Help me celebrate my 70th birthday!

April 29, 2018 5:54 pm

Andrew Faas, Author, Philanthropist And Management Consultant

Were it not for an Israeli scientist, funded by ICRF, I would be dead today.

Thirteen years after receiving a death sentence, this coming September I will be celebrating my 70th birthday, feeling, and some say looking, two decades younger.

Thirteen years ago, I was diagnosed with leukemia. Thanks to a miracle drug Gleevec, what once was a fatal condition is now a chronic one. Today I live a full and active life with no restrictions other than not being able to eat grapefruit, which is no great burden as I didn’t like the fruit in the first place!

I recall so well the first visit with my oncologist, Dr Jeffery Lipton, at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto. There were a number of people in the waiting room, giddy with delight asking about this new wonder drug, describing it as akin to the fountain of youth. On meeting Dr. Lipton my first comment was, “Whatever those people are on, I want it too!”

Clinical trials of Gleevec had just been completed, and my wish came true.

A few years ago, when I went for my regular six-month check-up, Dr. Lipton, who usually has a pretty good bedside manner, walked in to the examining room, and bluntly said, “I’ve got some bad and good news – which do you want first?”  Hesitantly I said, “Let’s go with the bad.” “You’re going to die,” he said with little sensitivity, then going on to add “the good news is you’re not going to die from leukemia.”

I have difficulty in being referred to as a cancer survivor because I did not go through the horrible suffering that most cancer patients experience. I have not had one day of down time, and zero side effects usually associated with how cancer is treated. Each day I take a single pill which directly targets the cancer cells without harming the healthy ones.

Emotionally, however, I did go through what most do, fearing the unknown and anticipating what I have seen others go through. Another dynamic was facing the reality of life, that as there is a beginning, there is also an end, which caused me to reflect on the reason for being.

While I have lived a charmed and successful life, there was a realization that if my life was to prematurely end, my mark on the world would be insignificant. The day I came to that terrible realization, I cut a deal with The Almighty, that if I were made better, I would become a better person. I was made better – and continue my journey on becoming a better person.

My aspiration is not modest, and follows a Jewish saying, “Whoever saves a single life saves the entire universe.”

Upon learning that I am a major supporter of ICRF, many have commented that they did not realize I was Jewish. My usual response to this is, “I did not realize it either!”  I also point out that ICRF is a world organization where the scientists and researchers they support come from diverse backgrounds and, even more importantly, the impact of their work benefits people regardless of ethnicity, religion, colour, orientation or status.

Today, people who are diagnosed with cancer can dare hope – in large part due to the perseverance and discoveries of scientists and researchers, many of whom are supported by ICRF.

On three occasions I have had the privilege of meeting in Israel with many of these scientists and researchers, and it was so encouraging to hear firsthand the discoveries being made and their level of confidence that within a relatively few years chemotherapy and radiation, as we now know them, may be a thing of the past.

Because of the complexity on how cancers develop, for example, they now know the same cancers manifests differently in each individual and finding the cures is becoming more and more elusive. The good news, however, is finding more effective treatments is well within their grasp.

By focusing on individualized treatments and drug therapies that target the cancer cells directly without harming healthy ones, what was once a fatal condition can become a chronic one. The development of Gleevec, the drug I am on, was the first generation of this form of treatment. But Gleevec, like most drugs, was developed due to basic research, much of which is done in Israel.

What I have come to appreciate is without basic research there would be no discovery, and further, without funding there would be little basic research, which would restrain the development of better treatments and ultimately cures.

Historically and today, governments and the pharmaceutical industry provide little investment in basic research. This is certainly what we must lobby for, however, we cannot wait. We must, as ICRF has done for over four decades, continue to secure private funding to support basic research.

Everyone who reads this, everyone you know, and everyone they know, has been and/ or has someone close to them, ravaged by the toxicity of chemotherapy and radiation. All too many have perished, not because of the cancer, but because of the treatment.

Given the advancements where in a matter of years chemotherapy and radiation, as we now know them, may be a thing of the past, just imagine if you and/or those close to you had the benefit of time and could thus avoid the ravages of these treatments.

Just over a decade ago, I was one of a relative few who could make this claim; today there are multiple thousands who can, and with funding millions will.

Please help me celebrate my milestone birthday by making a contribution to the wonderful people, through ICRF, so that those millions can make this claim as well.


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