Courage and commitment against cancer
Fighting cancer is a little like fighting al-Qaida; we've had numerous battlefield victories, we know far more about the pathology now than when we first seriously confronted it, and we have lots of tools with which to fight it.
But while the cancer survival rate has gone way up, we're still not a whole lot closer to solving the fundamental problem, which is, essentially, understanding what causes it and how to prevent it from happening in the first place.
And unlike myriad other diseases that used to kill large numbers of people, and that have either been largely conquered, or for which we now have effective cures or vaccines - malaria, TB, polio, influenza, cholera and plague, to name a few - cancer continues to elude a simple solution, refuses to surrender to a comprehensive clinical cure and still frustrates our understanding of why it starts and how to stop it.
And that's one reason cancer remains one of the most frightening diseases we face - it is still something of a mystery, a medical enigma no simple pill can cure - and the diagnosis is often terrifying, a secret victims often refuse to share.
Which brings us to Relay for Life, the annual, nationwide collaborative event to raise money for the American Cancer Society's decades-long campaign to fight the disease, and which unfolded locally over 24 hours at the high school track last weekend. The ACS is not without its critics and is frequently accused of excessive overhead and criticized for focusing on diagnosis and treatment at the expense of research on prevention.
Be that as it may, one of the most important services ACS performs is the act of rallying more than 3.5 million Americans in 5,000 communities each year to form a common front against cancer, to share their fears and their courage, to celebrate their survival and to remember those who have succumbed to the disease.
Relay For Life is an inspiring organizational model that demonstrates the power of community, and anyone present at the high school during the weekend instantly understood the appeal and the power of the event.
In the gathering darkness, candlelit and decorated luminaria bags, positioned just inches apart, framed both sides of the entire track - a half-mile of dedications and celebrations, successes and sorrows - providing eloquent testimony to the impact of cancer on countless lives. In the dark, people circled the track reading the long, glowing path-full of messages, both happy and sad.
It was a profoundly moving sight, a worthy investment in the effort to address a disease that touches millions of lives each year. And it would not have happened without thousands of volunteers nationwide and hundreds of people in Sonoma who contributed time and money and pain and love to bring Relay to life.
Would that we could mobilize similar energy, commitment and community around other issues that challenge the quality of our lives. While it's true that even curing cancer is infected with political issues, there is nothing political in the universal desire to defeat it. Wouldn't it be nice if fixing our economy inspired a similar kind of commitment.