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Today, we are celebrating one hundred years of the American Cancer Society, a society created for the sole purpose of bringing public awareness to the scourge of cancer. One hundred years later, the American Cancer Society has helped to save over 14,000,000 lives, has galvanized millions of Americans to fight cancer and has spent over $3.6 Billion dollars on research. 47 scientists, whose careers and research have been funded in part by the American Cancer Society have won Nobel Prizes.  Many of us, myself included, are able to be here today because of the dedication and hard work by the people who make up the American Cancer Society.

Happy 100th Birthday to the American Cancer Society.

In 1915, someone diagnosed with cancer felt ashamed, did not seek help and usually died within a short period of time. There were no cures. A group of fifteen physicians formed a society to awaken and arouse the public to action. Through the hard work and dedication of this society, what came to be known as the American Cancer Society, the public came to view cancer as a disease and not as a character flaw. People stricken with cancer no longer felt the need to hide in the shadows with shame but instead seek medical care. This victory, of  patients facing cancer head-on is emblematic of the raison d’etre for the American Cancer Society.

American Cancer Society

American Cancer Society (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How did fifteen physicians raise awareness?They started their own blog! They started writing and speaking. They published their own magazine, they wrote articles for the newspapers, and they gave public lectures, much like we are doing today. And their cause grew. A logo was chosen, one with the twin caduceus, the two snakes wrapping around a winged staff,  to represent the two sides of the American Cancer Society – medicine (the healing of the sick) and science (the creativity of the healthy).

The American Cancer Society hit the big time in 1935, when Marjorie Illig’s energy created the Women’s Field Army and quickly grew it into force of 150,000 people  raising awareness about cancer. World War II slowed down the efforts, but ironically, it was the exposure to and death from Mustard Gas during World War II that led to the discovery of the first chemotherapy agent: Nitrogen Mustard. Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, the technology of war and the creativity of scientists developed for us a new way to fight cancer.

Shortly after World War II, Mary Lasker, a philanthropist, raised over $4,000,000 to fund cancer awareness programs and to initiate the research arm of the American Cancer Society. And thus began the great societal funding of cancer research. Over the next 70 years, $3.6 Billion dollars will be spent on cancer research by the American Cancer Society, funding thousands of projects and promoting the careers of many cancer researchers, 47 of whom would win the Nobel Prize.

Mary Lasker remained very active with the American Cancer Society and in large part thanks to Mary Lasker and the American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Act of 1971 became law and directed special funding for the War on Cancer to the National Cancer Institute. This milestone, the federal funding of basic science research, change the way we thought about curing cancer. As a country, we began to believe that we could find a cure for cancer. These research efforts and their great scientific and technological innovations have led to tremendous advances in the treatment of cancer, that have saved the lives of over 14,000,000 Americans.

Happy Birthday, American Cancer Society.