WASHINGTON – Barbara Harrington, 60, a breast cancer survivor, came to Capitol Hill this week to ask for $6 billion. It’s not for her. It’s to increase funding for cancer research.
Harrington, who used to work in the health care industry, was diagnosed at age 45 and is cancer free. But she lost her father and a brother to cancer. Their deaths pushed her to get involved in lobbying for more funding for cancer research, she said.
“My voice coming from Montgomery, Alabama, to Washington, D.C., lets them know that this is a serious situation. It’s a disease that you don’t ignore. It’s going to reach somebody somewhere,” Harrington said.
She was one of 750 people who joined the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network to lobby members of the House and Senate to make cancer research a priority.
Harrington is not an exception. New cases of cancer are projected to escalate from 1.7 million in 2015 to 2.4 million in 2035, and 585,720 Americans will die of cancer this year, Dr. Anthony Alberg, director of the Hollings Cancer Center at the University of South Carolina, said Monday at the ACS CAN Leadership Summit.
On Tuesday, the advocates split into state delegations and marched onto Capitol Hill to meet with their representatives in Congress.
Keith Whittemore, 59, a prostate cancer survivor and retired auto parts salesman, is a first-time ACS CAN lobbyist from Saint Louis.
He said the group has three goals over the next two years:
- an additional $6 billion directed to the National Institutes of Health, of which a billion dollars would be channeled to the National Cancer Institute;
- increased access to palliative care;
- better insurance coverage for colorectal cancer screening.
“We really need congressional support to restore the funding to the levels, not only where it used to be but to continue to grow so we can keep saving lives,” Fran Miley, 43, an ACS CAN volunteer from Saint Louis, said.
According to the 2015 State-by-State Report Card on Access to Palliative Care in Our Nation’s Hospital, released Thursday, not enough seriously ill patients have access to adequate pain relief and other services to make them comfortable.
Changing insurance rules about paying for colorectal cancer screenings would increase the number of people who get screened, the advocates said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that preventive screenings begin at age 50.
But patients are sometimes hit with large bills they didn’t expect.
“We are going to ask congressmen and the senators to go ahead and co-sponsor the Colorectal Screening Bill,” Whittemore said.
The bill, Removing Barriers to Colorectal Screening Act of 2015, H.R. 1220, was introduced in the House on March 3.
Whittemore said that Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., showed a willingness to help get more funding for cancer research.
“We have worked hard to increase research funding for the National Cancer Institute in this year’s Senate appropriations bill by over $250 million,” Blunt said in a statement.
After hours of meetings with representatives, the ACS CAN delegates gathered Tuesday night in pouring rain for an emotional ceremony at the reflecting pool at the foot of Capitol Hill, where 20,000 lights in paper bags that carried the names of cancer victims were arranged to read HOPE and CURE.
Stand Up To Cancer ambassador Marcia Cross, known for playing Bree Van de Kamp in “Desperate Housewives,” and former NFL player Chris Draft, now a cancer advocate and founder of Team Draft, praised the volunteers for their advocacy work.
“Please continue to use your voices to insist that members of Congress, Republicans, Democrats and independents work together to bring an end to this disease by funding cancer research,” Cross said.
Reach reporter Kelvin Suddason at [email protected] or 202-408-1494. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire. Like the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire interns on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram.
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