Longtime Pasadena resident Jeffrey Kean is perhaps more acutely aware than most that cancer eventually touches virtually everyone, in one form or another.
The newly minted chairman of the American Cancer Society Board of Directors lost his mother to pancreatic cancer when he was just 15, an event that forever changed his trajectory and fueled his dedication as a 25-year volunteer at one of the largest nonprofit volunteer organizations across the country.
Back then, he recalled, his family didn’t speak openly about his mom’s illness or what was happening to her. When she died, Kean very quickly had to fill her shoes and “become the mother of the household” to help with his two younger sisters.
“The whole culture was different; there was this thought that cancer was a death sentence and we didn’t really talk about it, even though I knew something was not right,” said Kean, who is eager to help implement the ACS’ new strategic plan this year and help advance its mission: to save lives, celebrate lives and lead the fight for a world without cancer.
While its global headquarters are in Atlanta, the society has regional and local offices throughout the country to ensure it has a presence in every community. Kean can do much of his ACS conferencing via modern technology, with quarterly trips to board meetings, but is constantly plugged into the nonprofit’s work with regard to information, advocacy and research.
As a Bank of America director for digital channels engagement strategy, Kean is a data-driven gadgets guy, he laughed, and a “baby boomer at that.” But he credits his employer — for whom he’s worked for 35 years — with encouraging a strong spirit of philanthropy within the bank and supporting his volunteer efforts at the ACS.
“There’s so much more information today about healthy lifestyles, diet, exercise, it’s all contributing more than we ever knew before to prevent cancer,” said Kean, noting that even in the past 10 years, great strides in information and prevention have taken place.
“Simple things that I wish I’d learned years ago — for example, sunscreen!” he noted, pointing out a few preventative nips his skin has received over the years. “We have so much information about cancer to provide. The ACS is one of the most recognized brands in the cancer space, as well as the nonprofit space, so there’s strong confidence that we provide good, quality information.”
The ACS is a globally recognized source of knowledge about all kinds of cancer, with a 24-hour telephone help line or an online chat alternative helping callers access the best resources and most up-to-date information available, including where to find specialized medical facilities across the nation. Recently, the organization invested $129 million in prevention information and education to thwart the occurrence of cancer or reduce the risk of developing it.
“Our trained specialists at cancer.org will help walk you through the information you’re looking for — we want you to be informed about your own personal health and understand what screenings and testings you should have to understand your own personal situation,” he said. “The American Cancer Society is constantly examining what those are to give people the best information they can give them and also looking to deliver research and programs that can help us save lives and make lives better for people with cancer.”
Apart from being a comprehensive resource center, the ACS has invested more than $4.6 billion in research since 1946, and to accelerate progress against cancer — all cancers — it will double its annual research investment to $250 million a year by 2021. Among other important recent investments, the organization dedicated $304 million in patient support programs to directly assist cancer patients and their families, easing the burden of cancer. It also dedicated $80 million in detection and treatment programs directed at finding cancer before it is clinically apparent and providing information and education about cancer treatments for a cure, recurrence, symptom management and pain control.
The American Cancer Society is a global grass-roots force of 1.5 million volunteers striving to save lives in every community. As the largest voluntary health organization, the society’s efforts are seen as contributing to a 29% decline in the death rate from cancer in the U.S. from 1991-2017, including a 2.2% drop from 2016-17, the largest single-year dip ever recorded, according to annual statistics reporting from the ACS this year.
This news was widely celebrated within the nonprofit, according to ACS leadership.
“It’s a very big deal — it shows our efforts to promote early detection and prevention have been crucial. Cancer survivors have a better chance of living longer and more fruitfully than ever before … we have some pretty audacious goals to decrease mortality rates,” said Dan Witzling, director for the society’s Los Angeles Central Coast region, adding how important it will be to have a man like Kean at the helm this year. “We’re very excited about having Jeff as chair; he’s been active in the ACS at so many levels, he’s very knowledgeable, has really good contacts and has a very humanistic leadership approach — when he speaks publicly about the society he’s very engaging, and it’s very empowering to be in an audience listening to him.”
Advocacy is another enormous undertaking by the ACS. Through its Cancer Action Network, it contributes to lobbying efforts locally and nationally. Most recently it helped sound the alarm on the dangers of vaping, and helped contribute to the recent decision to limit flavored vaping products.
The ACS lobbies on behalf of cancer patients, smoke-free laws, and laws and policies that aid in the prevention and detection of cancer.
“Advocacy has become an enormous part of our work. We were big advocates for the health care reform laws, especially the pre-existing issue, that’s a big thing for our patients — even if you’re changing jobs, you’ve technically had a pre-existing condition if you’ve ever had cancer,” Kean said. “We try to talk about this through the lens of a cancer patient — what’s going to benefit that patient?”
Longtime volunteer Carolyn Rhee said all of the state’s ACS volunteers are proud to have
Kean’s representation of California at the national level, a rather rare occurrence at the 107-year-old organization.
“We’re very proud of him. It’s not common to have a chair from California and I think he’ll bring more of a California perspective, especially in diversity and health equity,” said Rhee, noting that she looks forward to a modernization of ACS fundraising efforts. “Jeff is very smart and he’s a very engaging leader and knows the organization inside out. I’m so happy that he was chosen for this position, and I think it will make it better for all of the volunteers.”