When my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer eight weeks ago, at the age of 36 and with four kids, the youngest of whom was 4 months old, it was what one might call a shock, the like of which you don't get too many times in a lifetime. It was a life-altering moment. As we walked out of the hospital, numb, one thing was clear, above all else:
What was I going to do about St Baldrick's?
For those who do not know, I have participated in the St Baldrick's head-shaving event for the last three years (see here, here, and here). We raise money for pediatric cancer research. I do it in memory of my friend Nathan Gentry and a friend I never met, Henry Scheck. These kids died of cancer before they ever got to enjoy life. Their lives and their struggles changed me forever. But now we were embroiled in a struggle of our own, for the life of my wife, Liza.
So, am I on a "new team" now? Am I morally obligated to join the Susan G Komen foundation and wear a pink ribbon? It reminded me of an old Onion headline:
Rare Disease Nabs Big-Time Celebrity SpokesmanI was a fan of pediatric cancer, but I got drafted by breast cancer. (So that's what it feels like to become a Chicago Cub!) Is that how it works?
BALTIMORE–Flehner-Lathrop Syndrome Foundation officials excitedly announced Monday that actor Ted Danson has been diagnosed with the rare, deadly degenerative disease, bringing much-needed star power to their cause.
We've decided not. Note that I say "we," because this is as much Liza's position as mine. We do kids' cancer because it is important and because there is a gap there that needs to be filled. Just because some other disease has the temerity to come in and affect our lives directly does not mean that we will drop our priorities and put our provincial concerns in the top position. I knew about breast cancer (and colon cancer and heart disease and HIV and a host of other valuable causes) long before I decided to get involved in St Baldrick's. I chose pediatric cancer as the cause that I was going to dedicate my philanthropic efforts towards, not because it has directly affected me or mine, but because it's a critically important niche where I can make a difference, and because there is a real need for resources, in a way that is not true for other cancers, and also because the victims of pediatric cancers are vulnerable in a way that is unique. And that has not changed.
Please, understand that nothing I say or do here is intended to disparage those whose choices are other than mine. In fact, I suspect that for some, Liza's experience with breast cancer will inspire them to make breast cancer the cause of their lives -- and good for them! More people involved, more people fighting the fight is a good thing, and I welcome it strongly. Nor would I ever hint that "my cause is better than some others." That would be wrong and offensive in the extreme. All I am doing is explaining how I came to my own decisions.
Breast cancer is a useful comparison, because is has struck so close to home for me. For perspective, the Susan Komen Foundation is a $1.5 billion organization, with $337 million in annual revenues. The NIH spends some $900 million every year in research related to breast cancer. Which is as it should be: breast cancer will affect one out of every eight women. This is a lethal and common disease. It's absolutely great that there are people doing incredible work towards a cure for this disease, and I thank each and every one of you who has ever donated towards or worked for such a worthy goal.
In contrast, the funding towards all the cancers which affect children is a small fraction of that which is dedicated to breast cancer alone. The St Baldrick's Foundation had $22 million in revenue in 2010, and is the largest organization dedicated to pediatric cancer. St Jude's is another great organization, in the $100 million range, though they focus on all childhood catastrophic diseases, not just cancer. But the theme is clear: funding for kids' cancers lags an order of magnitude behind that of breast cancer, and other common adult malignancies. While this does make some sense, given their relative incidence, the fact that many kids' cancers have had such shocking decreases in mortality highlights the fact that dollars given to pediatric cancer research have a fairly high bang for the buck, so to speak.
So I'm still on "Team Baldricks" for 2011 and going forward. This is what I care about, and this is where I hope to make a difference. Because there are kids who need our help. And I'd like to ask for your support. Please take a moment and click through to my St Baldrick's page and make a secure, on-line donation. I've set an audacious goal for myself this year: $10,000. Whatever you can donate: $25 or $50 is the average donation, and it's greatly appreciated. If you can afford $500 or even $1,000, an angel will get its wings. Donations greater than $1,000 are rewarded with total consciousness, which is nice.
If it brings you more joy, click on Baldy the Leprechaun to donate:
Or, if it's more your thing, go on over to Susan Komen's place and make a donation in honor of Liza or the woman of your choice. It's all good.
Bonus: the top donor, if he or she is motivated to come to Seattle's Fado Irish Pub on March 10, 2011, will be awarded first swipe at my head with the razor! Any donors who show up, regardless of the level of support will be rewarded with a Guiness on me!