In 2003 I started banging on doors to see if, in fact, cancer was preventable. I spoke with countless experts—scientists, physicians, advocates, and politicians. You name it, I spoke to them.
I shared my concerns: what worried me and kept me up at night. I wanted to learn about the increased incidence rate of cancer, the economic impact and the overall suffering that came with it. Many of the experts were not understanding, but a few who mattered were. They listened to me. They energized me and encouraged me to not silence my squeaky wheel.
Over time, I reached more and more people by letter, email, phone and personal visits. Sometime later, I started writing, blogging and speaking on cancer prevention at venues ranging from elementary schools to medical schools, medical centers, museums, and Capitol Hill—as well as state capitals.
I didn’t have the funding to fly, rent cars or stay in hotels. I drove everywhere, state to state, city to city, and I never turned down an opportunity to speak.
Fast forward a couple of decades. Less Cancer has reached more millions than I ever imagined. I am humbled to have been allowed to share the message and grateful to those who have made it possible.
Along the way I learned to work with sometimes divergent thinkers: people who did not fully understand my perspective. Gradually they went from being doubters to listeners to collaborators. Working with them gave me opportunities to have a wheel on the inside track.
As Less Cancer evolved, I received more and more pressure to accept funding from unlikely partners—partnerships that did not make sense to me. I don’t believe we can stop cancer with the things that cause it.
People said, “Oh, just take the money.”
Instead, I started taking other jobs to make money. In my off hours from Less Cancer I once managed an event that was short on servers. I grabbed a tray and was running drinks to one table when a guy snapped his fingers at me and requested a drink. Someone at his table took issue with his finger-snapping and said, “Hey, that’s the guy who started Less Cancer.”
I’ve never felt demeaned by serving other people. To this day, I am as proud of that job as I am of Less Cancer. Having a guy snap his fingers at me may be a primitive way of asking for service, but I don’t see it as the insult others apparently did. That’s because my “day job” is to work feverishly to keep that person’s family out of cancer’s way.
In my work for Less Cancer, I’ve gotten more recognition than I deserve. I’m honored when strangers seek me out to thank me, but the thanks should be going to the “listeners,” every person who has listened to me and acted on what I said.
Recently, we organized the National Cancer Prevention Workshop, an event with more than 70 presenters and 10-plus hours of evidence-based science. It was a collaboration between Less Cancer and some of the best minds in cancer prevention and public health. Flags in honor of the workshop were flown above the Capitol in Washington, D.C., as well as other state capitals. We had diverse and bipartisan participation from a record number of legislators.
None of this could have happened without the many gracious people who listened to Less Cancer’s message—and who continue to listen. Without them, hope would not be on the horizon.