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  • Writer's pictureKirk Hartley

World Cancer Day – Will Lawyers Speak Out and Demand Better from Our Nations ?

February 4 is the day the World Health Organization (WHO) designates as World Cancer Day. According to WHO, "an estimated 84 million people will die of cancer between 2005 and 2015 without intervention." As the American Cancer Society explains, the day will be commemorated in the US by the Empire State Building lighting its top in the orange and blue colors chosen to signify the day.

The costs of cancer are massive. In terms of human suffering, there are no words I know to state the vast scale of the pain and fear caused by cancer. On objective data, the numbers are stunning in financial terms. In just the US, the costs are currently at over $ 100 billion per year, and in 2020 will be an estimated $ 158 billion per year. In global terms, the annual direct and indirect cost are estimated $1.5 -2 trillion (yes, that’s with a t, and every year.) Those numbers, however, do not seem to grab enough attention and cause nearly enough demands for "better." So, for today, a post to try to bring the subject of cancer closer to the financial and emotional hearts of lawyers.

Consider the lesson on cancer that can be learned from the collapse of Howrey, a major US law firm with some international offices. Anyone who follows "big-law" at all knows that Howrey is in trouble. An AmLaw story on Wednesday reminded me of this prior article about Howrey’s woes and a link to cancer. According to that article, part of Howrey’s troubles tie back to two of its most trusted partners dying of cancer – before age 60. What a tragic waste. The key text is pasted far below in bold.

For World Cancer Day, let’s personalize a question to our profession: when are our American lawyers – and our global brethren – going to become really outraged about cancer and demand better from our nations ? We are advocates; we know how to speak and be heard. So, let’s speak out.

To whom can we speak? To our families, our friends, our partners and associates, and to our governments. But do not worry to much about the specific audience – just speak. Creating changerequires social networking and reaching a Tipping Point of the sort so eloquently described by Malcolm Gladwell in his book, Tipping Point. And, know that there is a receptive audience in place. How so? Sadly (or, perhaps, wonderfully), the reality is that 4% of Americans (that’s about 10-15 million Americans) are cancer survivors, and so have "pre-existing conditions". At the very least, go here to sign a global petition to demand more attention to cancer research and prevention. Prevention is too little mentioned, but is as key as research for existing cancers.

Need more data to help you advocate? The above numbers are stunning, but sadly there are many more compelling numbers numbers available for advocacy. Disease specific numbers, and much more data, can be found through the American Cancer Society’s web pages devoted to statistics. The 2010 summary is here. For global numbers, go here.

The US numbers ? 500,000 Americans die of cancer every year. On top of the deaths, 1.5 million Americans are diagnosed every year with cancer. In a decade, that rate of diagnoses is about equal to cancer hitting everyone in the cities (not burbs) of NY, LA and Chicago. And that of course includes all the lawyers in those cities.

Global numbers? Over 7.5 million annual cancer deaths. Over 12 million cancers found, every year.

More personal numbers? Ultimately, cancer will hit 1 in 3 American women, and 1 in 2 American men. And, there are increasing signs that environmentally-induced cancers can become multi-generational. Think DES daughters. For disturbing visual evidence, go here and link to the Vanity Fair story on apparent generations of victims of Agent Orange. Or, consider the issues raised regarding the effects of exposure to BPA and pregnancy. How and why may a toxic exposure cause multi-generational cancers ? Those answers are not completely clear yet, but they probably involve epigentics, including chemically-caused changes to the epigenome, a structure that sits above each genome.

Lawyers should know how to pull at hearts. To reach hearts and minds, help people learn and feel that every 10 minutes, someone in the US dies from a blood cancer. And, they are too often children. Help them see and feel the human and financial pain and loss inherent in the steadily increasing rates of cancer in kids The data show an increase of about 2% per year, FOR EVERY YEAR SINCE 1974. Help others see the faces and families behind the datapoints.

Need more? Go here for a heartbreaking video. It’s the story of the Beads of Courage awarded to some kids with cancer. It’s a powerful reason to ask what we might achieve if we at least doubled or tripled our miserly national investment of $ 5 billion in cancer research.

Cynical about more money making a real difference ? Don’t be. Go here to read about St. Jude’s current project to sequence the genes inside 600 cancers they’ve culled from children over the years: The key quote: "This is the largest and most powerful single initiative in the 50-year history of St. Jude," the research hospital’s director, Dr. William E. Evans, said at a press briefing announcing the project …. "DNA is being sequenced as we speak," he added.

Need more reason for optimism? Consider this 2010 NYT op-ed article by Dr. James Watson of DNA fame. He said:

"THE National Cancer Institute, which has overseen American efforts on researching and combating cancers since 1971, should take on an ambitious new goal for the next decade: the development of new drugs that will provide lifelong cures for many, if not all, major cancers. Beating cancer now is a realistic ambition because, at long last, we largely know its true genetic and chemical characteristics. (emphasis added)

This was not the case when President Richard Nixon and Congress declared a “war on cancer” more than 35 years ago. As a member of the new National Cancer Advisory Board, I argued that money for “pure cancer research” would be a more prudent expenditure of federal funds than creating new clinical cancer centers. My words, however, fell on deaf ears, and the institute took on a clinical mission. My reward for openly disagreeing was being kicked off the advisory board after only two years."

Given the numbers and the science, where are the reasoned but passionate demands that our governments do much more to stop the damn cancers that are killing millions of our loved ones, and too many of our partners and friends ? C’mon lawyers, use your gifts of persuasion and speak out. You may help to save your law firm from a Howrey-like collapse. You also might save the life of your child, your spouse, or your partner.


"Several former partners say that communication, which has never been the firm’s strong suit, became a much greater issue after the sudden deaths of two respected and independent members of the executive committee–deaths that coincided with a major slowdown in work. In June 2008 vice-chairman Mark Wegener, the firm’s global litigation cochair, died of cancer at 59; 11 months later, IP cochair Cecilia Gonzalez, also a vice-chair, succumbed to cancer at 53. Gonzalez, a huge rainmaker, was "always willing to introduce you to her clients," recalls one partner. And Wegener "would always call you back right away," notes another–giving partners a sense their concerns were being heard and transmitted to Ruyak."

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