Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Open forum: Reigniting a war we must win

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by Kathleen DeBold

It’s been 35 years since our nation declared war on cancer. In the three decades since, we’ve learned a great deal about the nature of cancer, its many causes and possible treatments. But despite all the investments and advances, we still face an enormous cancer crisis.

Four out of every 10 Americans will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives. According to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, cancer accounts for 24 percent of all the deaths in our state. That’s more than 10,000 deaths of friends, families, co-workers and neighbors every year.

U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy’s recent cancer diagnosis is a stunning reminder that no one is immune from cancer’s reach. Like so many others, I know first-hand the pain and suffering this horrible disease can cause. I lost my mother to ovarian cancer, my grandmother to colon cancer, my best friend from high school to breast cancer, my best friend from Peace Corps to brain cancer. As a volunteer eucharistic minister at our local hospital (Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring), I meet scores of people each week whose lives have been touched by cancer. And their number one prayer request is for a cure — not just for their own cancer, but for all cancer.

Recently I returned from the U.S. Capitol where I joined 300 other survivors and activists from Susan G. Komen for the Cure in speaking with members of Congress about the importance of reigniting our nation’s the war on cancer. Ironically, before his diagnosis, Senator Kennedy (D-Mass.) was spearheading a bipartisan movement, along with Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) to redouble our nation’s fight against this devastating disease. The comprehensive cancer legislation they are developing will increase our investment in cancer research, place a stronger emphasis on early detection and improve access to cancer care for underserved populations.

For many cancers, early detection and treatment is the closest thing we have to a cure. The earlier a cancer is discovered, the more treatment options we have and the higher the survival rate. Unfortunately, most cancers do not have effective early detection methods. Reigniting the war on cancer means developing new diagnostic tools to catch cancer early and new treatments that are more targeted and therefore less painful and less toxic to the person being treated.

As we fight for new ways to detect and defeat cancer, we must also remember that many of us do not have the resources to have access to the early detection tools and treatment options already available. You are 60 percent more likely to die from cancer if you are uninsured. Reigniting the war on cancer means increasing access to diagnosis and treatment for the millions of uninsured and underinsured among us.

An estimated 1.4 million new cases of cancer will be diagnosed this year and 565,000 Americans will die. That’s 1,500 people each day. We owe it to our friends and families to develop and deliver effective cancer treatments. We owe it to our colleagues and neighbors to close the gaps in access to cancer care. We owe it to ourselves to reignite the war on cancer and find a cure. This is a war we must all fight — and that, together, we will win.

Kathleen DeBold is the owner of the Burtonsville-based senior services company Moving Experiences LLC. She is a volunteer with the Pastoral Care Team at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring and serves on the National Advisory Council of Susan G. Komen for the Cure.