Hippocrates called it karkinos, or crab, because the long tendrils of a malignant tumor reminded him of a crab’s outstretched arms. The Roman writer Aulus Celsus later translated the Greek to Latin, giving us the word cancer.
Cancer has plagued mankind since the origin of the species. Some 36 centuries ago, Egyptian scribes recorded the treatment offered in eight cases of breast cancer. In each instance, the tumor was cauterized with an instrument called the “fire drill.” The results, concluded the papyrus, were utterly discouraging: “There is no treatment.”
There is no treatment: Those four words are alien to the American tradition of private, voluntary initiative. Across the nation, donors large and small are supporting efforts to diagnose, treat, and, eventually, cure what has come to be called the emperor of all maladies.
Of course, cancer remains formidable, relentless, and deadly. The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2011, about 1.6 million new cases were diagnosed within the United States alone. In that same year, cancer is believed to have taken the lives of nearly 600,000 Americans. Cancer is second only to heart disease as a cause of death in this country. It will take one life out of every four.
Cancer may be resilient, but so too is the American spirit. In this issue of Philanthropy, we profile some of the generous individuals who are striving to end the war on cancer with a swift and decisive victory.
- Jon Huntsman Sr. is fearless. In business and in philanthropy, he has never shied away from outsized risks. But his legendary courage was sorely tested when he learned he had prostate cancer. Huntsman responded in characteristic fashion. He doubled down. Against tall odds, he committed to building a top-flight research and treatment facility in his hometown of Salt Lake City. When his original partners backed out, he pushed forward. Even when his business faltered, he pressed on. Read more about Jon Huntsman and his efforts to bring to life the Huntsman Cancer Institute.
- David Koch is a team builder. As a young man, he captained one of the greatest basketball squads in MIT history. After he graduated, he brought that determination, discipline, and leadership to Koch Industries, which he helped build into the nation’s second-largest privately owned company. When cancer struck, Koch’s competitive instincts kicked in. He threw himself into cancer research, building a team of research scientists and engineers—and pushing them forward as they try to beat cancer. Managing editor Evan Sparks reports on David Koch’s hard-charging efforts.
- Michael Milken has a way of getting things moving. Throughout his financial career, he worked to find new and better ways to channel capital to promising entrepreneurs. When he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, he turned to those talents once again. Associate editor Kari Barbic details Milken’s tireless efforts to make the Prostate Cancer Foundation the world’s leading resource for prostate cancer research—and his ongoing efforts to accelerate progress in medical research through FasterCures.
- Eli Broad is unreasonable. It’s a word others use to describe his high expectations—and the energy with which he pursues them. It’s a word he uses to describe his life, his work, and even his charitable giving. Today, he dedicates his time entirely to advancing scientific and medical research, fostering appreciation for contemporary art, reinvigorating downtown Los Angeles, and reforming K–12 public education. We spoke with Mr. Broad in his offices on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles. Read the interview here.
- Drugs are a cancer on American society. They destroy individual lives and wreak havoc on communities. So why is substance abuse such an unpopular prerogative among private donors? Contributing editor Tom Riley explores the nature of the problem, the comparative advantages of philanthropy—and what some of the nation’s most innovative donors are doing to combat substance abuse.
- Private philanthropy led some of the most consequential public health campaigns of the 20th century, including the effort to eradicate smallpox and decimate hookworm. Today, it is on the verge of eliminating polio. India recently recorded its first year without a single incident of polio, thanks in large measure to Rotary International and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Looking backward and looking forward, Caitrin Nicol of the New Atlantis describes the role of private philanthropy in wiping out diseases—and the prospect of a world without polio.
In this issue, we also feature a short article on the millions of small donors who fund the work of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. And Adam Meyerson makes the case against any effort to require or put political pressure on foundations and other donors to track their philanthropy by race, ethnicity, gender, and other demographic categories.