Cancer awareness remains imperative

Next weekend I’ll be in Austin, a year and a week since I took my bicycle to the Texas capital to ride 100 miles to do my small part in the fight against cancer.

Inspired by the remarkable story of the champion cyclist, Lance Armstrong, and motivated by several good friends waging personal battles against various forms of cancer, I decided to meet the Lance Armstrong Foundation’s LiveSTRONG Challenge.

The experience was overwhelmingly positive, which explains why I’m doing it again.

Thanks to some momentum generated by events held on campus and backing from the FAMU community, friends, relatives, neighbors and professional colleagues, last year I was able to raise $8,000 for the foundation’s joint goals of support to survivors and for cancer research. About $2,500 of that total came from FAMU faculty, students and alumni; thanks again to all of you who contributed.

For a variety of reasons, the fundraising has been slower this year. I spent the summer overseas and did not organize anything like the “spinathons” I did a year ago, when many of you saw me on The Set pedaling my bike on a stationary trainer. One day last year, I collected about $300 in small bills and loose change, almost all of it from students.

One thing disappointed me in Austin last year though. Of the hundreds of people who participated in the LiveSTRONG Challenge, there were very few other black riders. The Lance Armstrong Foundation has a strong emphasis on outreach to underserved populations, and many of its grants have gone to programs aimed at blacks, latinos and the rural poor, among others.

Cancer kills 560,000 Americans a year, making it the No. 1 killer in the country. The disease has affected us all. In fact, blacks are affected disproportionately because of large disparities in the incidence of certain cancers and in mortality rates.

There is excellent research and training taking place at FAMU on disparities in cancer occurrence and mortality rates.

Dr. Folakemi Odedina in the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences has emerged as a national leader in the study of prostate cancer among black men, and directs a center in the school devoted to the subject.

Because of these disparities, black Americans should be in the forefront of advocacy efforts – such as those championed by the Lance Armstrong Foundation – to make the eradication of cancer a national priority.

Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France victor and possibly the nation’s best known cancer survivor, has formed “Lance’s Army” to advocate for more dollars for cancer research and to stop recent cuts in such funding.

In the meantime, when this column appears I will be en route to Texas to make my second “century” bike ride in as many years, and I would certainly welcome a wave of late donations to the LAF from the Tallahassee community through my Web page at http://austin07.

On the page you can read a narrative describing in detail why I have chosen this cause; you also can read about the individual people I am riding in support of or in memory of.

I thank you for your support.

Professor Joe Ritchie, 58, holds the Knight Chair in Journalism at Florida A&M University. He regularly commutes by bicycle five miles each way between his home and the campus.