Sunday, March 19, 2006
It Simply Must Change
Growing up in the LA area, it was not unusual to hear news stories about the "Crips and the Bloods," the most notorious gangs in LA. Like many (everyone outside of a gang, I suppose) , I found gang violence shocking, appalling, and the most senseless loss of life there could be. I would cry as I was going to bed thinking about kids living life as gang members. Over the last couple of years, I have begun to realize there is a much more senseless cause of loss of life in our world: cancer.

Unlike a gang banger, someone facing cancer likely didn't volunteer for it, didn't willingly follow in a family member's footsteps, didn't develop it as a result of some lack of values, or battle it for the sake of notoriety. In fact, it is just the opposite. No one signs up for cancer willingly. The majority of cancers are not hereditary. Cancer doesn't only impact those ethically challenged (quite the contrary it seems). No one is dumb enough to believe that fighting cancer will give them some territorial advantage.

Since finding myself drafted into the cancer world, I can testify to meeting people that are humble, courageous, strong, determined, generous, compassionate, and beautiful. This is the impression that remains even though I have felt, seen, and sensed the fear and pain this disease breeds in the Petri dishes of our psyche. It seems so completely senseless that we haven't done more, fought harder to eradicate the various forms of cancer. I think Cary said it best when he compared the the entire annual budget of the National Cancer Institute to a few weeks worth of defense spending in Iraq. Senseless. Completely senseless. I'm tired of crying at night, mourning the loss of my friends to cancer.

I'm not one to complain about anything without proposing a solution or some alternative. I wish I had a solution, but I don't. It isn't going to stop me from talking about this to as many people as I know. If it is the squeaky wheel that gets the oil, then be prepared to hear some squeaking because I am done. I am angry. I am tired of such a senseless loss of life.

The American Cancer Society (whom I respect) is busily preparing for their Celebration on the Hill and while the event has merit I think they have it all wrong. Yes, I think it is important to celebrate how far we have come, but we use words like fight and battle when we talk about cancer. No one stopped in the middle of WWII to celebrate our accomplishments. If we are at war with this disease, then fight, dammit, or you won't be the last person standing. None of us will be standing.

As a public servant, my first instinct is to get the message across to legislators. Seriously, I have seen lobbyists effectively accomplish the passage of the most absurd legislation. Why is it we can save rodents from extinction, but we can't save ourselves from cancer? Why is the same cancer research budget as the previous year good enough? If we can find unbudgeted money for national defense, why can't we find money for human defense against cancer? Where the hell are our priorities? Sigmund Freud believed that all of our actions derived from one of two motivations: life instincts and death instincts. If we aren't preserving life, then we as a culture must be motivated by death instincts. A paradigm shift is long overdue. We have to change the perspective.

If you have never contacted your congress member, this is the time to introduce yourself and tell him or her what is most important to you. You better believe oil companies, tobacco companies, and other private industry folks are doing it all for the sake of their bottom line. What is our bottom line? Isn't it determined by the quality of our lives? Isn't that directly threatened by the half (yes, that is correct) of our population that will be affected by cancer?

This is my suggestion. It doesn't solve the immediate problem, but it gets us moving in a direction we need to face. Each year on your birthday, send a letter to your congress member. In fact, if you send me your birth date, I will send you a reminder email. It doesn't have to be a long letter. Tell him or her what is important to you. Let it be known you want more money for cancer research. Tell him or her you want this senseless loss of life to end. Unless we demand it, it won't happen. Actually, each year, send an additional letter on the birthday of someone you know who has lost the cancer war. If your life is like mine, sadly, you will in no time be on a first-name basis with your congress member.

Please, don't wait for Komen or ACS, or any other organization with a cancer lobbying effort in place. Your personal letter will make the difference. Let your voice be heard.

Sadly, I'm far from being off my soapbox.
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
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Name: Jeannette
Location: Southern California, USA

This is my story about being diagnosed with breast cancer at age 39. I thought I was out of the woods, but four years late it came back. This is my quest to be a two-time survivor.

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