5 Tips for Making Your Voice Heard
"Just like they would discuss war or terror or taxes, why wouldn't you talk about the No. 1 killer in this country? . I think whoever wants to be commander in chief ought to answer the cancer question." -Lance Armstrong
In 1971, President Richard M. Nixon declared a war on cancer. The National Cancer Institute was established, and hopes were high that it would do for cancer what NASA had done for space travel. After all, a nation that could put a man on the moon could surely cure a common disease, right?
Nearly 40 years later, 1.5 million Americans are diagnosed with cancer each year. More than 560,000 die each year because of it- roughly 1,500 people every day. And yet, for the first time since its founding, the NCI's budget was cut in 2006, leaving it today with 12 percent less buying power than it had in 2004. What does that mean? According to the NCI's annual plan, it means that each laboratory they fund nationwide may go without hiring a researcher or two. In turn, scientific progress is slowed, delaying the cure so many seek.
The situation may sound grim, but it's not all bad. In fact, there's some great news: Thanks to early screening and prevention, people are living longer, better quality lives after a cancer diagnosis. Nearly 11 million Americans are cancer survivors-a number that exceeds the population of the state of Michigan.
That's 11 million voices that could start a conversation with local and federal legislators to put the war against cancer back on the political agenda. Add to those voices family and friends impacted by the disease, and you have a movement.
In the spirit of this election year, we've put together five tips for getting involved in the legislative process. Most of us consider voting our civic duty and leave the rest to someone else. But for others, like breast cancer survivor Becky Cwiek (see Mrs. Cwiek Goes to Washington), legislative advocacy can become a passion-another way to fight back against cancer. Consider the options listed on the pages that follow.
1 Democrat? Republican? Survivor.
Before you vote on election day, you'll sift through a lot of information to help you make your choice. As you do that, consider the unique point of view you now hold as someone who has been diagnosed with cancer. Access to health care is a key issue in the presidential campaign. Take time to learn the candidates' positions and cast your vote accordingly. Who do you think can make the biggest difference for people living with cancer?
2 Read up. Speak out.
You know how difficult it's been to deal with cancer in your personal life. It may be comforting to note that there are legions of others like you-and they're mad as hell. Just by reading a daily newspaper you can see the strides cancer advocates are making: Last fall, Texans passed an amendment to the state constitution to provide up to $3 billion in cancer research. In May, President George W. Bush signed legislation to prevent employers and insurance companies from discriminating against people who test positive for genetic alterations that may cause cancer. Go to Web sites hosted by organizations like the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network to find out what major issues could impact cancer survivors and then let your legislators know how you feel about them. By using the Web, it's never been easier to contact legislators.
3 Talk politics with your neighbors.
We all know that's taboo, right? But cancer cuts across partisan lines. Democrats, Republicans and Independents all want to conquer cancer. In fact, both presidential candidates have been deeply affected by cancer: Sen. John McCain is a melanoma survivor, and Sen. Barack Obama's mother died of ovarian cancer. Talk to your friends and family about how cancer has impacted your life and why you believe it's important to support initiatives to ease the burden of cancer.
4 Join an advocacy group.
You know all those yellow wristbands the Lance Armstrong Foundation made famous? Well, that was one of the first steps in building the foundation's Livestrong Army. It's one of several organizations building grassroots efforts to make the fight against cancer a major legislative priority. Others include the National Breast Cancer Coalition and the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship. Each organization offers a platform of ideas they'd like to see acted on as well as tips and tools for lobbying your legislators. Annual meetings provide survivors an opportunity to see their power in numbers.
5 Go back to "school."
Cancer survivors are demanding a greater role in all aspects of the war against cancer-even on the front lines of research. Here at the U-M Cancer Center, the Breast Cancer Advocacy & Advisory Committee offers researchers feedback about the design of clinical trials. Nationwide, organizations sponsoring research ask survivors to help evaluate proposals to determine which ones are most worthy for funding. To learn how to evaluate grant proposals, various advocacy groups offer survivors training programs. It's the first step in gaining entrance to meetings where some of the most influential decisions in cancer research are made.