Sharing Priorities and Being Fearless

This morning I read of the obituary of Frances Oldham Kelsey, an "FDA Officer Who Blocked Thalidomide," who died at age 101. Her tireless efforts to uncover a link between the drug thalidomide and severe birth defects, against the prevailing consensus, protected the lives of millions, on the basis that a lack of science does not warrant a go-ahead.

Today, we often see things that are accepted, based on the premise that a lack of science -- the information has not indicated otherwise -- means a drug, a process, or an ignorance of a measure of prevention, can be legitimized.

Dr. Kelsey's example reminds us that rigorous investigation is always necessary, even against the grain of conventional wisdom.

Creating a consensus on priorities in the work of cancer prevention, my life's work, requires being a little like Dr. Kelsey: challenge the accepted attitudes and protocols, and aspire to something new, inclusive and improved.

Fearless people impress us every day, who put their necks out to stand up for a next generation that will benefit from declining incidences of many forms of cancer and other major, preventable diseases.

I am fortunate that I get to work with those fearless people, who create change for healthier futures. The work we do through Less Cancer, is always guided by evidenced-based science, even if it challenges mainstream practices.

Less Cancer works across a range of initiatives to raise awareness of the science that girds our mission, understanding the underdog nature of our fight. Our chairman, Thomas M.(Tom) Sherman, MD, went to bat for legislation in his home state of New Hampshire to ban indoor tanning for minors, a Less Cancer priority since early in our work of educating communities and legislators. Board member and author of "A World Without Cancer," Margaret I. Cuomo, M.D., is moderator and science and medical curator for the National Cancer Prevention Day panel, a Less Cancer initiative in Washington D.C., and recently helped establish New York State's first Cancer Prevention Summit in May, 2015. And just last week, Representative Debbie Dingell, Democrat of Michigan, announced that with Representative Tim Murphy, Republican from Pennsylvania, the establishment of the first ever bi-partisan Cancer Prevention Caucus, an effort initiated by Less Cancer. I honor them all for their efforts in working towards solutions.

Team Less Cancer will again this year cycle across the state of Michigan, "Split the Mitt," from Detroit in the southeast to Petoskey in the northwest, a total of 313 miles in two days, to raise awareness and funds for our mission. On August 14th, we will arrive in Detroit for a warm-up ride on Belle Isle, the gem of a public park in the Detroit River. The ride is open to everybody, from 6-8pm(leaving from the Casino), and is designed to give a raucous send-off to the 20 or so riders who will leave the next day from the Detroit Yacht Club.

We have an amazing team of people that include investing not just heart and soul but time, talent and treasure.

Team Less Cancer is fearless in many ways of its own, supporting our mission by cycling, helping in a support vehicle, cycling, amplifying the message through social media, supporting everyone involved in the work of education, policies and prevention. Their individual commitment underscores the most important tenet of our organization: We do not solicit companies or any other entities for funding that are not aligned with our clear mission of prevention.

Among others, Team Less Cancer includes people like Emmy Award-winning journalist and Less Cancer Board Member Miles O'Brien, who last year, after losing his arm in an accident, just months later rode across Michigan in honor of his sister Aileen O'Brien Graef. Gerry Schilling, throat cancer survivor and Chris Renouf, metastatic prostate cancer survivor, will be jumping on their bikes for Less Cancer. Ed Shumaker, who will be 70 years old this December, will be riding a distance in memory of his brother Tom. Dave Toutant will be the lead cyclist for his third year in the ride. Dave, along with Suzi Tobias, the founder of Team Less Cancer, initiated this idea three years ago and were the only riders that first year. Michigander Tom Petzold cycled last year and has mapped out every step of the way and led the way on logistics. Tom will be riding shotgun with Gina Baubie Whitney, our support guru who lost her mother Liz and brother Rob to cancer. The team of cyclists also includes Detroit attorney Craig Feringa, Jeanne Petzold, Tricia Petzold, Beth Skau, and Adjunct Professor of Religious Studies and History at University of Detroit-Mercy, Bob Bruttell. We have a slew of volunteers from Kerrie Barno at the Detroit Yacht Club, Grace Piku from Oakland Township, DeAnne Nehra from Washington, DC and Janice Weitzmann and Susan Tait, both from the Detroit area. We are lucky to have both volunteers and sponsors from near and far supporting us in so many ways.

Each year more people stand with Less Cancer. We see extraordinary things taking shape, especially in our work of developing policies and best practices on the local and national fronts. None of this happens without the likes of Team Less Cancer, and all who in turn support them.

Less Cancer can be successful by not just taking on cancer and addressing preventable causes of the disease, but by looking at the whole range of prevention activity for all diseases, focusing on extending and saving lives.

Less Cancer is tilting at the constructs of the current medical model for cancer, which seemingly is broken due to its subordination to profit and financial success. It is ironic: Is there really going to be an end to cancer with cigarette funding? With the profits of chemical companies? We have seen what happens with other organizations that partner and accept funding from these corporations -- more cancer not less.

We will stay true to our grassroots model. It is up to all of us to do all we can to prevent cancer for future generations. Much is in our hands: We can make a difference in understanding and advocating change -- in our lifestyle choices, acceptance of best practices, and developments of new policies and legislation. What we do to prevent cancer can be extended and save lives across a wide range of preventable diseases. It is within our ability to make the changes, but addressing those entrenched interests and habits is never easy.

We can do this, and be fearless in the face of great obstacles. We can honor the memory of groundbreakers like Dr. Kelsey. But we can only do this with you at our side.