One of my earliest memories as a child was when I was playing on the sidewalk with a few neighborhood children, a couple of boys next door and the girl across the street. It was a bright, sunny day, yet the guarded, hushed tones of the grownups in the neighborhood signaled something was amiss — clearly, something very sad had occurred. I was bewildered and afraid of what it could be. I was six or seven years old at the time.
One of the neighborhood mothers pulled up in her driveway and put her car in park, peering over the convertible door in her big sunglasses, and the ordinarily cheery woman called my one friend over to speak to her privately. She had just returned from the funeral home. The day before, her mother had died from cancer.
That next day, I had my first visit to the funeral home, I sat with my parents and watched my friends brothers and sisters pass the open casket one by one until my friend approached holding her father’s hand.
That image of her holding her father’s hand seared deeply into my heart.
And I would experience many more moments at the funeral home just like that one throughout adolescence and into adulthood, and I remember them all: the visitations, the last goodbyes, chanting the rosary, the receptions and ridiculous outpourings of food and goodwill afterward.
Those memories all left indelible stains on my heart.
As I grew older, the increase in instances of cancer in my life simply became much more relevant as close friends, and family members succumbed to the disease, and I had no choice left but to take action.
Today, as the founder of Less Cancer, it is those many memories stored deep in my heart that drive, motivate and energize me to continue seeking change on the cancer frontier.
It’s that stain on the heart that’s motivated action from everything from driving several thousand miles a month to being hunched over my computer days at a time writing fundraising letters.
And everyone who is affiliated with Less Cancer, from our esteemed board of directors to our contractors and professionals give to Less Cancer. They give in time, talent and treasure.
Our collaborators, leading experts in all the areas that work to end cancer, give as well, and they too are committed to joining forces in solutions that make the difference in cancer prevention. We see that every year when we join forces on Capitol Hill.
My story is just one story in a world of countless devastating stories associated with the pain, suffering, and loss associated with cancer.
The reality is that when we work towards reducing instances of cancer, we in turn address things like homelessness, food-challenged children, illiteracy and education not to mention a whole host of other chronic disease.
My call to action for the Less Cancer Community, in light of everything that our county is facing, is to commit to taking action in any way possible. Even small actions — helping a child to read for an hour, providing healthy food to those without food, donating to organizations that move the needle on human health — add up and collectively advance public health. Our world then becomes increasingly healthier, our environments safer and cleaner, and our children more literate. As a smarter, healthier and stronger community, nation and world, we are then able to make better decisions and are more fully equipped to prevent cancer.
We can also advance the mission by questioning and understanding the values and commitments of our current leadership at all levels, asking them what their top priorities are and where they stand on cancer-related issues like the environment, drinking water, poverty, and education. And if these things aren’t priorities, then we need to be asking how we can hold the current leadership accountable or else seeking new leaders for positions where human health and the environment are a priority.
Who we choose to represent our interests in leadership at all levels must be asked the hard questions so we can understand how they are the going to bat for our children’s futures and assess whether or not their efforts are sufficient. Children depend on us to make the right decisions so that they don’t lose their mothers or fathers, brothers and sisters to cancer. It is our duty to protect them at all costs until they are able to do so themselves.
My childhood memories and a lifetime of loss may be the motor that moves me personally, but it is the collective wisdom and tireless support from the best and the brightest in medicine, science, and government that defines and drives the mission of Less Cancer.
The current insensitive, inhumane climate we are in must not be the values of the future leadership we seek, but instead, we must look to ourselves: compassionate, hardworking Americans who have endured tremendous loss to go to bat for the Next Generation.
It is time for all of us to pick up the reins and actively engage our communities by choosing elected officials and other community leaders with great care.
Originally published at medium.com