Splitting Hairs Over Cancer Research

Back in 1980, when Terry Fox began his Marathon of Hope to raise money for cancer with a goal-oriented solo long-distance run across Canada, the terminally ill young man was fuelled by passion, and anger. The latter stemmed from the lack of funding and attention dedicated towards research. Over three decades later, raising money for cancer research has morphed into a cultural phenomenon, a machine that often deviates far from the ideals Fox espoused.

Consider that, when it came to securing sponsors, Fox rejected companies who insisted on endorsements in exchange for financial contributions. His reasoning was simple, direct and pure: no third party would profit directly or indirectly from cancer research. It’s a rule that still holds true for the Terry Fox Run, but is not in effect for many other current fundraisers, like the Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer.

Organizers try to legitimize their actions by claiming that it’s all in the name of raising money. More exposure via glitzy, albeit branded, galas means more funds available to help save lives: a facile rationalization to give carte blanche to those that would co-opt cancer for their own personal gain.

Most of us have heard of Movember, the international annual moustache-growing charity for prostate cancer, held over the month of November. Launched this year is Julyna, a controversial Canadian fundraiser that encourages women to groom their nether-hairs, for a full month, in support of cervical cancer. Julyna has been criticized for objectifying women, despite any actual evidence of completing participation.

Julyna founder Vanessa Willson made this statement in the Toronto Sun, concerning the idea of enforcing the pledges: “People give money to marathon runners and it’s rare that they will actually see him/her running… Do you really need proof of the handiwork to give money to a cause that will ultimately result in saving the lives of many women?”

That’s just the question: Why do we need to cultivate outlandish approaches to fund cancer research? If education and prevention are pivotal issues, surely there are more effective ways to reach the public than developing increasingly bizarre, attention-seeking events. Clever enough, the portmanteau names of Movember and Julyna say more about themselves than their causes.

Significant advances in cancer research have been made over the last three decades, but the disease remains ‘unconquered’ and continues to strip away at the quality of life for sufferers. It’s equally important to educate the public in tandem with raising money for research. Loud, self-congratulatory speeches or public proclamations (sans revelations, nether-shapers) fail to address the real issues. The focus needs to be directed back to where it belongs: Understanding what cancer is and improving the Canadian health care system to effectively treat it. Otherwise, we can probably look forward to a ‘Scrotumber’ male shaving campaign for testicular cancer sometime in 2014.

Why not make a simple, direct and pure difference now? Donate to the Terry Fox Foundation. No muss (or ’stache), no fuss, no nonsense.

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Image courtesy of lauren-janelle.

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