ICRF - A Beacon of Hope Award

What an incredible honour it is to receive the first Beacon of Hope award, not just for the recognition, but I can think of no higher designation than to be considered "A Beacon of Hope".

Were it not for an Israeli Scientist funded by the ICRF I would be dead today.

Six years ago I was diagnosed with leukemia. Thanks to a miracle drug called Gleevec, what was a fatal condition is now a chronic one. Today I live a full and active life with no limitations other than not being able to eat grapefruit, which is no great hardship because I did not like the fruit to begin with.

I recall so well the first visit with my Oncologist Dr Lipton at the Princess Margret Hospital in Toronto. In the waiting room there were a number of people in the waiting room, giddy with delight and talking about this new drug, it was like they found the fountain of youth. My first comment to Dr. Lipton was, "I want what they are on!”

This event allows me the opportunity to express profound gratitude to Helene and the late Daniel G Miller. I do so, and take the liberty of doing so, on behalf of all of the many cancer patients who have benefited from basic research.

As the founders of the ICRF they recognized that without basic research, there would be no discovery, and without discovery there would be no cure.

Now as in 1975 when the Millers founded the ICRF, Governments and the Pharmaceutical industry provides little investment in basic research and now, as it was then, for discovery to occur, we must continue what the Miller’s started.

Mahatma Gandhi wrote: "Faith must be enforced with reason, faith without reason is blind and will die".

The same can be said for Hope. Hope without reason is blind. Hope without reason will die.

Three years ago I witnessed the reason for hope come alive, by seeing 2 firsthand the work and impact of Dr's Without Borders when I visited their projects in The Republic of The Congo.

There I observed the extreme conditions that exist. It is impossible to reconcile what we have in North America in every aspect of life to what people there do not have, including hope.

In one of their projects I saw a miracle. People in the village went from drinking what can only be described as sludge out of a river, to having fresh water within a matter of hours thanks to a well drilled by Dr's Without Border's water sanitation program. They not only gave them water, they gave them reason to hope.

At another project there, I spent time with a volunteer Doctor in an intensive care unit of a pediatric hospital, a room about a quarter the size of this one, with open windows, where mothers had to keep flies at bay. One of the mothers, knowing her 8 week old son would die within a matter of hours, negotiated with the Doctor to take the infant off of life support so she could take him home, which was a 20k walk on a dusty path, so that he could die and be buried amongst family. To watch the tube being removed from her son's tiny arm and wrapping him in a brilliantly multi coloured shawl and carrying him out with the grace, class and dignity of a monarch, was a gripping example of human value and emotion that we can all relate to.

When I asked the Doctor how she was able to cope with this type of thing, her reply was "yes this is very emotional for us, but if we break down, it takes away their reason to hope, so we focus on the ones we save, because we are here, the child mortality rate goes from thirty percent to less than six". Again here, they not only save lives, they give people reason to hope.

Today, people who are diagnosed with Cancer can dare hope. Hope that is not blind. Hope because there is reason. And the reason is the work and perseverance of the Scientists and Researchers, many of whom are supported by the ICRF, and people like my fellow honouree tonight, Dr Roses.

By honouring Dr. Roses we also recognize all of his colleagues here and in Israel, people who are in the forefront of the medical advancements, but all too often in the background when it comes to public recognition. 

This became evident to me four years ago, when I met Dr. Eli Cananni who spent over 20 years leading the research which led to the development of Gleevec.

The amazing fact is that after 20 years of research and after over 6 years of saving peoples’ lives with this wonder drug, I was the first person Dr Cananni met, who is on the drug. As you can imagine an incredible moment for both of us.

This suggests we must do so much more to show our appreciation and beyond the financial support we must provide motivational support for what these people have done and continue to do.

I had the privilege of meeting in Israel with leading cancer Scientists and Researchers and it is so encouraging to know firsthand from them what is in the pipeline. I share their level of confidence that chemotherapy and radiation, as we now know it, will, in a matter of a few years, be a thing of the past.

Treatment for most forms of cancer will be targeted directly to the cancer cell without harming any other cell. The reality however is, without funding, these discoveries will not occur.

Raising funds is one of the most challenging jobs that I have ever done, and I am in awe of those who make this their vocation or cause. Those who do it effectively get people to relate to the need and internalize it by having them ask a fundamental question which is "What if I, or someone close to me where on the receiving end of the need.” Just imagine if you were related to the young mother who took her infant home to die and be buried amongst family.

Everyone in this room, everyone you know and everyone they know, is and or will be a direct and or indirect beneficiary of this work.

I am a direct beneficiary and have come to realize how much I have taken for granted the reason I can dare hope.

What we can all do is encourage everyone we know not to take for granted the reason for hope and by doing this we can keep hope alive.