Have you finished your National Frog month shopping yet? And allow me to also wish you a Happy Testicular Cancer month. It should come as no surprise that a career in the non-profit sector requires us to be at least marginally aware of the various observance months that are so designated to help raise awareness about a particular cause—and, yes, it also helps raise funds. If there’s a designated month that aligns in some way with a particular cause or mission, we’re on it. If there isn’t one, we’ll do whatever we can to create it. Look, people are more prone to respond to a cause-oriented campaign that has some good ol’ hype and some kind of collective effort or rally cry attached to it. The legendary MDA telethon held every Labor Day weekend is a prime example of how that theory works. The prominence of the event has dwindled in the past decade, following the exit of legendary host Jerry Lewis. But in its heyday, the Vegas style glitz of that mega-fundraiser allowed the viewer to feel like they were an integral part of the glamorous affair, which made them more apt to respond to the call-to-action with a healthy donation. When I was around eight, some family friends created and hosted their own neighborhood slumber party fundraiser to coincide with the telethon and it quickly became an annual favorite. With our sleeping bags, pillows and the bag-o-spare-change in hand, we’d stake our claim in the family room, with each of us taking turns throughout the night calling in donations raised from carefully divvied portions of our collective bundle of coins, thinking the more we called, the better the chances that at least one of us would get our name mentioned on the air—much like millions of others, to whom the idea of having their name announced live on the air by Wayne Newton or Ed McMahon was almost intoxicating. While a few of us were at least granted the lesser level of celebrity status by hearing our name spoken (and always mispronounced) by the part-time weekend traffic reporter on the Flint-Saginaw NBC affiliate during the local breaks, we were never fortunate enough to be given national fame, even if only for a few fleeting seconds.
When you work for a cancer research organization—particularly one that deals with most types of cancer—you learn that almost every month is designated to observe some kind of cancer. We just finished commemorating National Colorectal Cancer Awareness month and in addition to the observances I mentioned earlier, April is also Multiple Myeloma Awareness month. That hits home on a personal level, since that is the cancer that took my mom 23 years ago. At the time of her diagnosis about twenty years ago, multiple myeloma was barely even a blip on the cancer research radar. The war on cancer had just begun and funding was still at a minimum. What little funding there was would be directed at the cancers affecting the largest percentage of the population—breast, colorectal and lung cancer. A diagnosis of multiple myeloma at any stage was virtually a death sentence and one could hope for no more than five years at the most. So the mere fact that multiple myeloma now has its own observance month is proof of how far we have come in the fight against all types of cancer. But it’s still not far enough.
Right on April’s coat tails is the month of May, which is rather bittersweet for me. Of course, it is host to that day when we honor our amazing mommas and stand in awe of the fact that those incredible superhumans braved nine months of various levels of hell, including vomiting, aches and pains, exorbitant weight gain, and swollen body parts, after which they would endure hours—even days—of excruciating pain of a level most men are unable to even fathom, just so we could make a grand entrance into this thing we call life. In my case, mom was in labor for 32 hours—and I was breech. The queen of stubborn refused to have a c-section. So understandably, even after all these years, Mother’s Day is still rough for me. Adding salt into the wound, around a week after Mother’s Day is my mom’s birthday, which was always a special occasion and, in our family, the true marker of spring since all she ever asked for on her birthday were flats of flowers to plant in the numerous gardens that ran throughout our lawn. But the up side of May is that it celebrates the amazing strides we’ve made because of cancer research. It’s only because of research that new and effective treatments have been developed, and more rare cancers such as multiple myeloma are now survivable. May is National Cancer Research Awareness month (NCRAM). Because that’s such an integral part of the work we do at Colorado Cancer Research Program (CCRP), we welcome any opportunity that helps people better understand how research is the primary ingredient to the development of cutting edge clinical trials and groundbreaking new treatments for a variety of cancers. Without the research, these life-saving treatments would likely not exist. So one might assume that NCRAM would have some level of importance in the hierarchy of commemorative observances. Not quite. In fact, let me share with you a list of some of the other observances for which May is the designated month. I pulled it from Wikipedia, a fairly reliable source for information, and was rather taken aback to discover that NCRAM wasn’t even on the list. Take a look…
Military Appreciation Month; ALS Awareness Month; Asthma Awareness Month; Borderline Personality Disorder Awareness Month; Brain Cancer Awareness Month; Celiac Awareness Month; Mental Health Awareness Month; Hepatitis Awareness Month; National Huntington’s Disease Awareness Month; Lupus Awareness Month; Lyme Disease Awareness Month; Motorcycle Awareness Month; National Bike Month; National Cystic Fibrosis Awareness Month; National Guide Dog Month; National Mobility Awareness Month; National Foster Care Month; National Stroke Awareness Month.
