Stand Up and Dance

Five years ago this week, something extraordinary happened. Three networks and three network news anchors, all normally fierce competitors, did something highly unusual. They appeared together on competing morning shows to announce the launch of a grassroots movement, Stand Up To Cancer. Since that time, over $260 million has been pledged to Stand Up To Cancer for innovative cancer research. We've established 10 multi-institutional, cross-disciplinary Dream Team projects and awarded 26 innovative research grants, with our researchers spread across 101 institutions, from 28 different states and 5 different countries. The Stand Up To Cancer initiative is led by some of the most esteemed and accomplished doctors and scientists in the world. Our collective goal is to deliver new and better treatments to patients faster - and it's working. Our accomplishments over the past five years include: a new epigenetic treatment strategy wherein patients receive two therapies, the first of which substantially enhances the effectiveness of the second one; research that led to a breast cancer clinical trial that tripled the survival time for some patients; the identification of a drug combination that extends the lives of patients with pancreatic cancer; and the development of a new, non-invasive way to monitor cancer patients' responses to treatments in real-time.

The Stand Up To Cancer model is helping change the culture of research and bringing about a new way of thinking among scientists, all for the benefit of those suffering from cancer. For all that has been achieved, we still have much to accomplish.

When we started this movement five years ago we knew we had the right leadership in place from the scientific community, and we knew we had the power and the platforms of the entertainment industry to help engage the public. The unknown variable in all this was whether the public would embrace this movement. Who could blame them if they didn't? The public, after all, has been engaged in the war against cancer officially for 40 years and unofficially for generations, as outlined in Siddhartha Mukherjee's masterful biography of cancer, The Emperor of All Maladies. For every advancement in technology, for every positive clinical trial result, for every individual who beats this disease, there are 1500 Americans who will die today from cancer, and there are 1500 Americans who will die tomorrow from cancer, and every day thereafter until we stem the tide of this epidemic. That's over 580,000 American lives taken every year, and almost 8 million worldwide.

Mukherjee writes, "Cancer, we now know, is a disease caused by the uncontrolled growth of a single cell." So must be the movement to end it. Stand Up To Cancer began with a coalition of very determined, well-connected women who had each experienced profound loss due to the disease. Moving the needle forward, network CEOs graciously came together in a historic decision donating airtime to simultaneously broadcast our fundraising special, which was supported by hundreds of celebrities who helped galvanize the public. The Stand Up To Cancer movement rests in the hearts of all those who want to win one of mankind's toughest battles. What continually heartens me is the perseverance of every-day citizens who rally and advocate for a cure in any way they can.

Take Fieldstone Middle School for example. Located in the close-knit town of Thiells, New York, Fieldstone Middle School has taken an enthusiastic approach to the fight against this disease with their Stand Up To Cancer Fundraiser, 'Dancing with the Teachers'. The idea, based on the television pop culture phenomenon, was conceived by Fieldstone students, and put into action by English teachers and Co-Founders Jennifer Harrington and Amy Liebel after they realized that cancer connected both students and faculty. For three years now, the faculty has partnered with professional dancers in a fun competition that raises a significant amount of money -- to date, a whopping $58,000 for research -- and lifts even more hearts. At the end of each competition, the participants tell the audience who they stand up for. You may not know who they are, but when you hear their names, you'll think of your brother, your uncle, your mom, your daughter - "Aunt Eve, Linda, Charles, Barbara, Pat, Lucy, Lorraine, Jackie, Margaret..."

The Fieldstone Middle School community was particularly struck by the story of a five-year old girl named Gabby. When two of the middle school students were distraught over how a five-year old could be diagnosed with cancer, their teacher Jennifer Harrington took them in her arms and said, "I promise you in 20 years or 30 years or 40 years when we have a cure, you can stand up before everyone you know and say, 'I was not a bystander, I was a part of the change and I was a part of finding this cure.'"

Take a look. This is what Stand Up To Cancer is all about.