Who would have imagined five short months ago that on this special day, almost 300 cancer centers and programs in every state attended by over 6000 leaders in cancer care and research, patients, advocates, and many others would have come together to commit themselves to doing what needs to be done—by everyone—to make this cancer’s last century?
Yet that is exactly what happened. President Obama made the declaration in his recent State of the Union address, put Vice President Biden in charge, and there has been no looking back. It is truly an amazing day in the annals of cancer care.
I was honored to be part of the program at the MD Anderson Cancer Center, hosted by the Center’s President Ronald DePinho MD. We were joined by hundreds of participants for two and one half hours of discussions focused on what all of us can do to move this effort forward. And among the speakers was Houston Texans’ defensive end, Devon Still, who shared with a hushed audience about his young daughter’s journey with neuroblastoma—and challenged all of us to reach out to communities to increase awareness about prevention, early detection and cancer care.
I would be remiss if I did not call out the talk offered by Vice President Biden, which was a highlight of the summit and was shared with venues across the country. As I tweeted at the moment, words are not sufficient to describe the impact of Mr. Biden’s words. Touching, personal, challenging—all those descriptions come to mind, but they remain inadequate. I personally believe that everyone involved with cancer—those currently under treatment, survivors, those who have lost loved ones, friends and coworkers to cancer, doctors, nurses (who acknowledged with his heart by saying if there are angels in heaven they must be nurses), anyone involved in the cancer sphere—should make every effort to watch that video if they haven’t seen it already.
Cancer moves all of us, for so many different reasons. Mr. Biden and his family are certainly no exception especially given the recent passing of their son Beau. The Vice President brought an emotion and an empathy to the moment that represented the feelings of so many who shared his words. He also brought challenges from which he didn’t shrink, asking why we can’t (haven’t?) done more to defeat this scourge we call cancer? Why are we holding back when we know what has to be done?
The depth of his knowledge and the intensity of his passion was obvious to all of us, and we share his commitment to meeting the goal he has set for the nation and the world: to double the speed of our knowledge of cancer and the application of that knowledge, accomplishing in five years what it now takes ten to accomplish. Here at the American Cancer Society, we have now set a goal to double our own investment in cancer research in five years, bringing it to an unprecedented $240 million per year.
Progress in cancer has come in haltingly slow steps. But we can’t forget that in the 45 years since President Nixon announced the War on Cancer, we built the knowledge and the infrastructure that have made the progress of the past decade possible. We made the investments, we have had some success, but we need to invest more and do it more effectively. If we could apply what we already know, we could reduce many of the deaths from cancer that will happen this very day. But there will be—and need to be—more successes tomorrow, and the tomorrow after that and for many tomorrows to come.
This is what the cancer moonshot is all about: harnessing our knowledge, making a national commitment, increasing collaboration, and making certain that everyone in every community has every opportunity to realize the benefits of cancer prevention and early detection, access to high quality cancer care, freedom from financial toxicity that remains so prevalent in the cancer care community, and hopefully be able to survive and thrive for the remaining years of their lives. No one should have to forgo a screening test, or adequate follow-up care when it comes to cancer. We must remove the barriers and make it happen. We can do this, my friends.
A couple of years ago I used to share a thought with others that when it comes making progress in our cancer research and treatment efforts, we had the way; but did we have the will? Our research was heading in unprecedented directions, providing new knowledge at a rapid clip, and generating answers to age old questions about what makes a cancer cell a cancer cell. But at the same time we got those answers we also got more questions, and our support of our research enterprise was lagging behind.
Today, I sense we not only have the way, we now have the will. Today we came together to renew our commitment to do better, to remove the barriers, to offer everyone the best possible cancer care wherever they may reside. Organizations including the American Cancer Society have made substantial commitments, financial and otherwise, to make this happen.
All this happened because one man and his family realized they had the power to make a difference, that in their moment of tragedy there had to be renewed meaning in life. Today’s Cancer Moonshot Summit was the result, an early step and certainly not the last.
To Mr. Biden, our sincerest thanks and admiration for making a difference, for making all of us stand up and take notice. Your commitment, your mission, your resolve is now our commitment, our mission and our resolve.
We can’t say thank you enough for making this happen.