So many 2020 presidential candidates.
There is virtually a candidate for every ideology. The candidates represent a diverse array of Americans, and an even more diverse set of campaign priorities.
Medicare. Student loan debt. Gun violence. Immigration. Equal rights. Foreign policy. The economy. The environment.
It is a long list of problems that all desperately need solutions. Those are issues that matter to me.
However, for me, my candidate will have this as a top priority:
A plan to continue to fund research to find cures for as many forms of cancer as possible.
I have watched too many family members and friends die of cancer. From the moment of the devastating diagnosis, to the forced cheerfulness of treatment, to the final acceptance that this brutal disease is often unbeatable, I standby helpless as I watch people I love die in such a horrible way.
Cancer is the terrorist I fear the most. It has invaded this country. It steals money as healthcare coverage is often not enough to pay for all the drugs and treatment required to fight a losing battle. It steals time from us as we watch loved ones leave too soon. It steals dreams as all energy and effort turns towards fighting this menacing disease.
In spite of those who survive, it still feels like an unstoppable enemy
The three Presidents that fought against cancer.
There are only three presidents in the last century who made important strides in the battle to cure cancer. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Richard Nixon and Barack Obama each took significant steps to establish funding for research and support.
During the Great Depression, for the first time in the United States, Congress created the National Cancer Act of 1937, which was signed into law by President Roosevelt. That bold move created the National Cancer Institute which is the leading governmental agency to address the research and training needs for the cause, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer.
Regardless of how history ultimately judged President Nixon, he was the one who declared that War on Cancer when signed the law that enacted the National Cancer Act of 1971. This led to more funding and initiatives, including the implementation of new cancer centers and established an international cancer research data bank.
Fast-forward 45 years later to 2016, when in his State of the Union Address, President Obama announced the Cancer Moonshot Initiative, to be headed by Vice President Joe Biden who lost his son Beau to cancer. That initiative was an effort to accelerate the rate of cancer research to find cures for cancer. It received bipartisan support. In December 2016, Congress passed the 21st Century Cures Act, which allocated $1.8 billion over 7 years to the initiative. This year, $400 million will go towards In this era of hyper-partisanship, this type of collaboration is surprising and welcome. Cancer knows no political party. It is an equal opportunity destroyer of health and lives.
This work has made a difference. The good news is that since 1991, the number of deaths from cancer has declined by nearly 30%. Research is on the cusp of new discoveries. The bad news is that in spite of these significant efforts, more than 600,000 people will still likely die this year of cancer.
The story of Mark.
Here is a story about one of the people I lost to cancer. He was one of my best friends from high school. His name was Mark.
All Mark ever wanted to do was be an elementary school teacher. A loveable, goofy guy who liked to play the guitar and sing, he got his degree and quickly became the favorite teacher at a school in his hometown. His wife was also a teacher at the same school where their two kids attended.
Life was perfect.
Then Mark started to get a pain in his leg. The pain never went away.
Mark started to see doctors, but no one could find the root cause. “Nerve damage,” he was told by one doctor. Another jokingly told him he was getting old.
The pain got worse. Mark got desperate. He went to the Mayo Clinic. After a battery of tests, the results were inconclusive. Mark went home and started to walk with a cane.
Then a week before the annual Christmas party at the school, Mark woke up and felt terrible all over. He got dressed and went in, because he didn’t want to disappoint the kids and not play guitar for them at the party. A colleague saw him in the hall, and went up to him and asked, “Mark, do you realize how yellow your skin is?”
At that point, Mark felt so weak and sick that he didn’t argue when his brother came to drive him to the hospital to get him checked out. A few hours later, Mark had the answer to why his leg was in so much pain: cancer.
The cancer had spread throughout his body. Further testing showed it started in his gall bladder, a place where cancer is hard to detect. From there, a tumor developed on his spine which caused the leg pain. And by the time Mark finally learned the root of his illness, the cancer had metastasized to his liver, which caused him to develop jaundice.
It was stage 4 cancer of a few organs. Mark was given four months to live. He never left the hospital, and died in February, two months after his diagnosis. He never got to spend a last Christmas at home with his kids.
So many fundraisers were held by his family and friends, trying to help pay for the medical bills that are hard to cover for two full-time teachers. At the school, all of Mark’s co-workers donated their sick time to Mark’s wife so she could spend his last days with him. It was incredibly sad to have a front row seat to this all too familiar American tragedy.
Voting for those who can’t.
Mark can’t vote now. But I can.
It is possible to tie many of the issues of our time to fighting the ongoing war against cancer. Saving the planet, strengthening the economy, affordable education for students — all of these important issues tie in to solving cancer and moving this country forward.
As candidates jockey for airtime, pithy tweets, and viral videos, I am looking for the adult in the room who has a thoughtful, serious approach to combating this medical villain
So to all candidates of all parties, what will you do to stop a scenario like Mark’s from playing out? When will we cure cancer so that families aren’t robbed of their time with loved ones and their savings accounts? Can we count on someone to fight this beast with funding so we can move on and take on diabetes and other serious diseases that plague millions and millions of people on this planet?
This the country that fought a revolution for freedom. It is home to the inventors who created electricity, flight, and were the first to put a man on the moon. Surely we can use our inherent innovation, creativity, and determination to solve this ongoing crisis. We need a leader who will take this on, now more than ever.
Who will be the cancer candidate? I’m anxious to find out.