I was 29 years old and had recently become the president of a fast-growing technology company in Michigan. I had been married three years earlier to a wonderful woman, and life was full of promise. Then it happened. My wife was diagnosed with breast cancer out of nowhere. Even more shocking, an unrelated tumor viciously attacked one of her kidneys at the same time. Despite all of the medical resources at our disposal and my wife’s courageous fight against the disease, I became a widower at age 30. Having emigrated from Germany only ten years earlier, I had no other family in the United States. I thought my life was effectively over and pondered whether it was worth going on at all.
After some serious soul searching, I decided to dedicate as much of my time as possible to help fight for a world without cancer. As a graduate student at the University of Virginia studying for a master’s degree in chemistry, I had been part of a research team studying groundbreaking immunotherapy approaches to cancer treatment, so I knew something about the subject. Later, in the business world, as I climbed the career ladder and started traveling globally for my work, I volunteered for local cancer support organizations, attended fundraisers for cancer research dollars, and led a CEO council to help de-stigmatize what a cancer diagnosis means in the workplace. I also became a volunteer for the American Cancer Society, the largest funder of cancer research in the world aside from the United States federal government. Forty-seven Nobel Laureates have received critical research funding from the American Cancer Society as young clinicians before they won their Nobel Prize. I figured if I was going to dedicate so much of my own “time and treasure” to an organization, I wanted it to be one that would truly make a difference in my community, in thousands of communities around the country, and around the world.
I encourage other CEOs to contribute their companies’ time and treasure to the American Cancer Society. Corporate leaders often face difficult decisions about what causes their companies should support. Questions corporate leaders might consider include: What will be the benefit to employees? What will shareholders think? Is the expense or employees’ time commitment justifiable to investors? Will a contribution to the American Cancer Society truly make a difference?
You could select a more narrowly focused cause, such as fighting only breast cancer or colon cancer. But by becoming so active with the American Cancer Society, I decided to attack cancer from every angle. In addition to providing critical research funding, the American Cancer Society promotes healthy eating and active living to prevent cancer. By supporting the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, I am engaged with fighting for lifesaving policy changes in Washington D.C., all 50 State capitals, and in countries like India, China, and Indonesia. I want to provide everything from emotional support to the latest cancer information to those who have been touched by cancer. No other organization does this.
Tragically, over the past ten years, I also have lost my maternal grandmother and mother to the disease.
But for many of us, a cancer diagnosis need no longer be a death sentence. In fact, the cancer death rate in the United States declined by 26% from 1991 to 2015. Serious progress is being made in the fight against cancer.
Let’s keep this progress moving forward. Write the check. Invest in the American Cancer Society and other worthy non-profit organizations dedicated to our cause. As business leaders, I believe we have a moral obligation to demonstrate leadership when it really matters – and for our employees and their families, fighting cancer really matters.