One hundred years.
That is a long time. And although thriving, remaining relevant and engaged for 100 years is a remarkable accomplishment for any organization, the American Cancer Society today takes pride not only in reflecting on the...
One hundred years.
That is a long time. And although thriving, remaining relevant and engaged for 100 years is a remarkable accomplishment for any organization, the American Cancer Society today takes pride not only in reflecting on the accomplishments of the last 100 years but also in our commitment to continue the fight, and make this century cancer's last.
A lot will be written about the remarkable accomplishments of the Society over the past century. The American Cancer Society takes pride in the fact that it has been able to serve millions of people during that time. It has put its mark on numerous improvements in the science and treatment of cancer. We have made incredible strides in understanding cancer, what causes it and what influences it, including the role of tobacco and overweight/obesity. We have funded 46 Nobel Prize winners at some time during their careers, frequently when they needed a start to develop their theory which led to great discoveries. And we have funded numerous investigators who have made other important and lifesaving contributions to understanding cancer and reducing its burden.
But the list is not complete. There is still too much we don't understand about cancer, its causes, and its impacts on patients, their families, their communities. We have come to a "tipping point" in the cycle where we have unlocked the genetic code of cancer and are just beginning to transform that information into lifesaving treatments. We wrestle with the early detection and prevention of some cancers, at a time when we thought--incorrectly, as it turns out--that simply finding cancer early was enough. We struggle with finding a way to get access to lifesaving or life comforting treatments to those who are diagnosed with cancer but don't have the resources to follow their journey in the best way possible. We have millions of survivors, yet understand too little about the problems they face long term, let alone being able to provide them with a system of care to respond to their needs. We have made remarkable progress in keeping children with cancer alive, free of disease into adulthood, but we haven't acknowledged the terrible price some of them have to pay from the side effects of their treatments.
We celebrate our successes which are sometimes bold and obvious, such as Gleevec® for chronic leukemia and Herceptin® for breast cancer. But we have had other successes that sometimes we don't pay as much attention to. We don't realize that our ability today to discuss the disease, have conversations with patients and families and make them part of the decision process is a big change, and fundamentally important to successful treatment and coping with the difficulties of the disease. As recently as 40 years ago, patients were not asked about their wishes. Many doctors and loved ones spun a silent dance as patients lay dying, trying to maintain a macabre charade to avoid the obvious as cancer patients ventured towards their last breaths on this earth.
We have come so far, and we have so far to go. Some experts note that just applying consistently what we already know we could make incredible inroads into reducing the incidence, suffering, and deaths from cancer. We know a lot of what works, but we don't embody what we know. We ignore the warnings, we ignore the advice, and we hope for the best. And when we become ill, we enter a disjointed system of care that doesn't communicate, doesn't educate, and too frequently is too expensive. So we can't get the care we need or we go broke trying to afford it.
This next century is going to be more than patting ourselves on the back and saying what a good job we have done. It is going to be about looking into the future and asking: how can we make a good job better? How can we meet the needs of those who depend on us to advance research, improve treatments, be there when they need us, provide education, make certain that legislators and regulators are responsive to t