I will never forget the day I was asked to meet with Laura Ziskin. My writing partner Taryn Southern and I strode across the Sony lot both nervous and tickled pink by the opportunity, clutching our scripts for Stand Up To Cancer. We had written Public Service Announcements under the guise of comedic short films with the intention of hitting a younger demographic -- we made them edgy, cool and funny as hell. Laura loved them and there we were, set to meet one of the most profound and insightful women of our times.
Laura Ziskin was a legendary film producer, studio executive, the first ever solo female executive producer of the Academy Awards and I think, most importantly, a fierce advocate and co-founder of Stand Up to Cancer. Laura battled breast cancer for over seven years and when I met her, she was still in the fight. At our meeting she encouraged us to continue to write, to bring awareness to this powerful disease in any way possible and educate our peers through laughter, humor and truth.
I was honored and humbled when she asked me to be an official ambassador for the Stand Up to Cancer organization. Stand Up to Cancer is an innovative grass-roots organization that was created to break down the barriers and limitations of cancer research. Laura and the Stand Up To Cancer organization's mission is to "put the most talented researchers at the leading institutes together, creating our "dream teams." This groundbreaking nonprofit encourages leading scientists and doctors to collaborate rather then compete, which is sadly often the case. Innovative ideas are granted rapid funding without traditional bureaucratic delays with the intention of getting new therapies to people that need them as quickly as possible.
Currently, 355 scientists from 55 institutions collaborate and share information through Stand Up To Cancer. In 2007, CBS, NBC and NBC donated to Laura and her cofounders an hour for the first ever "roadblock" televised fund-raising event. Again in 2010, CBS, NBC, ABC along with Fox and 13 cable providers aired another hour-long fund raising event that was seen in over 175 countries! Major Hollywood stars, musicians, news anchors, and other celebrities gathered to actively raise money to find the therapies and ultimately the cure for cancer.
Through the combined fund-raising events, over 180 million dollars has been pledged to support the ground-breaking research to find the treatments that benefit those with cancer in expedient time. I was blessed to participate in this event in 2010 and it was one of the most important things I have ever been a part of in my life. What a thrill it was to see Laura in full throttle! Laura said "this is an incredibly hopeful time in cancer research, with monumental discoveries occurring at a breathtaking pace... For example, in 200 only one cancer genome has been sequenced. Today, more then 100 have been, yielding an exponential increase in the number of targets for which scientists can develop tailored treatments. All of which will lead to more survivors; more lives to celebrate." Times had changed indeed thanks to Laura's perseverance and vision.
Every one of us, through family member or friend, has been personally impacted by this disease. Both my writing partner and I had dealt with loved ones being riddled with cancer, yet for me, it never felt as piercingly painful and horrific as it does today bearing the news of Laura's passing.
Laura described herself as an "impatient patient." "I'm mad as hell" she exclaimed as she urged that, "as a nation we need to focus on this problem and demand that something be done." Laura was a woman that authentically led from her heart. In the face of her own adversity, she rose, flourishing ideas and solutions brilliantly provocative, ingenious and powerful. She could have so easily backed down and succumbed to the fear that weighs so heavily on those afflicted with cancer. She had the courage to stand up in the face of her disease and to millions of people and say that there will be a cure for cancer... it is only a matter of time.
Laura's conviction and passion to fight this disease was a seed that has been planted within us and now grows stronger. Through our deep sadness in loosing her we will grow tall and thrive, shining in the bright light that was and is her vision. Now, more then ever, we must dare to bring the unfathomable into a reality, and carry in our palms the answers, the cure for cancer and release it to all those in need, letting the healing waters of innovation and trust lift away the disease from every cell of every body.
Laura Ziskin is an important role model for all women. Not only did she reach the pinnacle of her industry with excellence, but she did so while becoming a transformative force in charitable work. Her legacy should remind us all that there is work to be done beyond ourselves, for our peers and our communities.
Laura is a woman who's example I will look to for guidance in the face of my own challenges. The brief time that I spent with her has seeped deeply into my soul. Her knowing without proof, her faith and courage in the midst of her fiercest battle, her compassion and empathy that reached beyond the millions of hearts she touched and sailed into the stars that twinkle above us. Laura claimed those stars for all of those in the fight with cancer. You can donate and launch a star in honor of someone you love. Today a star was named in Laura Ziskin's honor and I promise, the ones you love will be kept in the highest of company.
Here are some stunning facts about cancer. Cancer kills 1,500 people a day, 1 person every minute. 1 out of 3 women will be diagnosed with cancer. Only 1 in every 10 promising research proposals is funded by the federal government.
Please donate in honor of Laura or someone you love and learn more about Stand Up To Cancer and the incredible people involved at www.standup2cancer.org.