Stephen Lewis is currently visiting Canadian universities on a speaking tour, but he’s not talking about what you might think.
Lewis is generally best known for his efforts to combat the spread of HIV-AIDS, but his current tour has him speaking about cancer. The tour, called The People vs. Cancer, is part of the larger Campaign to Control Cancer, and brought Lewis to Carleton University last Thursday.
Campaign organizer Pat Kelly acknowledged Lewis isn’t known for supporting this cause, but said the campaign is more than happy to have him.
“Stephen Lewis is not traditionally linked to cancer,” she said. “But when he carries your banner, people pay attention.”
About 150 people attended Lewis’ speech at Carleton last week. But before Lewis took the stage, Kelly spoke and explained why this campaign is important. She said the traditional belief that cancer comes from “bad luck, bad genes and bad habits” is not always true, as 40% of cases can actually be prevented.
Lewis said he was stunned when he first heard that percentage. He said he wants to mobilize the public to work to prevent those cases of cancer, and believes that universities are a great place to start that mobilization.
“I’ve sensed almost a kind of renaissance amongst university students who want to get engaged in the major issues of the day,” he said.
Lewis also said he hasn’t deserted HIV-AIDS in order to join the Campaign to Control Cancer. In fact, he said he sees them as mutually beneficial.
Lewis even drew on his experience with HIV-AIDS in his speech. He argued cancer should be on the same agenda as all other health issues affecting the entire world.
“Why are we dealing with health in compartments?” he asked. “Why isn’t global health actually global health?”
Despite Lewis’ global focus in his speech, John Ouellette, from the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation, made it clear afterwards that the need to prevent cancer hits very close to home. There are higher rates of cancer even in our own backyard, he said.
“It’s unconscionable that if you live less than an hour outside of Ottawa, you’re more likely to have cancer,” he said.
Ouellette said people who live near the city of Ottawa, but not within it, are less likely to follow cancer prevention advice or get procedures done that would detect cancer. He said that is why the campaign is so important.
Lewis, too, said this movement is important right here in Canada.
“We’re reaching a point where one out of every two (people) in the United States and in Canada will, at some point in their lives, contract cancer, unless we move to prevent it,” he said.
Lewis said that young people, especially, have the chance to be an important part of this movement.
“This is an enormous challenge,” he said. “And what better place than a campus to bring it alive, to make the difference.”