'Tis the Season

This Christmas season, while we make our annual burst of charity, let's look at the bigger picture and see if we can stretch those efforts year round.
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Illuminated christmas tree on the snow at night
Illuminated christmas tree on the snow at night

This time of the year, I am always moved by the humanitarian spirit, witnessing the rush by so many people to come to the aid of individuals, families and communities.

It warms my heart.

From the perspective of my work to prevent harm, I am frustrated by the reactivity of our culture, as we respond after-the-fact to problems as opposed to being more proactive. We rush to feed the hungry in gestures that make us feel good over the holidays, but I wonder how those activities can be stretched out over the year. Can we expand the impact of these awesome acts of charity over time, so fewer hungry and homeless people will need our emergency aid over the holidays?

Seemingly, we wait and then to swoop in at the last minute to provide a band-aid to what we should have been addressing all year round. We know that the solutions are temporary but very much needed. I get it. I, too, embrace the holidays for these very reasons. Who doesn't enjoy making the world a little better? It's a good thing; however, I am conflicted because I want to prevent the conditions from ever happening in the first place.

Today programming or education that prevents hunger or homelessness is frequently seen in a negative light.

I don't understand that mindset.

I see the same type of thinking culturally with cancer prevention: people would rather have their name on a building or facility, or focus the war on cancer solely around finding new treatment capabilities.

Prevention is the largest unheralded solution for cancer. We now know that the evidenced-based science points to 50 percent of all cancer being preventable. I do not understand why people prefer to invest in mopping up the wounded as opposed to preventing cancer in the first place, especially when there's an opportunity of preventing half of all cancer. I more than anyone wanted cures for the people I loved, but what I wanted more for them was not to have cancer in the first place.

Our recipe for less cancer is uncomplicated and focused. Very simple.

Our core activity is to educate about where cancers come from and how they can be prevented. Our goal is to reduce cancer rates. We work to educate the public so they can make informed decisions, and we work to educate policy makers so they can protect the public. We recently saw this in New Hampshire with the ban of indoor tanning to minors.

Our work is difficult, because it requires dogged, walk-holes-in-your-shoes persistence when it comes to protecting the public. One reason for hesitancy is that prevention cuts into profits and revenue for treatment centers. Prevention is the evidenced-based work that requires a shift in the culture that has invested for over a century in "break and fix" cancer battles, and not the overall war on cancer.

Who pushes back on the science? Who pushes back on the policies that protect the public? Those attributed to producing, promoting and selling the products that contribute directly to poor health, including cancer. In turn, our pushback must be intense, which is why we must come at from all angles.

That includes not accepting money from the likes of soft drink companies or tobacco or any number of companies. It does not work if organizations like ours are used as ad agencies for those doing little to improve the landscape on human health.

It is tough for our little organization, despite our big successes on Capitol Hill and in states and other localities. Each year our grassroots base grows; each year we have increased needs; each year the task becomes bigger.

I as the founder of Less Cancer, as do some of our board members, continue to go to bat for those who may not know what they can do for themselves. We continue to pick up phones, knock on doors and work towards policies that, if they cannot protect you today, will protect your children and their children. We do this to head off those preventable cancers at the pass, to end cancer before it starts for the next generation.

I know the importance of this steep climb, more than once or twice people on their death beds have told be not to stop our work. Those conversations can never be forgotten. Nobody who has done the cancer journey wants their children or anyone they love to have to go through cancer.

This Christmas season, while we make our annual burst of charity, let's look at the bigger picture and see if we can stretch those efforts year round.