The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

September 4, 2011

Live your life to help others

David Knepper

— It has been 40 years since President Richard Nixon declared a war on cancer, an affliction he viewed as the deadliest and most elusive enemy of mankind.

Congress agreed that this was a noble cause and quickly allocated slightly more than $332 million for fiscal year 1972 to fund the National Cancer Act of 1971.

Presently, Congress allocates almost $5 billion a year for the National Cancer Institute to conduct and to coordinate cancer research. As a result of this nation’s determination to win the war against cancer, it now appears that after four decades, the U.S. medical community is finally gaining the upper hand on some of the most common types.

Prevention programs, early detection and new treatments are our best hope to win this war. The next cancer breakthrough is waiting to be discovered, and Congress should continue to increase funding as advocated by the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network.

Based on data compiled by the American Cancer Institute for 2010,  1,529,560 people in the United States are expected to be diagnosed with   cancer. It remains the No. 2 killer of Americans, with about 560,000 deaths annually, eclipsed only by heart disease.

But we should never forget that behind these statistics are those who lack adequate health insurance coverage that may prevent them from receiving optimal health care.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 46 million Americans were uninsured in 2008; more alarming is that approximately 28 percent of Americans ages 18 to 34 years old and 10 percent of children had no health insurance coverage.

Uninsured patients and those from ethnic minorities are substantially more likely to be diagnosed with cancer at a later stage, when treatment can be more extensive and more costly.

These are family members and friends in your community who are without medical insurance as a result of job loss or who simply cannot afford to pay costly insurance premiums for quality health-care protection.

Shouldn’t we give them hope that they will prevail in their battles with cancer without worrying how they are going to pay their medical expenses?

Unfortunately, the amount of funds spent yearly on cancer research has become a point of contention in the political arena, for while billions are allocated yearly to cancer research, far more money is spent frivolously by our government.

For example, Congress approved spending $1.1 billion to send a spacecraft to Jupiter to study how that planet was formed rather than increase spending by a like amount on cancer research to help the more than 1.5 million people who are diagnosed with cancer each year and to help save the nearly 600,000 people who die annually from cancer afflictions.

Don’t put away your adding machine just yet when tallying the dollars that are falling through the grate. There are widely circulated published reports that the Pentagon has wasted more than $30 billion on contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan due to shoddy management and a lack of competition, an independent inquiry revealed.

“Tens of billions of taxpayer dollars have been wasted through poor planning, vague and shifting requirements, inadequate competition, substandard contract management and oversight, lax accountability, weak inter-agency coordination, and subpar performance or outright misconduct by some contractors and federal employees,” the co-chairmen of the panel, Christopher Shays and Michael Thibault, wrote in The Washington Post.

There is one bright spot, however, that is an outstanding example of the splendid cooperation demonstrated by private and public organizations.

Working together, especially, at the local level, volunteers and health-care professionals have spearheaded campaigns to promote cancer awareness.

Such campaigns have been most successful in educating the public on the importance of choosing a healthy lifestyle – which constitutes healthy food choices, more physical activity, weight control, avoidance of fatty carcinogenic foods – that plays a major role in cancer prevention. Their message is simply: “Be healthy, be happy, be well!”

On a personal level, many of you have been so wonderful in your support of my family due to the recent loss of our son, David.

For more than a year, he fought his own battle with cancer. He did not lose this fight, for he is now in the loving arms of our Lord – free of the pain and suffering that he endured. But he was not alone in his struggle. There were so many “angels” walking with him during this time to provide comfort and support and care these many months, at home, at Windber Medical Center and UPMC-Shadyside at Pittsburgh. 

What they do every day for their patients is done with much love and commitment to save lives – a most noble act of giving that few of us will ever have the opportunity to achieve.

However, there is something that all of us can do – right now – and that is make today your opportunity to make an impact on someone’s life. Live your life to help others and to make people feel loved and happy. Begin by loving yourself and to believe in yourself.

Smile more, laugh more and be happy! Be that angel walking among us – be your confident self. Love.

Begin to nurture your own immortality of influence by taking the time to reach out with a helping hand for those many among us who are today walking along without a guardian angel. No doubt many of you have seen an insurance company’s television commercial where a small gesture of helping a stranger becomes contagious.

When our son passed away last month, his sister, Sandra, established a living memorial fund called “David’s Helping Hand” as a testament to David’s kindness toward others he touched when he was on this earth. 

Your contribution will go to those who need a helping hand and not a handout.


David A. Knepper is president of Allegheny Development Group LLC and is currently the executive director of the Forest Hills Regional Alliance. He holds a doctorate in educational administration from Penn State. His column appears the first Sunday of each month.

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