By the way, I have since contacted Wikipedia to point out the oversight of excluding NCRAM. Now, let me be clear. These are all great causes—though it’s tough to classify Motorcycle Awareness as a cause. Listen, I’m glad to learn we have Motorcycle Awareness month, particularly since I still have a special place in my heart the Honda Magna 1100 I had back in the 90s. I sure do miss that beauty. But c’mon. Motorcycles make the list but cancer research doesn’t? If you aren’t a motorcycle fan, May is also National Smile month, National Barbecue month and National Hamburger month, so you can triple up on the celebrations at your big Memorial Day weekend cook-out—or quadruple it, because it’s also National Zombie Awareness month. I can only assume that is due to the dramatic increase in zombie sightings we so often hear about during the month of May. Have you stocked up on eggs yet? You might want to, since May is also National Egg month and I would expect the demand for eggs to go through the roof. But I have to admit, May is starting to make my mouth water as I envision a spread of summertime deliciousness including BBQ chicken, burgers and freshly prepared deviled eggs, all laid out for the annual feast for which we all gather to celebrate National Good Car Care month.
Perhaps you’ll consider adding another fun layer of celebratory revelry by commemorating the birthdays of some of the celebrities born in May, including country music legends Tim McGraw and Wynona Judd. There are also stars of stage, screen and television such as Candace Bergen, Joan Collins (who cares how much work she has had done—she still looks fabulous!!!), George Clooney and Clint Eastwood, as well as Hollywood legends we’ve lost including Katherine and Audrey Hepburn (no relation), Bing Crosby and Orson Welles. And then there are the musical icons who were born in the merry month of May—Janet Jackson, Billy Joel and Cher. But during all this celebrating you and your guests will be enjoying, perhaps you’ll consider including a mention about cancer research, maybe a shout out to CCRP and, if you really want to go the distance, perhaps a small donation box next to the beer. Yes???
By leveraging strategic partnerships with other key organizations including the National Cancer Institute, we are working to help raise the prominence of National Cancer Research Awareness month, but we also understand that it’s a slow process. And each month brings a new challenge for another awareness campaign. In June, we’ll be celebrating the patients whose lives we’ve helped to save for National Cancer Survivors month. After that, it’s Sarcoma Awareness month in July. Fortunately, we get a break in August, but we are all encouraged to take a few moments to pay homage to our pals named Tom, since it’s National People Named Thomas month. No, I am not kidding. Then comes what will arguably be the craziest of all months when September hits—also known as National Childhood, Gynecologic, Leukemia and Lymphoma, Ovarian, Prostate, and Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month. I’m exhausted just thinking about it. If I survive September, we’ll be ready to join the incredible PR machine that the month of October has become for Breast Cancer Awareness.
But until then, perhaps you’ll consider helping us out with our efforts for the month of May and start planning your big bash now. Thanks to the assistance of my good friend and CCRP board member, Rep. Dianne Primavera, the governor will be issuing a proclamation on May 1 commemorating the important role Colorado plays in cancer research, and honoring CCRP as a regional leader in the fight against cancer. We also have the 10th annual Drive for a Cure charitable golf tournament happening on May 23, which would be a wonderful way to support cancer research and commemorate National Golf month. Or maybe you’ll just go with my original idea of hosting the multi-faceted cook-out, inviting all your friends and family, raising a glass to toast Cher’s birthday, and trying out a few new sauces in celebration of barbecue month—although you may want to schedule your feast for May 6 since it’s National No-Diet Day, when you are encouraged to scrap the diet and eat to your heart’s content. And somewhere in between the Mother Goose Day songs and the National Limerick Day limericks, it would be wonderful if you could at least mention to your guests that May is National Cancer Research month, remind them of the important role research plays in the fight against cancer, and the importance of charitable support for so many worthy cancer fighting organizations. Without it, we wouldn’t be here to do the work that leads to the breakthroughs that are developed into the treatments that save the lives of so many cancer victims right here in Colorado. Whew! And believe it or not, May is also National Give to Local Cancer Research Organizations month. OK, I just made that one up. But you can still give right here, right now.