WASHINGTON, D.C. – Nearly 500 cancer patients, survivors and their loved ones from all 50 states and nearly every congressional district will dial into calls and log onto virtual meetings this week to ask members of Congress to make the fight against cancer a national priority. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) is hosting its annual Leadership Summit and Lobby Day virtually for the first time. While the event will look different, the advocates’ dedication to critical issues, including increased cancer research and prevention funding and improved and more equitable access to clinical trials remains the same.
“Cancer hasn’t stopped, so neither have we. Congress must take action to address the needs of cancer patients during and beyond the pandemic,” said Lisa Lacasse, president of ACS CAN. “Emergency funding alone is not enough. We need consistent and significant increases in cancer research and prevention funding to ensure we maximize past investments and continue to make significant progress preventing and treating a disease that is projected to kill more than 600,000 Americans this year.”
In addition to urging lawmakers to boost research and prevention funding, ACS CAN volunteer advocates will also encourage lawmakers to advance legislation that addresses disparities in cancer care and supports more equitable access to cancer clinical trials through the Henrietta Lacks Enhancing Cancer Research Act (the Act). Named after a Black woman who died of cervical cancer and whose cells cultivated during her treatment have been used to develop some of the most important cancer treatments, the Act would help focus on identifying and removing barriers that prevent underrepresented groups from participating in cancer clinical trials. Communities of color and other medically underserved groups continue to have higher cancer rates and are less likely to be diagnosed early or receive optimal treatment compared to other groups.
“We need advancements in cancer prevention, detection and treatment to be available to everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or their socioeconomic status,” said Gary Reedy, CEO of the American Cancer Society and ACS CAN. “Our volunteers have an important role in communicating the critical responsibility lawmakers have in helping reduce cancer incidence and suffering across the entire continuum of this disease.”
The virtual meetings follow a Lights of Hope Across America event held Saturday when 45,000 lit bags decorated with the names of those who’ve fought cancer were displayed in homes nationwide as a powerful message of hope. The event replaced the annual Lights of Hope ceremony which usually takes place on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Lights of Hope Across America was made possible with the generous support of Bristol Myers Squibb.
Tuesday morning, NCAA Division I basketball coaches Jay Wright of Villanova University and Bill Self of the University of Kansas will rally advocates through taped remarks prior to advocates’ virtual Capitol Hill meetings. The coaches are members of the Coaches vs. Cancer® program, a nationwide collaboration between the American Cancer Society and the National Association of Basketball Coaches.
ACS CAN will also honor a select group of lawmakers and others who have made exemplary contributions to the cancer fight. The National Distinguished Advocacy Award, ACS CAN’s most prestigious honor, is being presented to U.S. Representatives Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Penn.), who is co-chair of the House Cancer Caucus, and Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.) who is a powerful voice in the effort to decrease health disparities. Massachusetts State Senator John Keenan and State Representative Danielle Gregoire are also award recipients for their collaborative efforts on legislation prohibiting flavored tobacco products. And Atlanta City Councilman Matt Westmoreland is being recognized for his instrumental work helping pass the city’s smoke-free air ordinance. ACS CAN’s Judicial Advocacy Initiative award, which recognizes attorneys who generously donate their services to the cancer fight, is being given to Jeffrey B. Dubner of the Democracy Forward Foundation for his tremendous work representing public health groups in a lawsuit brought against the FDA for its failure to meet its obligations under the Tobacco Control Act.
“We all have a cancer story, whether it’s your own story or that of a family member or friend,” said Sandra Cassese, volunteer chair of ACS CAN’s Board of Directors. “Giving voice to those stories and making sure lawmakers hear them is an important way to do something meaningful to combat this disease. We want lawmakers to think of their constituents’ stories and the people behind them and make a commitment to take action to defeat cancer.”