Friday, January 18, 2008

Thoughts for the New Year

With all that is going on in the world and in our community today, it would do us all some good to not take for granted all that we have and count our blessings, and make this New Year one of hope, faith, and the belief in miracles. As Chairman & Founder of Camp Good Days and Special Times, for the past 28 years, I have had the chance to see the very best of the human spirit, through our programs for children battling cancer, and the very worst of the crime and violence in our community, through our Partners Against Violence Everywhere (PAVE) Initiative and my role as Chairman of the Project Exile Advisory Board.

Children with cancer wage a daily battle with life. These special children have done nothing to cause their disease and they carry no chips on their shoulders about the hand in life that they have been dealt. They learn at a very early age to say what they mean and they know not to put off until tomorrow what they can do today. They grow up very quickly; and they know the true meaning of living life to its fullest. I could tell you thousands of stories about these extraordinary survivors, who are real-life examples of hope, faith, and the belief in miracles, but I will share with you just three. These three individuals are just a few of the ones who give me my strength and inspiration everyday.

Denny was a young man who was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor, the same kind of brain tumor that my daughter, Teddi, was diagnosed with, and in fact, Denny and Teddi shared the same radiation oncologist. Their doctor once described Denny as the $6 million man because his chances of surviving his battle with cancer were six million to one. While life has not always been easy for Denny, as he has had many hospitalizations and surgeries over the years, he is one of the real miracles. Denny was told that as a result of the cancer and treatments, he would be sterile and unable to father his own children. Today, Denny is married to a wonderful wife and they have two beautiful daughters.

Danny is another example. All Danny ever dreamed of being was a professional firefighter, following in his father’s and older brother’s footsteps, who were members of the Rochester Fire Department. Danny was diagnosed with cancer during high school and was repeatedly told that he would never be able to fulfill that dream, as no one knew how to deal with someone who had been treated for childhood cancer and no one thought he would be able to handle the rigorous academy. I was so pleased to have attended Danny’s graduation from the Fire Academy and to see how proud his father and brother were as he walked across that stage. Today, Danny continues his career with the Rochester Fire Department and most recently was featured in a newspaper article, in which he was credited with helping to save someone’s life.

The third example is Nate, who comes from a beautiful family in the town of Greece. Nate was one of our youngest campers that first summer at Camp Good Days, as he was only seven years old. Nate went on to graduate from high school, obtain his degree from Alfred State College and is now employed full-time by Monroe Community College. When Nate became too old to come to Camp Good Days as a camper, he volunteered each summer and was also a member of our Summer Staff, serving as a true inspiration to the children with whom he worked. I have been so impressed with Nate over the years, and how he has dealt with his diagnosis and treatment for cancer, that I even recommended he become a member of the Camp Good Days’ Board of Directors, on which he now serves. Most recently, at the Camp Good Days’ Annual Holiday Party, Nate was inducted into the Camp Good Days’ Ring of Honor, which is the highest honor bestowed by Camp Good Days on those who have gone above and beyond in their support of the children and families we serve.

As we celebrate these real-life miracles, we must also take the time to reflect upon the past year and make our resolutions for the New Year. I hope that you will all join me in praying for the brave men and women serving our country and who were not able to be home with their families this Holiday Season, as they are protecting our way of life and the many freedoms we enjoy. We should also pray for the brave men and women who are protecting us right here at home in our community; the men and women of law enforcement working everyday to combat the crime and violence. Despite all of the technological advances that we as a society and community have forged, it is amazing that in 2007 so many people chose to use a gun to deal with their stress, conflict or disagreements. The number of homicides we witness, in a community of our size, is not only intolerable, but should be inexcusable to all of us who are law-abiding citizens.

I ask each of you to make one of your resolutions to share any information you may have about a crime or about someone in possession of an illegal gun with law enforcement, before we have any more heartache and devastation to families in our community. To be sure, Project Exile, which was brought to our community in 1998 to remove illegal guns from our streets, will continue to be proactive in working with law enforcement and will have a new series of billboards and materials featuring the You + Illegal Gun = Prison message, as well as the message of: If You See Something Go Down…Stand Up, along with the 428-GUNS phone number, which can be used to anonymously report illegal guns. When all is said and done, the men and women of law enforcement can not solve this problem alone, they need our help.

We can all help to make our community the very best that it can be in this New Year; not only a safer place in which to live, work, and raise our families, but one that is filled with hope, faith, and the belief in miracles.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

The War on Cancer

After many years of moving around like a band of gypsies, Camp Good Days and Special Times cut the ribbon on our very own Recreational Facility, on the shores of Keuka Lake, in Branchport, New York, in 1989. During the Ribbon Cutting Ceremony, one of the attendees asked me what I wanted to do next…I replied that I wanted to close Camp Good Days, as I truly believed that at some point, during my lifetime, the answers that had been alluding us in the battle against cancer would be found. I believed that parents would no longer have to go against the laws of nature, as my family and I had to do, and bury their children. Since starting Camp Good Days 29 years ago, I have been to more funerals than most people, with the exception of clergy members.

Yet, 29 years later, we still do not have the answers. Unfortunately, my wish, to see those questions answered during my lifetime, is not likely to come true. The advances that have come about can not be credited to new, more effective drugs or compounds to be used in our battle against cancer, but rather on lifestyle changes, the most beneficial being eliminating smoking.

It is time that this country woke up and took a hard look at the way that money is spent, under the umbrella of cancer research. We need, as Dr. Sidney Farber wanted many years ago, a highly coordinated, concentrated effort. Not one that is parochial and sporadic.

Donald S. Coffey, who served as President of the American Association for Cancer Research once said, “If we really want to defend against the terrorism of cancer; we need to attack it with a real war effort.” Cancer is terrorism…brought against our mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, and too often, our children.

The war our country is fighting overseas, the war on terror, is one in which we can’t identify our opponent, we don’t know who or where they are, yet this effort has been given a blank check and millions and millions of our dollars are going towards this fight. We can increase our security measures, but we can’t make a targeted attack on terror.

This in no way translates into disrespect or lack of support for the brave men and women who put their life on the line everyday, serving our country. In fact, Camp Good Days has been an ardent supporter of those in military service and their families, providing a special program, Operation Blue Skies, for those children who have a parent serving with the US Military in conflicts overseas.

Unlike the war on terror, cancer is an enemy that the majority of us will face personally, whether it is our own diagnosis or that of a family member, friend, or colleague.

Cancer as the enemy…

If you are 85 or younger, cancer is the leading cause of death in this country.

One out of every two men and one out of every three women will face a cancer diagnosis at some point in their life.

Everyday, 1500 Americans are dying from this disease, which not only takes your life prematurely, but oftentimes seems to have to humiliate you in the process.

Deaths from cancer are as if one of the twin towers is falling every single day, 365 days a year.

If you factor in inflation, the amount of money going to the National Cancer Institute to fight this disease has been reduced two years in a row.

Only one out of every 10 cancer grant applications is funded.

The number of post-doctorate fellows doing cancer research has been reduced and the budget for clinical trials has been reduced anywhere from 5-8%.

If you are between the ages of 30 and 70 and you find a lump or you see your doctor because you are not feeling well and they send you for additional tests, if you are honest with yourself, when you close your eyes that night, you are far more afraid of being diagnosed with cancer than you are of being a victim of a terrorist attack.

Cancer is an enemy that touches all of us, whether directly or indirectly and an enemy that this year will kill 600,000 of our mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and in far too many cases, such as my own, our children.