When I first heard the word cancer at the young age of nine in learning of my mom’s breast cancer diagnosis, I had no idea what an impact this disease could have or how profoundly it would affect my life. Unknown to me at the time, my mom, just 37 years old, had been essentially handed a death sentence of just one year; however, through determination, treatment (and the healing effects of humor), mom lived to see my sister and me make it through not only elementary school but through our higher education. She proudly attended my law school graduation and she was present for the birth of her first grandchild. Sadly, however, just seven years after burying my father following his battle with stomach cancer, my mom ultimately lost her own battle in 2004, 21 years after her initial diagnosis. She lived those 21 years as if each were a gift, embracing life and unceasingly giving of herself.
Throughout her three diagnoses of cancer, as well as my dad’s cancer struggle, mom was a constant beacon of strength. She took the experiences she gained from the cancer challenge and used them for the good of others, writing and performing a one-woman play about breast cancer for local women’s clubs and support groups, and eventually going to work for the American Cancer Society to further fight the disease.
Having learned from the best teacher, I committed myself early in life to utilizing my experiences and skills for the benefit of other families struck by cancer. When I began volunteering for the American Cancer Society well over a decade ago, I could not have fathomed that the journey would lead to my current role as President-Elect of the American Cancer Society, Eastern Division or that my volunteerism would culminate in the great honor of receiving the American Cancer Society’s prestigious St. George Medal of Honor. While it is, of course, exciting to be awarded, I do not give my time for the recognition but with the knowledge that my effort and the efforts of nearly three million other volunteers like me have helped guide and strengthen the American Cancer Society’s life-saving, ground-breaking work in the cancer fight.
From research, education, and advocacy to patient services, the American Cancer Society has led the fight against cancer for nearly a century. This work has played an important role not only nationally and internationally, but also locally. Just this past July, the American Cancer Society released a report “The Cancer Burden in New Jersey,” describing the effects of cancer throughout the state, county by county, and examining the differences in the cancer burden between northern and southern New Jersey.
Sadly, the report makes clear that South Jersey residents face a higher risk of cancer than our neighbors to the north. This has been attributed to the higher smoking rates in the south. More than 40,000 New Jerseyans were diagnosed with cancer in 2011, and more than 16,000 died from the disease. Four cancers – lung, prostate, breast and colorectal – account for more than half of all cancer diagnoses and nearly half of all cancer deaths.
Despite the seemingly daunting statistics, thanks to the work of the American Cancer Society, we are better equipped to combat this data. Thus, the Society has recommended - and is working to advance - policies and laws that prevent cancer, such as adequate support of the New Jersey Tobacco Control Program. The Society is also working to move forward its recommendations of enhanced early detection of cancer by continued strengthening of the New Jersey Cancer Education and Early Detection Screening Program, providing free breast, cervical, and colon cancer screening to the uninsured; easing the economic toll of cancer by ensuring that all New Jerseyans have access to quality, affordable health care coverage; and improving patients’ quality of life through better palliative care and pain management, and enhanced health care provider education.
Additionally, the American Cancer Society is on track to serve 60,000 newly diagnosed patients and/or their caregivers in New Jersey and New York this year while also providing local programs such as Reach to Recovery, Road to Recovery, Man to Man, and Look Good... Feel Better to patients in treatment. The Society’s Cancer Prevention Study-3 is currently enrolling 300,000 participants in a long-term study to focus on how genetics, lifestyles, and the environment affect cancer risk. Also, the American Cancer Society has had a hand in nearly every cancer research breakthrough of the last century including the discovery of breast cancer genes, and effective treatments such as Tamoxifen, Herceptin (for breast cancer), Gleevvec (for leukemia), Velcade (for multiple myeloma), and Provenge (for advanced prostate cancer).
The American Cancer Society is not only an opportunity for someone like me to fight back against blows dealt by cancer, it is a resource, a support, a voice, and it is hope for so many touched by this disease. To learn more about the American Cancer Society or if in need of assistance with a cancer-related issue, the Society is available every minute of every day at 800-227-2345 or online at www.cancer.org. As seen in Burlington County Woman and Camden County Woman