by cancer to some degree, whether it be a family member, close friend, neighbor, or colleague.
Here are some cancer statistics:
* One out of every two men and one out of every three women will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime.
* There will be over 1.6 million new cancer cases diagnosed and nearly 600,000 cancer deaths in the US in 2014.
* Cancer remains the second most common cause of death in the US, accounting for nearly 1 of every 4 deaths.
* There are nearly 14.4 million survivors worldwide.
THE CONQUER CANCER FOUNDATION'S MISSION
This is what the Conquer Foundation does in their own words:
We’re working to achieve a world free from the fear of cancer through three primary strategies:
1) Research and Discovery
* Research Grants And Awards: We support the brightest minds in clinical/translational cancer research – including areas underfunded by others (e.g., palliative care, rare cancers)
* Over the past 30 years, support has been awarded to more than 1,000 researchers worldwide
2) Education and Knowledge
* Physician Education: CCF supports physician research and education programs in the U.S. and internationally to help everyone with cancer access world-class care, everywhere
* Resources for Patients and Families: Supports ASCO’s award winning Cancer.Net (consumer cancer website of over 120 cancer types) as well as patient waiting room materials and survivor/advocate programs
3) Quality and Access to Care
* Ground-Breaking Quality Initiatives that improve the delivery of care, including CancerLinQ, a cutting-edge health information technology platform that will enable doctors to learn from the millions of individual patients living with cancer nationwide
QOPI, and programs of the Institute for Quality that improve the delivery of care
* Access: Efforts to reduce disparities in access to care, ensure a diverse, well-trained workforce, and improve cancer care internationally
LISTENING TO THE YOUNG RESEARCHER'S STORIES
At Tom's event I got to meet a couple of the young researchers who have received CCF grants in the amount of $50,000 each. The CCF grant ranks as one of the most prestigious grants in the country, which enables recipients to receive further grants to continue their work. One researcher I met was Jacqueline Suen Garcia, a research doctor at Stanford.
What fascinated me most was understanding Jacqueline's “why.” I wanted to understand what drove her to be a researcher vs. earning much more as a doctor in a private practice or a hospital. Jacqueline said that at the end of the day, her number one desire is to help people live. It's not the money and it's not the recognition, but the ability to help a child diagnosed with leukemia grow up to see the world.
Jacqueline mentioned that she and her fellow research doctors struggle constantly with the decision to pursue their passion vs. making a career decision out of practicality. They have families to support just like many of us. Without private funding, we would lose talented doctors like Jacqueline towards the necessity of making a living. Goodness knows it's not cheap living in the Bay Area. Jacqueline mentioned that the importance of private support cannot be overemphasized.
THE BEST WAY TO GIVE
Although Tom left day-to-day clinical practice, he has never left oncology. I think most of us have wondered at one point or another, which is a more effective path to helping others: making as much money as possible so one has the resources to give the most, or helping people individually one person at a time. I say every method helps. Not all of us can be Bill Gates, but each of us can do our own part to contribute to a cause we believe in.
After several decades of fighting cancer, you might wonder why we haven't eradicated cancer by now. The fact of the matter is that there has been tremendous progress made towards fighting cancer. Back in 1989, there were only two cancer drugs a year coming out. Now there are 12 new cancer drugs a year. Twenty years ago, only one out of every three people diagnosed with cancer would live to 5 years after diagnosis. Today, two out of three people make it to 5 years after diagnosis.
“Throughout history, we’ve seen that scientific discovery doesn’t happen linearly and it doesn’t happen quickly, but that we occasionally find ourselves at tipping points where things really start to happen,” Tom says. “This is one of those tipping points. The ability to harvest rapidly evolving opportunities is dependent on the people you have in place and the resources you have available. You see losers, winners, lost opportunities, and great triumphs. We’re in that moment now with cancer research. If we lose momentum now, we’ve lost a lot.”
Here's a short video clip highlighting two Grantees, who explain how CCF funding launched their careers and enabled them to take their cancer research to the next level. The next generation of researchers are key to conquering cancer.
If you would like to donate to the Conquer Cancer Foundation please visit this link. For the month of September, Raj Mantena, RPh a CCF board member has agreed to donate $2 for every $1 donated to CCF up to a total of $1 million, e.g. a total of $300 will be donated for every $100 contribution. 90% of every dollar donated goes straight to the young investigator's funding.
For those who are looking to minimize their risk of getting diagnosed with cancer, I leave you with three simple tips from Neil Iyengar, one of the CCF grant recipients at the gathering:
1) Don't smoke
2) Eat less processed foods
3) Stay a healthy weight
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Updated for 2019 and beyond.