The Cancer Tree

This week, if you’re a Network Depot client, you may notice a member of our staff wearing a pink ribbon, pink socks, or for the truly adventurous men, a pink shirt. No – we are not making a fashion statement. It’s part of what will become an annual commitment for Network Depot – Cancer Awareness Week.

The whole idea of a “Cancer Awareness Week” is actually rather ironic if you really think about it. I really don’t know anyone who isn’t aware of cancer, and many of my friends have had multiple run-ins with the disease, with either themselves or their relatives or friends afflicted by a cancer of one sort or another.

Recently I got the news that my mother had contracted cancer. She is a courageous and generous woman who has spent a lifetime caring for others. My sister, also a person generous of spirit and a true empath, died of cancer at age 38. My father, who has spent much his life in service to his country in law enforcement, contracted the disease a few years ago but with early detection was able to beat it in to remission.

Clearly cancer doesn’t care much what quality of people it affects. In my immediate family it’s 3 for 3. My wife’s family has also been affected by cancer, with us getting the news this year that another relative has contracted it with a high level of metastasis. This, after others in her family had succumbed when she was a child.

This last month I got the news that cancer visited a close friend of mine. Thierry Sagnier is a writer, a musician, and one of the most authentic and humble people I know. I have been lucky to know him as a friend and as a bandmate (you can listen to Thierry singing one of his songs here), and have read his blog posts for unedited commentary on what it’s like to get the news and to figure out what is next.

So maybe “awareness” isn’t what we really need. Maybe there’s another “a” word, like “anger”, “annoyance” or “aggravation”. Cancer has been a sad fact of life long enough. At this point, it’s just pissing me off.

You know what else pisses me off? Over half a million Americans die of cancer each year. That’s 1,500 a day. More than 60 per hour. Yes – at least one person dies of cancer in America every minute, and that’s just the US.

You know what pisses me off more? Our government allocates roughly $5 billion per year on cancer research. That may seem like a lot, and compared to our own personal or business budgets it is. But if we use, for instance, our current spending for military efforts in the Middle East as a comparator – and this is not in any way meant to weigh in on its validity, merely to provide some budgetary perspective – we’ll see that we are likely to exceed $5 trillion including post-war medical costs. Tragically, three thousand Americans were killed on 9/11/2001. Yet three thousand people die of cancer in America every two days. Why the inequity in funding? How is the loss of life to such an impersonal and cruel disease any less cause for anger and action than an act of violence performed by people?

Cancer awareness is what generates additional income for charities like the American Cancer Society, and while volunteer events can be appropriate and cathartic for those involved, a great deal of the actual money, at least in the case of ACS, has gone to overhead, including seven figure salaries for top executives. There are literally hundreds of cancer charities, but I have to wonder to what level they are competing, and to what level they are cooperating.

So this week, I’m asking you to take a moment to look at your own family tree, and see how many branches have been affected by cancer. Then take a look at your candidates for office and ask them to what level they prioritize cancer cure research over other budget items. If they respond with a blank stare, let them know what your “cancer tree” looks like and ask them to examine theirs. I don’t profess to have all the answers, but I do think it needs to be part of the discussion. We’ve been distracted by shiny metal objects and sound bites in the political spectrum for too long.

Perhaps, together, we can display enough awareness, anger, annoyance and aggravation to make it possible for the youngest branches on our family trees to grow older without become entries on their children’s cancer tree.

Now there’s a deforestation project I can get behind.

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