I recently had the great pleasure of speaking with Nancy Cook, a long-time supporter of the Cancer Research Foundation. Ms. Cook is an art historian and an educator; it is her experience in bringing the world to her students, and the way that scholarship can open up new ways of thinking and seeing things, that makes her such a staunch supporter of researchers and scholars. “Academia is my thing,” she asserted, “I like sorting things out and scholarly pursuits.” She told me she’d been introduced to the Cancer Research Foundation through her niece and that its support of basic research really resonated with her.
When I asked if she’d ever had a more personal experience with cancer, she was proud to announce that she was a 26 year survivor of cancer herself, having been treated for squamous cell carcinoma on her tongue, after finally finding a dentist who was able to recognize what was wrong. We both marveled in how difficult it had been to come to this diagnosis 26 years ago and the huge advances that have been made in cancer since then. Nancy is very optimistic about the progress that cancer science has made and is hopeful that we can look forward to a future where all cancer sufferers have outcomes like hers. She pointed out that she knows many young people, both family members and otherwise, who are interested in going into STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and she hopes that by supporting science and research she will help to create and support a path that they can pursue.
Ms. Cook pointed out that in some ways the cancer research we fund is like space exploration – that it both allows and engenders “thinking outside the box” and that the type of “blue-sky” hypothesis-based science we hope to support can create unexpected “wonderful fallout:” discoveries and ideas that were never ever even considered. Nancy is a great supporter of the idea of scientific change and the forward march of scientific advances. She says it can feel as though scientific research is under attack, with government funding being steadily reduced and even disappearing in some cases; Ms. Cook even referenced an article she’d recently seen titled “Should Science be Believed?” But as Nancy Cook strongly asserted “Research is where it will happen!” By supporting cancer research science and scientists, she allows Cancer Research Foundation to support “radical thinking” in cancer science, which leads to the types of transformational events in cancer science it is the CRF’s mission to engender and support.
Research is where it will happen!
Nancy also suggested that we find more and better ways to open up communication between the foundation, its donors and the scientists it supports. She pointed out that we need to be more transparent about the “ups and downs” in scientific research, to show that pursuing scientific discovery is often a hard road to travel, with detours and dead ends, and that this makes the support that the Cancer Research Foundation provides, with donations like hers, particularly needed and impactful. It’s a great point!
Nancy Cook knows that the young investigators we support face a particularly difficult point in their careers: without funding they are unable to create those all-important first data sets that jumpstart new scientific ideas, novel areas of research, and knowledge-changing careers, but without a first data set, many avenues for funding are not yet available. The Cancer Research Foundation is dedicated to funding that gap, providing high leverage support to get new ideas and early career scientists underway. We could never do that without the support that Nancy Cook and thousands or donors like her provide. Thank you so much, Nancy, for you time and your willingness to talk with us, and most of all for your support.