When I got off the bus to meet my friend for a hungover shopping date in Gastown on Saturday afternoon, I greeted her with this gem:

“I am such an asshole.”
“Um, hm?”
“Ok, so 4th Avenue is closed between Arbutus and Burrard today for Hippy Daze*, and on the detour I saw a bunch of women in bubblegum pink with ridiculous hats and realized I think it might also be the breast-cancer walk today. And before my conscience could kick in I thought, ‘Oh for god’s sake, can’t another cancer have its turn yet?’ Because, hangover notwithstanding, I am an asshole.”

So, ok. I don’t actually think ill of breast-cancer victims or the people who love them or who raise money to fight the disease. I have nothing but sympathy and compassion for people suffering through cancer of any sort, and I feel nothing but joy for cancer survivors.

Breast cancer is the perfect storm for massive fundraising. It’s very, very common, as far as cancers go (it’s the second most common cancer to lung cancer), which means a lot of women, relatively speaking, get it and even more people of both sexes know women who have had it (a few men have had it, too). Due in part to the massive efforts put forth in education, fundraising, and research over the last couple of decades, the five-year survival rate for breast cancer is wonderfully high, at over 88% according to the American Cancer Society‘s Cancer Facts & Figures 2008. So there are many hundreds of thousands of survivors who have shared similar fears, sickness, and triumph and who are predictably compelled to use that sisterly solidarity to promote further efforts to find a cure for the disease. Also, everyone loves women. There has been a massive effort to educate women about screening themselves, and there are routine mammograms for women of a certain age and those in high-risk populations. Early detection means more cancer is beaten.

There comes a point, though, and here’s where I know I risk treading into asshole territory, when a fundraising and awareness effort gets so successful that it overshadows other causes that might be as, or even more, in need of advocacy.

I’m thinking specifically of pancreatic cancer, which I may have written about before. Not very many people get it, relative to breast cancer. But about 95% of people who do get it don’t survive five years. Mostly this is because pancreatic cancer tends to be asymptomatic until it’s too late, which means early detection is very, very difficult to achieve. Also, around 90% of pancreatic cancer cases aren’t linked hereditarily, so very few people are even identified for routine screening. The disease most often strikes at random, its victims unfamiliar with the community that exists around the disease. The impressive death rate puts a big kink in the solidarity factor of fundraising campaigns for pancreatic cancer. When the cancer victim dies, so does the solidarity they felt with other cancer patients, if they managed to form relationships with any during the nine months or so of their illness.

About ten percent of cases of pancreatic cancer, though, are hereditarily linked. Like in my family. My father’s mother, sister, and brother all died from pancreatic cancer before the age of 70. In my family, there hasn’t been so much a feeling of solidarity against this disease as one of abject fear.

We found out that my Uncle Bruce, my father’s older brother, had pancreatic cancer a few months before Greg and I got married seven years ago. My uncle was already sick enough that they couldn’t commit to travel from Florida to the wedding in Philadelphia, but around a week before the big day I got a call from my aunt saying he was having a couple of good weeks, and unless he took a dramatic turn for the worse, they were coming. I was overjoyed. And I was terrified. I sat at the dining-room table in tears and told Greg maybe getting married was a horrible mistake. Why would he want my genes in his kids? I felt like a ticking time bomb.

We didn’t tell anyone my uncle was coming. When my father saw him in the hotel lobby the day before the wedding, well, let’s just say there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

Five months later we flew to Florida for his funeral.

And that’s when things started happening in the family. I don’t know who first brought it up, but someone had discovered the Lustgarten Foundation: a whole foundation dedicated to funding pancreatic-cancer research. It turns out there’s a big ongoing study into hereditary cases of pancreatic cancer. My father and several of my first cousins are participating in the study, with the benefit that the best doctors in the field do regular screenings. My dad’s pancreas isn’t exactly healthy, but so far (knock wood and any other superstition-harbouring surface at hand) it’s not full of cancer, either. One of my first cousins recently had her pancreas prophylactically removed after several doctors agreed it was precancerous. She lives as a diabetic now, essentially, with an emphasis on lives.

My parents, being the energetic people they are, weren’t satisfied with my dad just being a part of a research study. Every year, the Lustgarten Foundation puts on a big walk near New York City as a fundraiser (ok, big is relative. I don’t think it’s as big as the breast-cancer walks). A few years ago, my parents started up a walk closer to home, outside of Albany, NY. That first year a couple dozen family members came to town for it. The following year a few other families joined in. This year, with the increasingly enthusiastic and enormously helpful aid of the staff at Lustgarten who, I’m pleased to say, seem to recognize the magic my parents are making, they’re anticipating 300 people will walk with them on Sunday, September 13th, and they’re looking to raise well over $30,000.

I’ll be joining them for the walk, and this is where I ask you for money. I’m sure people you know and love more than you know and love me hit you up for money all the time. We all have causes that are dear to us, and diseases we feel compelled to fight. I can’t guarantee I won’t hit you up again next year, but for some reason I can’t put my finger on, this year is important to me.

My dad is turning 64 63 (oops!) this year. I would very much like for him to live another healthy twenty years; giving my support to this research, and asking for your support to add to it, is the best way I have of helping to make that happen.

My goal is to personally raise $500 $1000 $1500**. I don’t think that’s an outrageous goal, and I very much hope you’ll help.

Whether you donate or not, if you know of anyone (or any large groups of people like on Twitter or Facebook or something [ETA: or your blog!]) who might be interested in donating, I’ll very much appreciate it if you’d pass on the link to this post.


* Hippy Daze is the dumbest name for a street fair in the history of neighbourhood excuses to block off a busy thoroughfare. It’s a nod, I presume, to the history of the Kitsilano neighbourhood that was, in the days of hippies, full of hippies. Now Kitsilano is filled with yoga students in clingy organic cotton.

** UPDATED 18 August: Your generosity is overwhelming. I nearly met my original goal after only one day, so I’ve doubled it. If you continue to overwhelm me with your generosity, caring, support, and most of all with your own stories, I will triple it. Because I’m ambitious like that, and, well, it’s damn important. Thank you!

UPDATED again on 18 August: Just over one day after I posted this, I’ve raised over $1,000. You have raised over $1,000. Thank you. Thank you thank you. As promised, I’ve tripled my original goal. Please help spread the word!

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