What could a Japanese garden possibly have to do with cancer advocacy? Ken Youner, who has constructed such a garden and is a cancer advocate, might note that both are creative endeavors and both take time -- to conceive, design, and realize, and to nourish and strengthen. Retired from his medical practice in gastroenterology, the former Captain in the U.S. Army Reserves stayed physically active in retirement (skiing and cycling, playing with his granddaughters) and engaged creatively (photography and construction of the Japanese garden), when he was diagnosed with kidney cancer. Seeking to learn more about kidney oncology, Ken went online and found ACOR, the Association of Cancer Online Resources. It was not long before Ken realized that, although he'd made his living as a medical doctor, there was much he could learn about this disease from people, who did not have any medical training but were deeply involved as consumer advocates. He also began to understand that his specialized knowledge as a doctor could help other advocates navigate the complicated world of medicine and scientific research. Ken is a strong supporter of the Lance Armstrong Foundation and is in fact "the leader of the Livestrong Army in Northern NJ." He also works with a group called Action to Cure Kidney Cancer (ACKC), lobbying for federal money to fund research and evaluating kidney cancer proposals for prospective grants from ACKC. Recently, Ken became the organization's Medical Director.
ACKC nominated Ken to participate as a consumer reviewer in the peer review of applications submitted to the DOD Peer Reviewed Medical Research Program (PRMRP). In this role, Ken works alongside scientists and clinicians involved in cancer research. Of this experience, he says it is "exciting and motivating to see so many people dedicated to help find and fund research that could help people with cancer or other serious diseases." As someone with stage 4 disease, Ken Youner has also seen, through ACKC and PRMRP, the "intense commitment that people working to battle this beast have." Ken's wife, Cecile, was herself diagnosed with breast cancer in the early 1990s and developed stage 4 disease in 2000. He recalls how she fought her battle with vigor and bravery. Cecile died in November 2008, but the love she and Ken shared continues to give Ken the strength to fight on. He has formed the Cecile and Ken Youner Fund for Cancer Research in her memory.
When asked how kidney cancer has affected his life, Ken states, "It has caused a paradigm shift in my life. I stopped practicing medicine. Slowly, I realized I had to learn about kidney cancer so I could be my best advocate. Through this I have become a cancer advocate for others." Ken's dedication to helping others fight their own battles with cancer is like the Japanese garden that was six years in the making -- growing and thriving.