October 20, 2009

How Smart Is Your Favorite Organization?

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Bigger isn’t always better.  More isn’t always better.  Louder, snazzier, cuter, more prolific isn’t always better.  But I think smarter IS always better.

I was recently asked how I decide what organizations I donate to.  A few years back the head of the American Cancer Society blew me away.  He said increased access to health insurance could reduce cancer mortality rates just as much as scientific discoveries.  Who cares if we find cures that nobody can afford?  Hundreds of thousands of Americans die because they cannot afford proven cancer treatments. This doesn’t take complex microbiology to fix. All we need are better public policies.

I’m only donating to organizations providing education and action in support of the public option.  Surprisingly, no cancer organization is doing this work in a serious manner.  So I’m donating time and money to orgs supporting real healthcare reform like Campaign For Better Health Care, and Health Care for America Now.  Moral: Don’t just donate, donate smartly.

On Monday’s Stupid Cancer Show, we interviewed Diana Balma, Executive Director of Stand Up to Cancer.  These folks aren’t just dishing out cancer research grants the way most foundations do.  Rather than encouraging competition between scientists working in separate labs, who don’t share critical information, SU2C is creating and funding dream teams of scientists who collaborate.

Throwing $73 million at cancer research doesn’t impress me.  But giving $73 million to cancer research in a way that changes the model for how research is conducted – that’s very impressive.  Moral: Don’t just do research, do research smartly.

Yesterday I learned Planet Cancer (a young adult cancer organization) is merging with the Lance Armstrong Foundation.  Many organizations duplicate services, raise money but don’t prioritize their budgets, promote their name but have no useful programming, or are working in a vacuum.  Why?  People’s egos and desire to do good sometimes gets in the way of what is useful.  Not Planet Cancer.

Combining the clout and resources of the Lance Armstrong Foundation with Planet Cancer’s know-how in serving young adults is a super smart move.  Moral: Don’t just run an organization, run an organization smartly.

Who do you donate to and why? What are some of the smartest projects in the cancer community? Do you agree that smarter is better?

Read the Making A Difference section of Everything Changes: The Insider’s Guide to Cancer in Your 20s and 30s to learn more smarts about making change.

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March 31, 2009

Get a Hold of Yourself

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I was on myplanet today and read a member’s status “I am trying to get a hold of myself.” I think we can all relate to this if we are dealing with a cancer diagnosis, chemo, radiation, waiting and watching, or another illness, or any kind of life fiasco, such as unemployment.

I spent two days on the Yakama Reservation with young adult cancer survivor Holly Anna DeCoteau Pinkham. (Some of you know her from Planet Cancer and LAF too.) I included the juiciest parts of our conversation in my book. Here is piece of HollyAnna wisdom that really stands out to me when I think about getting a hold of my life:

“Sometimes when I’m starting to crash, I go to the mountains and watch the water. Water doesn’t fight its way down the hill. It takes the path of least resistance. Still, there are rocks in the water, and that is how I look at cancer. It’s a rock. I’ll go around it, over it, under it if I can. I’m not going to fight it. Instead, I’ll let it figure out how it is going to guide my path. You have to figure out how to work with the momentum cancer establishes in your life. Otherwise, you’ll drive yourself nuts. So I have to go up to the mountains, and I remind myself that I’m like the water.”

“Fight” has become the mantra of the cancer world. I love that HollyAnna steps out of the boxing ring and ditches the “fight” while remaining an empowered, intelligent, and all together kick-ass patient.

Where do you go when you need to get a hold of yourself? (I love being a big imposing library, getting lost in it all.) What centers you or calms you? Do you have metaphors like Holly Anna’s water that get you through? Have you ever thought about not fighting? Does that scare you or give you more energy?

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