Early this morning, I checked my emails and scanned the Facebook posts appearing from yesterday’s massive protest women’s marches across the country. I kept returning to the images of the hundreds of thousands of women and men around the world who united to make their voices heard. One, a photograph of my granddaughter, marching alongside her parents was especially touching, reminding me the many years ago, when her grandmother and grandfather joined in civil rights and anti-war protests. Whatever one’s political preference, the right to peaceful assembly and to speak out, remains one of the most precious of our democratic rights.
I also received a photograph from Washington D.C. from a friend who made the trip to Washington to join the protest. She lives with lung cancer and has written in my expressive writing groups for years. She sent a few of us her selfie, decked out in pink, hat and tee-shirt, masses of marchers visible behind her. It was a day of celebration and exhilaration as, after a divisive and troublesome period of political campaigns, women and men across the country mobilized in support of women’s rights—of human rights–and make their voices heard the day after the new president began his term.
I lingered over my friend’s photograph, inspired by her determination to travel across the country and join in the march at the capital and by her courage, like so many other men and women living with cancer have demonstrated in so many ways. I recalled another Facebook photograph sent recently by another member of my workshops, a woman who has written with me since 2009. She lives with metastatic breast cancer and also, more recently, multiple sclerosis. The photograph she sent was a celebratory one: her smiling face as she completed a half marathon last week, another of her continuing participation in local walks or runs organized in support of the fight against breast cancer. More than a few of us have been humbled by her courage and spirit in recent years.
When I think of the many marches in support of curing cancer it’s not just breast cancer that inspires people to participate. Google “cancer walks and runs,” and you’ll find many different events and cancer organizations organized to publicize and raise funds for cancer research. Survivors, many living with metastatic cancer, and their friends and families participate, united in a fight for life and a cure for this relentless and dreaded disease–called “The Emperor of All Maladies”–which has reached nearly epidemic proportions.
According to the National Cancer Institute, an estimated 1,685,210 new cases of cancer were diagnosed in the U.S. in 2016, and 595,690 people were projected to die from the disease. It’s not just women’s rights that were highlighted in yesterday’s march, but among them, equal access for everyone to affordable healthcare. Those already engaged in the battle against cancer, whether breast, lung or one of the many other cancers, know how very critical healthcare coverage is.
Killing a cancer cell in a test tube is not a particularly difficult task: the chemical world is packed with malevolent poisons that, even in infinitesimal quantities, can dispatch a cancer cell within minutes. The trouble lies in finding a selective poison—a drug that will kill cancer without annihilating the patient. (Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, 2009)
Two weeks ago, I was asked by Cancer Resource Network, an online health magazine, if I would write a short statement about World Cancer Day, which occurs February 4, 2017. I admit that I knew little about the event or its history and quickly looked for the website to learn more. Established by the Paris Charter and adopted at the World Summit Against Cancer for the New Millennium in Paris, February 4, 2000, it’s a day for the world to promote research for a cure, the prevention of cancer, and upgrading patient services. It is dedicated to informing and mobilizing the global community against the disease. According to the website, 8.2 million people die from cancer worldwide every year, and 4 million of those between 30 and 69, die prematurely. It’s shocking. Yet I doubt few people in the world have not been affected, in some way, by cancer.
In the United States, one in three women and one in two men will develop cancer during their lifetime. A quarter of all American deaths, and about 15 percent of all deaths worldwide, will be attributed to cancer. In some nations, cancer will surpass heart disease to become the most common cause of death.” Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Emperor of All Maladies)
The World Cancer Day 2017 tagline is We can. I can. It’s a call to action, intended to support how we, individually or collectively, can help “to reduce the global burden of cancer.” As of this morning, the site’s “map of impact” shows 167 events happening around the world in support of World Cancer Day.
Just as the world witnessed the enormous solidarity in support of the Women’s March on Washington, the marches inspire us to consider what actions we can take beyond marches to ensure positive change, whether for women’s rights or for the good of many different people in the world., including the prevention and cure of cancer.
How can you take action? Just as cancer affects everyone in different ways, there are many ways to take action for families or communities that can have a positive impact on cancer, such as making healthy lifestyle choices, asking for support, advocating for yourself and others whose lives are affected by cancer, and making your voice heard by sharing you story of the cancer experience.
Whether in support of World Cancer Day or in the renewed energy generated by the Women’s March on Washington, we have much more to do. Ask yourself, “What actions can I take individually or with others?” There is still much to be done to a difference in our nation and our world.
I was deeply inspired by yesterday’s marches—but it’s only the beginning. Just as the actions we take on a regular basis to ensure that basic human rights in this country are not violated, so too does finding a cancer cure require our ongoing involvement, advocacy and support in the fight for a cure.
- This week, focus on the question: “What actions can I take?,” whether it is about cancer, human rights, or affordable healthcare, to name a few. Then follow “what can I do” with “What I will do.”
- The Women’s March has inspired ten actions to take in the first 100 days of the new president’s term in office.
- World Cancer Day is Saturday, February 4th. Why not get involved in a meaningful way?
- Share your story. One of the actions suggested by the World Cancer Day site is advocate by sharing your story–a way to offer support to others living with cancer and raise public awareness. For starters, you can submit directly to the World Cancer Day site, or Cancer Knowledge Network, the online health magazine which encourages narratives (500 words) written in response my bi-monthly column, Writing Toward Wellness. In fact, there are many possible cancer-related sites that invite cancer stories, Health Talk Online, The Live Again Project, My LifeLine, and Caring Bridge, to name a few.