STAND UP TO CANCER: A Hollywood Fantasy

By Marleen M. Quint
Women’s Health and Environmental Advocate


“Did IQs just drop sharply while I was away.”

“Did IQs just drop sharply while I was away.” This line, delivered by Sigourney Weaver from the film, Aliens, is what came to mind while I was watching Tavis Smiley, on PBS, interview Hollywood producer, Laura Ziskin. Ms. Ziskin was churning out such a warped view of how to fight the cancer epidemic that I wanted to reach into the television, grab this woman by the shoulders, shake her and shout, “Snap out of it!” I was hearing the same rhetoric that I had openly criticized almost five years ago. Now the message was getting louder and more absurd. 

Laura Ziskin 
is a Hollywood television and film producer and the executive producer of a television fundraiser called, "Stand Up To Cancer". Ms. Ziskin, along with several other women connected with the media industry, have used their money, influence and personal cancer stories to line-up all three major television networks to air a massive fundraiser to raise cancer awareness and also raise money for finding new genetic pathways in cancer research. 

My radar goes up as soon as Tavis Smiley begins to interview Ms. Ziskin. Early in the interview she says everyone in the U.S. has either had cancer or knows someone who has had it. If that’s true, then awareness is apparently not the issue. What is the issue is that the “awareness” Ms. Ziskin is referring to is actually a specific message being generated by industry through government policy that is carefully being orchestrated to sell to the American public. Ms. Ziskin states that, “Surprisingly, the cancer community is very divisive… but we’re all in it together.” She seems to think that if you pump enough money into the research community then the divisiveness will somehow be remedied. She goes on to explain the need for government, drug companies and scientists to make a commitment to solve the cancer problem. Is Ms. Ziskin aware that the current government is criminally corrupt, that the pharmaceutical industry’s bottom line is profit, and that all research money gets filtered through this nightmare set-up while scientists are the pawns caught between the two power structures? 

Politicians require campaign funding; corporations with special interests, like the pharmaceutical industry, generously make donations to these political campaigns. In return, industry’s needs are firmly set in place by often aligning former industry representatives for positions as regulatory officials in government such as in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Pharmaceutical and chemical companies are often under one larger corporate umbrella which lends itself to a very incestuous relationship. Chemical companies generate pollution often linked to various forms of cancer which, in turn, opens the doors for the sister pharmaceutical companies to then develop and patent outrageously overpriced drug treatments. This brings us back to those former industry representatives often working as government officials. EPA has a history for ignoring corporate pollution while FDA has a history for approving drugs that, too often, have not been sufficiently tested for efficacy and safety. Feeding more money into this type of corruption and dysfunction only reinforces a seriously broken system.

This highly flawed reality seldom gets the attention of Hollywood producers and even less attention from the news media. While some of the media power elite are professing the need for cancer awareness, the news media is systematically keeping the truth from the American public by replacing a balanced, open public forum with smoke and mirrors entertainment news. This insures that little, if any, meaningful and in depth information about cancer ever gets to the public.


“We can make cancer a chronic, manageable disease, a disease that you can live with.” I was drinking tea during this segment of the interview and I almost did a theatrical “spit take” when I heard Ms. Ziskin utter these words. This statement was eerily similar to a statement made five years earlier by former director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), Dr. Andrew C. von Eschenbach. Click here for article "An Elephant Through a Microscope" that challenges NCI's long term cancer goals. In 2003 Dr. von Eschenbach was interviewed for NCI’s newsletter, BenchMarks. He was quoted as saying, “It does not mean curing cancer but, rather, it means that we eliminate many cancers and control others, so people can live with -- not die from -- cancer.” What are the chances that these two people came up with the same exact idea independently? The answer -- zero. Laura Ziskin’s campaign is firmly linked to NCI’s campaign to turn cancer into a manageable disease controlled by carefully patented drugs developed from genetic targeted research. It’s like watching the telepathic single mindedness of those creepy little blond kids from, Village of the Damned or the soulless pod people from, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. There’s no real questioning, creative thought or even the application of some common sense, just one mindless mantra.

Speaking of questioning … I need a little clarification here. How do you “eliminate” a cancer without curing it? And if you’re not curing the disease, then how do you differentiate between “eliminating” or “eradicating” cancer from “chronic” or “manageable” disease? It’s as if these campaigns want to redefine cancer to make it seem “normal” and “acceptable.” Perhaps the hope is, if they keep saying it enough, we will eventually equate “cancer cure” with the term “manageable disease.” The twisting of language and its definitions is a sure sign of an attempt to manipulate information.

Sidney Poitier

Sidney Poitier

During the interview with Ms. Ziskin, Mr. Smiley airs a public service announcement advertising the upcoming television fundraiser. The announcement begins with a series of well known celebs rising from their chairs as the camera pans a sea of faces. You then hear the voice of Sidney Poitier saying, “Stand up and start a movement. Stand up for a cure, a chance, a change.” Notice Mr. Poitier’s script mentions the word “cure.” Again, are we really looking for a cure or are we accepting the inevitability of living with this dreaded disease because we refuse to address root causes? But this fund raiser must be on target if Sidney Poitier says so, right? 

Let’s take a look at a couple of basic truths about cancer. Dr. Sandra Steingraber, an ecologist, references a science textbook, Human Genetics: A Modern Synthesis, within a book she has authored, Living Downstream. Disclosed are two pieces of information on cancer that seems to have eluded the Stand Up To Cancer team. 

1 - “As much as 90 percent of all forms of cancer is attributed to specific environmental factors.”
2 - “Because exposure to these environmental factors can, in principle, be controlled, most cancers could be prevented … Reducing or eliminating exposures to environmental carcinogens would dramatically reduce the prevalence of cancer in the United States.”  This is not an obscure piece of scientific information. It has been well known for many years now.

