Bel Air, MD

A Cruise to Cure Cancer

 

My thought with this fundraiser was to not only raise money for cancer research, in general, but to find an approach to cancer treatment that wasn’t as brutal as the protocol my Dad endured.


Janet Blackwell’s family and friends have all been touched by cancer. Her father, who lost his life to skin cancer, passed away Memorial Day weekend 2015. She has lost family and friends to breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and lung cancer. She has a friend who is currently facing pancreatic cancer. So when she decided to plan a cruise fundraiser, she wanted to find a charity funding cancer treatments that were less severe than what her father experienced. That’s where cancer immunotherapy—and the Cancer Research Institute (CRI)—came in. Because cancer immunotherapy trains the immune system to attack cancer cells specifically, it can mean fewer side effects than chemotherapy or radiation.

CRI asked Janet to put her story in writing. We hope you find inspiration and hope from it.


Like most of you reading this, cancer has touched my life in many ways. Most dearly, I lost my Dad to cancer last year. His cancer started, of all places, under his toenail. Who ever heard of anyone dying from cancer of the toenail bed? Sadly, as I discovered, cancer doesn’t care where it gets you. Dad’s was squamous cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer, and it hit him even though he wasn’t one to spend hours tanning in the sun. He was a farmer at heart, coming from deep Nebraska roots, which means his face and arms were about the only part of his body that ever got color. Dad’s cancer spread after a number of failed attempts with conventional treatment protocols. The torture of chemotherapy, radiation treatments, and multiple amputations—which my Dad willingly accepted—did more damage to Dad than it did to the cancer, and he passed away over Memorial Day weekend in 2015.

Cancer has touched my life in other ways as well. I lost an aunt and a cousin to breast cancer and dear friends to ovarian and lung cancer. I have a friend currently fighting a losing battle with pancreatic cancer. My sister-in-law has bested cancer twice, unrelated occurrences of breast and colon cancer. Where does it end? I came to realize that until we find a cure for all forms of this terrible disease, it won’t end. Cancer has touched and will touch just about everyone’s life in some way or another.

By profession I am a travel agent. I suppose I got my love of travel from my Dad, because it was his favorite thing to do and talk about. Before he died, he talked about taking a cruise on the largest cruise ship in the world, Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas. Dreaming of that cruise and the warm sandy Caribbean beaches he would visit once he beat cancer is one of the few things that gave my Dad comfort throughout the agony of his treatments. The hope of beating cancer and being able to take that cruise was something Dad held onto until the end. 

A few months after Dad passed, it occurred to me that while cancer took him before he could take the cruise, I could take him along with me on the cruise in memory. Better than that, I could use the cruise to raise money for cancer research and that was an idea that excited me. Who wouldn’t want to contribute to such a cause when they can, at the same time, enjoy the thrill of riding a zipline from the top of the jungle over almost half a mile to the beach below?

There are many ways people raise funds to fight cancer, and I opted to use my skills as a travel agent to sponsor a group fundraising cruise with the proceeds going to the Cancer Research Institute. My thought with this fundraiser was to not only raise money for cancer research, in general, but to find an approach to cancer treatment that wasn’t as brutal as the protocol my Dad endured. Fortunately, my husband Jeff came across the Cancer Research Institute and the fine work they are pursuing in immunotherapy.

Targeting this cruise to people who aren’t currently contributors to cancer research also presents an opportunity for us to offer CRI’s educational materials, in the hopes of making some of our cruisers regular contributors to cancer research.


The way a cruise fundraiser works is quite simple. Get a travel agent and book a group cruise. When you pick dates that are off-peak you get a lower price for the cruise, plus you get something called amenity points from the cruise line. These amenity points can be exchanged for things like a plate of chocolate covered strawberries, or a bottle of sparkling wine to celebrate your departure. When you are booking a fundraising cruise, instead of using those amenity points for food and drink, the cruise line will give you a dollar equivalent so you can put them toward cash in the form of a donation to the organization of your choice. You can also add to the price of the cruise and turn every added dollar into the donation. I decided, instead of adding to the cost of the cruise, my agency will match the cruise line’s contribution as a tribute to my Dad and raise additional funds that way. We will also encourage individual group members to make personal contributions in tribute to their own loved ones, or in celebration of themselves if they are a cancer survivor. My fundraising goal for the cruise is $10,000. Perhaps most importantly, these are new dollars not currently going to cancer research. Targeting this cruise to people who aren’t currently contributors to cancer research also presents an opportunity for us to offer CRI’s educational materials, in the hopes of making some of our cruisers regular contributors to cancer research.

One last point: I wanted a catchy name for the group that would cause people to stop our cruisers and ask them what it meant. Oftentimes groups on cruises wear T-shirts that identify them as a member of a particular group, whether it be a family reunion, club, or just a group of friends. My husband and I settled on “Answer ’17” as the nickname for our group.  “Answer” from CRI’s patient website The Answer to Cancer, and “17” from the year the cruise sails, 2017. When our group members move about the ship wearing their group shirts, my hope is that someone will stop them and ask “What does that mean?” which invites a deeper conversation about our group and our support of CRI’s cancer research mission.

I don’t know how this will turn out and, in fact, I’m quite nervous about it. I know the cause is good, and with a little inspiration—OK, a great deal of inspiration—that I am drawing upon my Dad’s memory to provide, I know this will work out. I am already looking forward to Answer ’18 in the hopes we can book an even larger group and raise more money in search of the answer to cancer.

If you want to follow along with our progress, we have created a fundraising page on CRI’s website for tracking contributions, and we have set up a public Facebook group page called Answer ’17. Here’s to hoping for a successful Answer ’17 and an even bigger Answer ’18. And if anyone is interested in using a cruise to help raise funds, contact your local travel agent or email me at tidewatertravel@yahoo.com, and I’ll be glad to talk you through the process.

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