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Paying it Forward

Giving Back

Photo by Toa Heftiba

Recently, during a brief break, I saw a couple of episodes of The Ellen Show that gave away crazy amounts of gifts and money to extraordinary people who are doing beautiful acts in the world.

As I watched this, I thought about how much fun it would be to give cash and prizes away.

I’m not going to lie: I’m a little bit jealous of Ellen. It’s like being Santa Claus but better, as you get to see total strangers lose their minds, fall over, throw themselves to the floor, cry, and hug America’s favorite talk show host.

I love every bit of it.

Meanwhile, with my job, I’m the guy who shares the news that your drinking water could be causing cancer. And not to state the obvious but I am not giving away cash and big-screen TVs.

As you might understand, when I walk into the room to speak, most people meet me with the idea that I am providing solutions and hope. They are seemingly grateful for our work to prevent cancer. However, that said, there are always a few thought bubbles I can read floating about their heads, silently screaming, “Oh shit, this guy going to tell me how I am going to die.”

A very different reaction from, “Oh my god, it’s Ellen!”

Which, of course, I am never going to hear—but you know what I mean. On the best day, I am never going to hear, “Oh my god—it’s Bill!”

I was telling someone recently about this juxtaposition of someone with an Ellen type of job as opposed someone with a Bill type job; she noted my job was “like straightening the carpet, so people didn’t trip. It’s not sexy.”

She’s right.

Despite not having a sexy job, I am very proud as the founder of Less Cancer, I am proud of the work to protect those that cannot protect themselves from public health risks, such as children. As an organization, we are focused on cancer risks that take on the natural landscapes of our lives; such as the tens of thousands of chemicals in circulation that in many cases have harms that are not understood or worse, understood but deliberately hidden, such as we have seen with PFAS. PFAS has been found in drinking water and linked with cancer and hidden for decades.

The Environmental Protection Agency tells us that polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of man-made chemicals that include PFOA, PFOS, GenX, and many other chemicals. PFAS have been manufactured and used in a variety of industries around the globe, including in the United States since the 1940s. PFOA and PFOS have been the most extensively produced and studied of these chemicals. Both chemicals are very persistent in the environment and in the human body–meaning they don’t break down and can accumulate over time.

They are forever chemicals that are known to be a cancer risk.

As an organization, we not only consider environmental exposure but also other factors that come from outside our bodies that include viruses, lifestyle, and diet.

Less Cancer’s work is performed through public education, continuing medical education, and public policy. Public policy is a critical tool in cancer prevention, and as an organization, we educate legislators so they can be impactful with their work.

While cancer prevention is not a slam dunk, neither is survivorship when you understand that the term is a description for many people who are not cancer free but are alive and undergoing cancer treatment.

The American Cancer Society tells us that by January 1, 2026, it is estimated that the population of cancer survivors will increase to 20.3 million: almost 10 million males and 10.3 million females.

That’s up from where 15.5 million children and adults with a history of cancer were alive on January 1, 2016, in the United States.

So, while survivorship sounds hopeful, many of those people are in treatment or terminal and are considered a survivor until they are no longer living.

It’s easy to understand why experts believe prevention is the best solution. That said, we must not diminish cancer treatment, as often treating ones cancer prevents secondary cancer. And we certainly cannot discount the many that are forever cancer free.

On a rare day, I would love to have a job like Ellen. But beyond thinking she has a cool gig, I am a massive fan of Ellen’s work and am grateful for her work beyond entertainment, but rather to end suffering which she does across many fronts.

Things like helping the poor are critical in reducing public health issues, including cancer. Addressing poverty can bridge significant public health gaps in disparities.

So while I may never get to do the big giveaways or be anyone’s hero, I am sure glad for that positive force Ellen brings to the universe.

Imagine a world where we all pay it forward.

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