At the front line of cancer research fundraising, one can find some of the hardest working people in the world. It’s not just the directors, CEOs, and venerable donors at the heads of huge organisations such as St. Jude, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Cancer Research UK, but the millions of individuals around the globe impassioned by the cause. And what a cause it is. In The Emperor of All Maladies, Siddhartha Mukherjee described cancer as living “desperately, inventively, fiercely, territorially, cannily, and defensively […] as if teaching us how to survive.” Cancer evolves from one single cell, whose genes mutate chaotically and aggressively, invading healthy parts of the body and amassing in malignant tumours. Although genome sequencing technology has led to leaps in our understanding of the disease, we are still attempting to roll a metastasising boulder up a mountain.
A desire to fully understand this disease – one of the only foes mankind hasn’t successful eradicated – has fascinated activists, politicians, scientific minds, doctors, and individuals across the globe. Cancer is as emotionally complex as it is scientific. Practically all of us can name a person we know who has been affected.
The scope of cancer research is enormous. The cost of treating the disease is estimated to be over one trillion US dollars per year. Two cancer research non-profits in the US generate about one billion dollars (£750 million) in revenue, and countless more organisations rely on donations from the public and fundraisers to provide extremely expensive treatment to those who can’t afford it.
The number of cases is unfortunately not decreasing with time either. Even though doctors are now much more adept at identifying and treating tumours, and the mortality rates of common cancers are significantly lower than they were in the past, changes in lifestyle in the developing world as well as increased exposure to risk factors everywhere have led the World Health Organization to predict a 70 per cent increase in cancer cases over the next two decades. In the same study, it was concluded that a move should be made away from trying to eliminate the disease and towards preventing future cases.
Prevention and awareness is where October comes in. October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, in which fundraisers across the UK and US work hard to raise awareness and funds to confront head on the realities of cancer. There are races, concerts, and so much more. It’s a method of education, and a necessary one, due to a fundamental lack of awareness of preventative measures, particularly amongst young people. University students, for example, often don’t worry about contracting the disease, and often categorise it in the ‘too heavy’ cloud of taboo subjects.
The most important tool for fighting risk factors of cancer is knowledge, and the most important tool to combat the disease itself is support. There are several events occurring this month that are easy and fun to get involved with. In Edinburgh, the March on Cancer took place on Saturday 11 October around Parliament, Stand Up To Cancer’s Undie Run UK is stripping out in the Meadows on 24 October, and Cancer Out Loud is hosting a plethora of guerrilla spoken word events around the city. Cancer Out Loud, a student-led organisation aiming to get people to talk about cancer through the medium of art and performance, is collaborating with Coppafeel, a organization that deserves recognition for standing outside the library with giant, breast-shaped pillows attached to them. There’s also Macmillan’s Go Sober For October. While for many the thought of going without alcohol might make some a little nervous, the Go Sober For October site is also a wealth of information about maintaining a healthy lifestyle. The campaign also makes a lot of sense – tobacco, alcohol, physical inactivity, and an unhealthy diet are leading contributors to risk factors of cancer.
Some fundraising organisations generate awareness through activity, others through humour and courage. All strive to embody the personal and physical qualities that prevent cancer in the first place.
No matter what your disposition towards the effectiveness of cancer fundraisers is, the intentions are noble, and if nothing else, it’s an excuse to get naked, painted up, and loud.