This evening a special annual telethon was held, Standup2Cancer. It is a one hour, uninterrupted telecast, broadcast on nearly every network. The goal of the program is to raise money for the accelerated research programs for cancer cures. This has become such a huge event, that “watch” parties are now being held. Tonight, here in Naples, a special watch party was held by the local Relay For Life committee at a local establishment, Bokamper’s. I was invited to be a guest speaker during the program before the telecast. Below is the speech that I gave:
“I want to thank the American Cancer Society for inviting me to speak a few words as a cancer survivor. I am so excited to be here tonight. No, really, I am really excited to be here tonight, as anyone who has ever battled cancer will echo those sentiments. But I am really excited tonight because tonight is about an opportunity to Stand Up 2 Cancer.
We are so close to curing so many cancers. But just like the saying goes, “close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.” One of the main obstacles that stands in the way of finding cures for cancer is funding for research. There just simply is not enough money to fund research for all cancers, and so, many people will never get an opportunity to stand in front of you to tell their stories as cancer survivors.
So how close are we to finding cures? Conversations are no longer dominated by terms such as life expectancy, but now include the words prevention.
In 1988, I was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. This particular cancer makes up just 1% of cancer diagnosis. Yet today, it remains one of the most treatable forms of cancer with a success rate of over 85%. But you see, it still is not 100%. And that is where we need an organization like Standup2Cancer. Standup2Cancer raises funds with 100% of all monies raised going to accelerated research programs to help find cures for cancer, when other moneys for research just are not available. Funding for research for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma barely exists and is rarely questioned because of the success rate of current treatments and the rarity of the cancer. But for 15% of the people who do not survive HD, this is unacceptable. 15% means there is still work to be done. But the money for research has to come from somewhere.
Of all the struggles I have dealt with as a cancer survivor – severe late physical side effects, financial, relationships, fertility, discrimination, employment, emotional – survivor’s guilt has been the worst for me. Why do I get to stand in front of you, when so many I have known and met over my life, do not get to stand in front of anyone? Cancer has decimated my family. My grandmother died from 2 separate battles with breast cancer and ovarian cancer. I lost my sister to Leukemia. This past May I said goodbye to my father after battling lung cancer. But for me, no greater guilt exists for me, and pales in comparison to the pain and sorrow felt by the mother of a friend of mine, who lost his battle with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma this year at the age of 24, because the current mode of treatment, while curing 85% of the people, just was not safe enough for him. He received no radiation therapy and half as much of the chemotherapy that I received. This 15% is not acceptable to me which is why I proudly support the efforts of Standup2Cancer. We are so close to finding a cure, not just for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, but safer treatments as well, and cures for other forms of cancer. And it all starts with you.
I am living proof. The first time and the only time I ever heard the word cancer was when someone died. That was over 40 years ago. I was treated with enough radiation, that I could have eaten off the floor of Three Mile Island after the meltdown and not have been exposed to as much radiation. I was treated with a drug that was used by a middle eastern dictator to kill his people, but it treated cancer. Physically, my body has its share of late effects that came about in exchange for me surviving cancer. But I am here to tell you, progress has been made in the 24 years since. It just simply is not good enough. But after tonight, we get closer to a better and safer cure because of each and every one of you. And in memory of my friend Michael, I thank you.”