I had an incredible, inspiring, frightening and frustrating experience last week. I went down to DC to advocate for additional funding for cancer research, and pancreatic cancer in particular. I met with my excellent Congressman (Pallone) and the aides to my two Senators. Seeing firsthand our political process at work was both exhilarating and exasperating.
It was scary to be so vividly reminded of the statistics of my disease - the five-year survival rate of 6%, the mere 40 or so survivors in a room of nearly 500 advocates, the many many tragic stories of family and friends that were taken by the disease. Sadly, the pancreatic cancer survival rate has increased minimally in the last 40 years. It is the only major cancer with survival rates that are still in the single digits. The fourth deadliest cancer receives only 2% of federal cancer funding. I am 44 with 4 year-old children who I don't want to have facing the same bleak odds in 40 years should the genetic curse prove true. Even for those blessed enough to have had the Whipple surgery (as I did), the five-year survival rate is 30%. [With absolutely no basis for this hope, I am counting on being in the 30%.]
It astounds me that several hundred people need to show up year after year, applying constant pressure, to generate the necessary support to increase funding for life-saving cancer research. And yet the funding for a new weapons system that even the military itself isn't asking for sails through with minimal scrutiny. Specifically, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network is advocating for a $5.79 billion budget for the National Cancer Institute to support cancer research. That may sound like a lot of money but to put it into perspective…the US spent at least $150 billion on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq last year. So, every two weeks we spend as much for wars (that somehow benefit us?) as we do in a whole year to try to improve the health of all Americans.
My frustration and anger at our national priorities becomes even more intense when I consider what it means for others. My cousin is younger than me with two kids younger than mine battling an aggressive cancer that won't quit. Very sadly, most of us know of such stories. Knowing that we have the resources to do much more and choose not to incenses me.
Some of you may know that I have very strong political convictions. (Just ask my father-in-law.) I have mostly stayed away from that stuff here. But…our tax money is being spent people! It is for us to decide on the how/where. Just like each of us does for our personal budgets at home – we make choices. For the one party to refuse to co-sponsor an increase in cancer research under the guise of being fiscally conservative is maddening. It's BS actually. There is no escaping the fact that we have been choosing elective war and subsidies for corporate America. As a result, people we love dearly are dying unnecessarily abroad and at home.
As it says in Matthew's Gospel – "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also". My heart is with people. I went to DC because I would like to see more of our treasure directed to helping people. My experience of democracy in action was that it's not very efficient but it is the best we got. Like life, it is a beautiful and frustrating thing. It often doesn't turn out as you'd hoped. Welcome to it.
PS - I belong to the NJ Chapter of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. I'd like to invite you to a funds and awareness raiser on Sunday, July 18th. Join Noah, Ana, Jacquelyn & me at a Somerset Patriots (minor league baseball) game at 5:05 that night. Part of the ticket sales will go to the organization to fund advocacy and research into cures. Drop me an e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you'd like to attend. I am hoping to have a whole crew of family and friends going. So, besides being for a good cause it should be great fun!