Teenage Wasteland: The Who Fight Cancer

Teenage Wasteland: The Who Fight Cancer

When 500,000 people gathered on Yasgur’s Farm, my parents finally learned that there was something going on. They wanted no part of it, but it finally sunk in that something was definitely going on. 

They weren’t alone. Once and for all time, Woodstock taught everyone that “young adults” exist and that they are different from older folks. Imagine that.

Roger Daltrey during The Who’s performance at Woodstock (1969)

Roger Daltrey during The Who’s performance at Woodstock (1969)

It's only teenage wasteland

You see, “teenager” is a new word. 

No one ever called my mom a teenager. At 18 she was married and by 21 she was a mom. She walked, talked, thought, and shopped like a grown-up. It wasn’t just that this was expected of her. She really didn’t have much choice, it’s all there was. Everything department stores sold to 15 to 24-years-olds were in the same styles as they sold to older counterparts.

Not everyone caught on right away. Cosmetics companies, fashion brands, and foods were first. Movies and music followed. Even the automotive industry figured it out and cars stopped looking like gangster getaway buggies.


I’ve had a great life through the support of teenagers, and this is a way of giving back.
-Roger Daltrey

But some industries resisted. Banks scratched their heads, and the medical profession just put their heads in the sand. After all, they had pediatrics. What else could they need?

Really? Do you remember those last few visits you made to your pediatrician? Awkward! 

Asking for birth control advice is just not cool after waiting in one of those kindergarten-sized chairs in a doctor's waiting room with Highlights on the table and wooden toys on the floor. Worse still, how about those first few visits to the “adult” internist. Creepy.

Imagine how stressful this is for a teen with cancer. 

That’s where the Coolest Charity in the World This Week comes in. Say hello to Teen Cancer America and Teen Cancer Trust (UK). 

Teen Cancer America and Teen Cancer Trust support young people with cancer by creating special facilities, support programs, care protocols, and research specifically for 15 to 24-year-olds. The organization is a remarkable fusion of brilliant medical care and creative empathy. Serious care that treats not just the disease, but the disease in the context of the specific patient -- teens. 

There is no better therapy for a teenager with cancer than another teenager.
-Roger Daltrey

As Simon Davies, Executive Director of Teen Cancer America explained to me, “Teens get rare and difficult to treat cancers that are made more complex by the physical changes that their bodies are going through at that time in life. Emotionally they need special help at a time in life when they are old enough to understand what is happening to them but hardly mature enough to cope with the impact for them, their family and friends.” 

This initiative is the brainchild of Dr. Adrian Whiteson and Myrna Whiteson who have combined their medial brilliance with the most astute teenagers who ever graced this planet. The writers, creators, and performers of the greatest anthems ever written for young adults -- The Who.  

“There was a huge gap in the health system,” said Roger Daltrey.  “Yes, there were children’s hospitals. Yes, you have adult hospitals. But the teenagers, and especially those ones with cancer, there is nothing. Absolutely nothing.”

Teen Cancer America’s Center at Memorial Sloan Kettering opened in 2016 with Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey. (Photo: Stacey Severn)

Teen Cancer America’s Center at Memorial Sloan Kettering opened in 2016 with Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey. (Photo: Stacey Severn)

There are now 30 hospitals in the USA with Teen Cancer America centers. The program originated in 1990 in the UK where there are now 28 facilities. The need and purpose are clear, as are the results. 

“Treating young people together in age appropriate environments by staff trained in supporting them and the cancers that affect them can make a huge difference to their outcomes,” says Davies. “For years their outcomes and survival have lagged behind the progress made in both younger and older patients. Specialized programs, facilities, teams, and research can reverse that trend. In addition, the emotional support they can give each other and the camaraderie that naturally develops between them is extraordinary.”

“They are a group onto themselves,” says Daltrey who is an undisputed expert on the subject of young people. “Teenagers love to be together. They need a little bit of space in a hospital. Not a great deal, just space. What we’re trying to do with Teen Cancer America is make you aware of the situation. Instead of them being isolated, they are put in with other teenagers who have been through the process they are going to go through, so they can help each other through the journey. So their parents can talk to each other and unload.” 

Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle, and Larry Lieberman announce The Who tour and the first all-digital album release by a major recording artist, April 10, 2000.

Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle, and Larry Lieberman announce The Who tour and the first all-digital album release by a major recording artist, April 10, 2000.

“I’ve had cancer in my family. My father died of it,” Pete Townshend told Jim Clash when the Teen Cancer America center opened at New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital in 2016. “But that wasn’t what prompted me. Between 12 and 14 I had the most extraordinarily difficult time. This transition we go through [as early teens] is a time when we feel very frail, very vulnerable.”

I’ve been in this business for a long time and The Who are simply the most philanthropic artists I have ever had the privilege to encounter. As a band, Pete and Roger each individually, with manager Bill Curbishley, and their entire organization. Every day I have spent with Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey has always included discussion, planning, and usually action to disrupt injustice and improve the conditions of others. 

Larger news Teen cancert.jpg

That was especially true back in April 2000 when we were announcing The Who’s upcoming tour. There would be 25 shows in 15 states, hundreds of thousands of fans, millions in revenue -- and a new album released by my company that would only be available online (not in stores). Bypassing record stores was a crazy idea at the time and one the band loved. I am still grateful to my friends Don Maggi and Danny Sokolof for making it happen.

Even with all this going on publicly, the private discussion that most engaged Pete and Roger that day was the charity work the band would do as part of the tour. 

Rather than donate the proceeds of a night’s show (hundreds of thousands of dollars), they explained that they could raise 10x or 20x as much money to fund programs for poor and homeless New Yorkers by “playing a few songs” at an event organized by Robin Hood Foundation. A few days before the public opening of the tour in Chicago, I watched in awe as The Who’s performance at the Javits Center in New York raised $10 million for the poor in my city. More than the total ticket sales from a week’s worth of public shows. Incredible.

Now is the perfect time to support Teen Cancer America as they improve health outcomes by: 

  1. Investing in specialized programs and space for young people with cancer in hospitals throughout the USA

  2. Creating music education programs (with the support of artists and producers) to record the music of young people at their cancer centers.

  3. Developing a national advocacy platform for young people with cancer to come together, support each other and influence health policy and health systems

  4. Undertaking a research project that will demonstrate the cost of cancer to young people, their families, health systems and society to demonstrate the importance of investment in this undervalued group.

Donations to Teen Cancer America and Teen Cancer Trust UK are tax-deductible and can be made at https://teencanceramerica.org/. For more information please visit their website or contact the author at CoolestCharity.org

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