(Left to right) American Cancer Society Senior Director, Regional Corporate Relations West Region Crystal Yelverton and CEOs Against Cancer chair Joel Helmke host business leaders and volunteers at the first chapter meeting of 2018 at Stub Center in Carson.

(Left to right) American Cancer Society Senior Director, Regional Corporate Relations West Region Crystal Yelverton and CEOs Against Cancer chair Joel Helmke host business leaders and volunteers at the first chapter meeting of 2018 at Stub Center in Carson.

By Joel Helmke

I recently made a personal commitment of my time and resources to help eliminate the incredible burden that cancer places on families and communities just like yours and mine. Cancer is not someone else’s problem, it is everyone’s problem. It is an equal opportunity disease, affecting young and old, rich and poor, and peoples of all ethnicities. Let me tell you how you can join me and make a significant difference right here in Southern California.

Cancer is the second-leading cause of death in the US after heart disease. This year alone, more than 1.7 million Americans will be diagnosed with cancer, and more than 609,000 will die from the disease. While those numbers are grim, the good news is that half of cancer deaths are preventable by making healthy lifestyle choices, like- eating a healthier diet, being active and watching your weight, avoiding tobacco use, and getting recommended screenings. Also, people facing cancer have a place to turn for information and support – the American Cancer Society, a partner in the fight against cancer since 1913.

That’s why this year I am chairing the American Cancer Society’s CEOs Against Cancer Southern California Chapter. Members and I, all likeminded business professionals, are doing our part to spread cancer awareness and, most importantly, create hope for those affected by this disease.

In Southern California our chapter has adopted the American Cancer Society’s HPV Cancer Free campaign as our mission priority to support in 2018-2019. On Wednesday, June 6, 2018, the organization launched a nationwide public health campaign to eliminate vaccine-preventable HPV cancers, which includes cervical, throat and anal cancers.

The story of polio provides a glimpse of the potential impact of widespread HPV vaccination. At its peak in the 1950’s polio took the lives of 3,145 Americans. This scourge continued to afflict our nation until the polio vaccine was developed by Dr. Jonas Salk and mass immunization campaigns swept the nation in the late 1950’s. Polio cases plummeted from a peak of 58,000 cases to 161 cases in 1961.

It is estimated that over 32,00 Americans will develop an HPV related cancer this year and 6,000 will die from the condition. Most of these cancers are preventable through HPV vaccination, but vaccination rates in the US currently hover at 60% for girls and 50% for boys. For comparison, Australia has screening rates approaching 90% for girls and are on the verge of eliminating cervical cancer as a health concern in the coming years in their country.

Our work will increase HPV vaccination rates for preteens to at least 80% by June 8, 2026, the 20-year anniversary of the FDA’s approval of the first HPV vaccine. We will only be able to accomplish this through partnerships with other ACS volunteers, parents, providers, healthcare organizations, and community leaders who appreciate the incredible importance of reaching this goal.

Through HPV Cancer Free, we will strengthen provider recommendations, activate partners and stakeholders, track our progress, implement evidence based interventions and systems changes and increase parental knowledge. It’s a daunting goal – but with the combined support of all our organizations working to improve HPV vaccination, it is possible. As seen with polio, we have done this before and vanquished a terrible disease.

I need your help to take the commitment of our CEOs Against Cancer Southern California Chapter to the next level:

  1. Educate yourself about HPV and make sure the children in your life are vaccinated.

  2. Watch for upcoming opportunities to be part of the effort to increase HPV vaccination in your community.

  3. Join CEOs Against Cancer and be a part of our effort to assign cervical cancer and other HPV related cancers to the dustbin of history.

There are more than 500 members of the American Cancer Society CEOs Against Cancer program who represent a powerful network that includes the most prominent names in business today. The companies led by these chief executives employ and impact more than 6.5 million workers across the United States. Members bring the passion, expertise, and resources needed to find, prevent, treat, and cure this disease, which costs U.S. employers $225.8 billion each year. 

CEOs from the world’s top companies are uniting with the American Cancer Society to change the course of cancer. It’s a unique and powerful group of executives who are committed to saving lives and improving their company’s bottom line. Their support and dedication is nothing short of remarkable. But it’s no time to rest. Cancer is a relentless enemy – but we are just as relentless in our fight to end the disease.

Communities across the country offer a variety of golf, galas, and other events benefiting the lifesaving work of the American Cancer Society.

Joel Helmke is chair of CEOs Against Cancer and SVP, Clinical Operations for City of Hope. To learn more about becoming a member or are interested in supporting the CEOs Against Cancer Southern California Chapter, please contact the American Cancer Society at (424) 702-3496 or crystal.yelverton@cancer.org. For cancer information and resources visit cancer.org.

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