It’s been 10 years since The Who singer Roger Daltrey and guitarist Pete Townshend, along with friends including Rebecca Rothstein, Bill Curbishley and Robert Rosenberg, founded the Teen Cancer America charity. The idea back then, as it still is today: To help teenagers with cancer cope with the devastating disease’s physical and psychological effects.
“There were charities to help children with cancer, and charities to help adults with cancer, but none for adolescents,” says Daltrey in a recent Zoom interview with Forbes. “The teens got lumped in with children or adults, depending upon their ages, and that’s not fair. Young adults are in their own little worlds and deserve to be taken seriously, have their own spaces in hospitals and treatments for their particular types of cancers, just like the rest of us.”
During its 10 years, TCA has lived up to its promise, delivering teen cancer programs and facilities to 45 hospitals in 30 cities and 19 states, including big names like Memorial Sloan Kettering, UCLA Medical Center, University of Texas MD Anderson and Dana Farber Institute. Simon Davies, who heads up Teen Cancer America, says his organization is working to bring the number of hospitals to 50 by year’s end. If so, he says, that will mean 25%-30% of all teens with cancer in the U.S. will have access to specialized teen healthcare that they would not have had previously.
But COVID-19, as it did with most everything else, put a temporary damper on TCA’s recent efforts. “It was really, really tough because most of our fundraising is done through events,” says Daltrey, 78. “Not being able to have concerts and such for a few years has cost us around $10 million, and, as charities go, we are relatively small.” The postponement of The Who’s “Hits Back” tour, for example, meant that the $2 per ticket sold donation that normally would go to TCA completely dried up. “We had to batten down the hatches, put a lot of stuff on hold. But the main thing is we didn’t lose anything during that period. We managed to keep everything on an even keel. And now we’re excited about the future.”
This year with the tour back on (on hiatus for a few months until October when The Who returns to America), that ticket spigot has reopened. “It’s been wonderful to get out of the lockdowns,” admits Daltrey, who says he has not personally had Covid, “but we are still taking precautions. In our industry, we cannot get insured for the disease. If a show gets shut down, it’s incredibly expensive. I don’t think people realize the cost of putting on stadium shows. You could actually end a tour with a loss over canceled gigs.”
In addition to the tour, Davies says an intimate live “backyard” fundraiser for 1,ooo people, featuring The Who and other name bands, will be on again this coming fall, with tickets starting at $5,000. The date and location are, as of now, still unannounced. But it’s fair to say that the event will generate millions of dollars in donations for TCA. Simon also says that Ben Sherman is interested in doing a number of events with TCA in 2023, the year of the innovative clothing brand’s 60th anniversary. First Citizens Bank, since coming on board in 2016, will continue to donate significant sums annually to TCA. And Pete Townshend recently wrote a personal check for a $500,000 donation.
“We continue to transform the American healthcare system to accommodate these young people in a transformative way,” says Davies. “Before we came along, there were no programs like ours. We’re breaking down the silos of pediatric and adult cancer treatment, bridging the gap between them. In the end, we want to make sure every American teen with cancer has access. Our success over here will hopefully influence the rest of the world.”