“Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you…”
How many times a year do you sing the birthday song or wish a loved-one, a friend, a colleague or anyone you know happy birthday? Although sometimes done casually and without much thought (except for those of us over the mystical age of 39), there actually is a lot of meaning in that greeting, more than we frequently acknowledge.
For many of us, especially cancer survivors, that greeting is more than a casual gesture to wish us well. It marks survival, progress and the hope of birthdays to come.
To acknowledge and celebrate those birthdays, the American Cancer Society announced today the launch of a nationwide campaign as “The Official Sponsor of Birthdays”. (You can get more information at www.morebirthdays.com).
We know that hundreds of thousands of lives that would have been lost to cancer and its consequences have been saved over the past two decades. We know that those lives have influenced many other lives, and as a result there are an untold number of people in this country and throughout the world who are indeed celebrating birthdays that otherwise would not have occurred.
In my mind, that is a pretty remarkable accomplishment.
When I talk about the strides we have made against cancer, I frequently mention the “leverage of survivorship”.
“Leverage” is a word that doesn’t have a particularly good meaning these days. But when we talk about the “leverage” of saving a life, we talk about the impact of that person on many others, including loved ones, friends, colleagues, the work people do, the lives they influence, the good they bring to this world. Save one life, and you impact so many others. That’s the type of leverage we can appreciate.
When it comes to cancer, imagine our “leverage” in 2009:
In the early 1970’s, there were 3 million survivors. Today, according to the National Cancer Institute, there are over 12 million. Picture the number of birthdays that are being celebrated this year that never would have happened if we hadn’t made progress in preventing, detecting and treating cancer.
That, my friends, is a lot of leverage. That is also a lot of birthdays.
Our reality today is special: perhaps the life of a person saved, or the blessing of never having to hear the words “you have cancer”, since we now have the means to prevent some cancers as well as detect others early in their course. With our successes there are also difficulties: unexpected near and long term side effects from treatment, emotional problems and financial issues clearly influence the quality of life of cancer survivors.
However, that I don’t think there are many cancer survivors who would consider having more birthdays a problem. It is something to celebrate in every sense of the word.
The birthday campaign also gives us the opportunity to highlight what we do at the American Cancer Society, which is saving lives by helping people stay well through taking steps to prevent cancer or detect it early; helping people get well by guiding them through every step of the cancer experience; by finding cures through funding and conducting groundbreaking research; and by fighting back by encouraging lawmakers to do their part to defeat cancer and by rallying communities to join the fight.
To be sure, all of us know birthdays that will not be celebrated this year or ever again except in our special memories. We must acknowledge that no matter the progress we have made, there is still much to learn and many to save.
Which gives us even more reason to reflect for just a moment on what it really means to wish someone “Happy Birthday!”
As you think back on the special moments we have all shared on our birthdays, take that thought and join the American Cancer Society in it efforts to help everyone celebrate many, many more happy birthdays for years to come--even if you plan on remaining 39 years old forever.