Cancer and the Courage to Create Change

I hear from a lot of cancer moms. I don’t know what it is, but they reach out.

They share how they learned about my work when their child was diagnosed, how my book was passed around the pediatric cancer wing of their hospital or how they watched one of my talks online. When they thank me, it brings me to my knees. Who am I in the face of that? If they are brave enough to wake up every single day to tackle cancer, the very least that I can do is to speak about it.

When I first found out about the escalating rates of food allergies, I had so many questions: what does this mean to a child’s developing immune system if they see food as an enemy? What does the steady state of inflammation do? And why is cancer now the leading cause of death by disease in U.S. kids? Why are 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women in the U.S. expected to get it, according to the Centers and Disease Controll

I couldn’t unlearn that. I couldn’t sit there and do nothing either. Other countries are taking precautionary measures, labeling their food, dropping artificial ingredients, why weren’t we doing that here? And was I brave enough to speak out about it?

In 2006, I wasn’t very brave. I was a number crunching analyst and mom of four. I didn’t want to speak up, and I didn’t want to be the one to rock the boat. I somehow wanted to unlearn all of it, to go back to the plan of returning to the equity desk, finance, the black and white, no heart involved job that I’d loved prior to having kids.

It never happened. I remember one day looking at the kids playing in the yard and thinking, “If not now, when? If not us, who? If we don’t try, what happens?”

So I found the courage to try. The first talk I gave was at the Jewish Community Center. My grandfather and great grandfathers were Episcopalian ministers and the heads of dioceses. Cancer didn’t care what religion we were or what side of the aisle we sat on. Food allergies, autism, diabetes, heart disease didn’t care either. Six people came to that talk. One was a pediatrician, another a dietician….and I found out later that they got married.

I also began to see how love can make the impossible possible. Each time one of us stands up for change, it gives someone else the courage to do the same.

I am often touched by the letters and emails that I receive, but none has touched me quite like this note that I received from a mom named Lisa.

Courage is contagious. Be brave. We are in this together, and years from now, when our children and grandchildren asked what we did when we learned that our food system was so broken, we will be able to say that we fixed it together. It truly is an all hands on deck time.

“Hello Robyn,
My name is Lisa. I am married with 4 children.

Almost a year ago, Sept. 3rd, my oldest son Zach was diagnosed with cancer, 2 weeks after going away to college – Stage 4 Mixed Germ Cell Tumors. We have been through quite a difficult journey over the last year but through the grace of God and thanks to his treatment and many prayers, Zach is currently in remission and getting ready to head back to college next week!!

During our cancer journey I became obsessed with trying to find out how a seemingly healthy teenage boy could become so sick. I read articles and books, googled and researched, watched documentaries and tedx talks. I learned so much about the food we eat, the products we use and the chemicals that make us sick. I learned about our country and our government.

This newfound knowledge led me to experience all kinds of emotions. I was sad, angry and discouraged. But it also led me to find a new mission in life; to share this knowledge with anyone who will listen and most importantly with my friends and family.

Transforming our food system is a huge undertaking that can’t be done by one person. But as I’ve learned from you and others who work tirelessly to create change in this country, we must all do our part to make it happen. This thinking has led me to take courage and step out of my comfort zone.

This morning I spoke with my son’s elementary school principal and shared my heart and desire to help educate families on ways they can make better choices to protect their families. She agreed to let me speak to her staff as well as the parents and kids of the school community. I am so excited and quite nervous!

I am sharing this with you because you have inspired me to get involved and work for change. I am not an expert. I’m a mom. A mom who never wants to see her children faced with a life threatening illness again. Any resources, advice or suggestions you could share would be such a blessing to me.

Thank you for all you do and thanks for listening!”

We all have such an important role to play in this. Do what you can, where you are with what you have, because none of us can do everything, but all of us can do something.

Courage is contagious.