The Matrix

The Matrix

The only reference Ms. Ziskin makes to the environment during her interview is when she says, “I was very influenced by, An Inconvenient Truth … Boy that really tells you the power of the mediums in which we all work …” Here’s the former Vice President of the United States winning an academy award for making a compelling documentary about the overwhelming scientific evidence of global warming which appears to already be wreaking havoc on the planet and all its inhabitants. Yet, the only message Ms. Ziskin got was how powerful the media is? She even produced the academy award show that honored this apocalyptic message. How is it possible she doesn’t get it? Perhaps the dark truth is reflected in a short speech from, The Matrix. “Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with their environment, but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply, and multiply until every natural resource is consumed. The only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows this same pattern … a virus. Human beings are a disease; a cancer of this planet.” Is it because we, ourselves, act as a type of cancer in relation to our environment that we cannot face or accept the truth about those cancers that are invading our internal environment which maim and kill us? Is our state of denial the reason "Stand Up To Cancer" is unable to ask even the simplest of questions? Questions like,

  • Why is cancer incidence increasing at such alarming rates?

  • How do I live with cancer as a manageable disease if I’m already managing other life threatening diseases?

  • What if I have no health insurance?

  • What if I’m underinsured and can’t afford the soaring costs of drug treatments and therapies?

  • Why should I be forced to live with cancer if there’s a good chance of preventing it by addressing the environmental issues linked to the disease?

If America is going to invest all this money into more cancer research, people are going to want to know more specifics regarding the types of research being conducted. I found a breakdown of how the funding was to be spent from an e-mail interview with Laura Ziskin conducted by Sean Morrow of the Huffington Post website. The following is Ms. Ziskin’s explanation of how the funding will be managed and the areas of research for which this money will be used. “The funds raised will be administered by the American Association for Cancer Research. 70% of the money will go towards funding dream teams … designed to get new therapies to patients as quickly as possible. 20% of the funds will be for innovative out of the box research and 10% for contingencies.” Dream teams, out of the box research and contingencies -- great, I’m glad she cleared that question right up. Where’s my checkbook? I can’t wait to see what therapies and contingencies pop out of those boxes.

I then went to the American Association for Cancer Research website thinking I’d get information that had a little more meat on it. Well, I found the meat but much of it would prove too tough for the everyday lay person to digest. The info is highly technical, difficult to read and centered around genetic studies. I also read the science write-up from the "Stand Up To Cancer" website. It was written in everyday language but it rambled on with information that, at times, appeared conflicting. Neither website presented any environmental research information. There doesn’t seem to be a consistence or balance for effectively informing the public about cancer research. Explanations are exclusionary, vague, conflicting or so technically specific, only cancer researchers themselves can understand it. These extremes insure that the public will be misinformed and confused.

Pretty Woman

Pretty Woman

The "Stand Up To Cancer" campaign proposes to solve the cancer epidemic by throwing money into a misguided, corrupt and generally broken system. My overall reaction to this approach is reflected in a quote from a very well known film produced by Laura Ziskin herself. The quote I’m referring to is in the very last lines of the film, Pretty Woman. “Welcome to Hollywood! What’s your dream? Everybody comes here; this is Hollywood, land of dreams. Some dreams come true, some don’t; but keep on dreamin’ -- this is Hollywood. Always time to dream, so keep on dreamin’.” Much like the "Stand Up To Cancer" campaign, what this sentiment lacks in substance, it inspires with tinsel and enthusiasm. Making dreams come true requires identifying and incrementally overcoming all the obstacles blocking the path to actualization. Hollywood hype and entertaining fundraisers are not enough to erase cancer in the real world. Turning cancer into a manageable disease is not an acceptable option and is morally abhorrent. We cannot eliminate, eradicate or cure cancer if we do not address its root environmental causes. We must first repair the current dysfunctional bureaucracy that is promoting the narrowest research to benefit some of the richest and greediest corporations in the world. Americans are going bankrupt, suffering and dying from a disease our society can’t seem to effectively deal with head-on. The cancer fighting machine we have constructed needs some serious recalibrating before we’re ready to shout, “Lights, camera, action!”

If you have any comments or experiences that you would like to relate to us regarding this subject, please contact Marleen at

References and Resources:

The Tavis Smiley Show

2015: a target date for eliminating suffering and death due to cancer, 2003

Living Downstream: an ecologist looks at cancer and the environment Sandra Steingraber Addision-Wesley Publishing Co., Inc., c.1997, p261

Sean Morrow, Stand Up To Cancer - [Interview With Laura Ziskin] July 23, 2008

Life’s Delicate Balance: Causes and Prevention of Breast Cancer. Janette D. Sherman | Taylor & Francis Publishing, c. 2000 

Marleen M. Quint

Originally from Hawaii, Marleen was also raised in Japan and Guam. Her background is extremely eclectic and ranges from working in the field of cartography to performing as a singer, dancer and actress.

In 1990, Marleen was diagnosed with thyroid disease followed by breast cancer less than two years later. She lost both breasts and her thyroid with no family history that would predispose her to either disease. After much research, Marleen is convinced that environmental pollution played a significant role in the development of her life-threatening diseases.

Since 1995, Marleen has dedicated herself as a women's health advocate. She has served as a consultant for several health organizations including the National Cancer Institute in Washington, DC and UCSF Mt. Zion Cancer Center in San Francisco.

Marleen has combined her skills to develop a women's health presentation which delves into the connections between the politics of gender bias and the level of morbidity suffered by women. Marleen is an active speaker in the San Francisco Bay Area.