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Guest Commentary / Disease prevention

It's imperative that Congress fund cancer research, insurance

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By Christine Griffiths
I am writing to tell you how important cancer research has been in saving my life, and yes, giving me more birthdays ... four more birthdays to date. I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in January, 2006. I was in complete shock as I had always been very good about my well checks, keeping my weight down (had never been overweight), eating well, drinking that tomato juice. As a matter of fact, it was very hard to take when people would ask me what did I do to make myself get cancer. The answer nothing!
My treatment was aggressive, as I had an aggressive form of invasive cancer (actually two different types). I started with an amazing medical team that was current on all the latest research, had a bilateral mastectomy, chemo for six months (had horrendous side effects), radiation for four months, finished with a hysterectomy and then have spent the last four years recovering. As awful as my treatment was, I knew I was doing everything I could to live. I wanted to see my kids graduate from school, get married, be a grandmother. I wanted to live. I would have had a different outcome if research had not been a priority in this country. I am now a volunteer with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and I am spreading the word -- we as a country need to keep funding research! It does make a difference for every American.
So much progress has been made and researchers are on the verge of dramatic breakthroughs, i.e., gene specific treatment that will spare Americans the horrendous side effects that I had to endure, the end to childhood leukemia and treatment that can be given at home in pill form for many kinds of cancer, to name a few. These breakthroughs may never become a reality for cancer patients if medical research funding continues to be cut.
Recent reforms have removed the barriers faced by many cancer patients and survivors to access affordable insurance coverage. In one year of treatment I had used up half of my lifetime limits. What would happen if I were to get sick again? I have been guaranteed coverage without a pre-existing condition clause. I have now been assured there can't be lifetime limits. Because of these changes I can breath.
To candidates for Congress I ask: If elected, would you vote to protect the health of cancer patients and survivors by ensuring affordable insurance coverage would be available to them?
Nearly 60 percent of cancer patients are over 65. These are people who have "paid into the system," been hard workers and have a right to receive the benefits promised to them. These are not entitlements they have been paid for by the American people. Many depend on Medicare for their health coverage. It has been proposed by some in Congress that they would like to replace Medicare with "vouchers." I am very concerned that the voucher system would not be sufficient to cover the cost of insurance, would reduce benefits, increasing the out of pocket costs for older Americans.
If elected, will you oppose efforts to cut Medicare insuring that older Americans, especially those fighting cancer, have full access to the health care they need? Will you ensure sufficient funding for Medicaid for the one million middle to low-income Americans with cancer so they can continue their treatment and have health coverage?
Research has shown that half of all cancer deaths can be avoided through prevention and early detection. In 2010, Congress created the Prevention and Public Health Fund to help pay for obesity prevention, tobacco cessation, and critical screening to help Americans stay well and catch cancer early. If elected, what would you do to prioritize disease prevention? Would you cut the funding for prevention like some in Congress want to do now?
Now more than ever government has a critical role to play in the cancer fight. Lawmakers have the power to fund ground-breaking research and enact policies that help people prevent and fight cancer. In Washington state alone cancer will kill an estimated 35,790 people this year. Don't these people deserve a fighting chance?
Our elected officials make decisions that affect cancer patients and their families. As a cancer survivor, I know first hand how important those decisions are and how they affect lives in Washington state and around the country. We all know that person who won their battle with cancer, is in the fight of their life, or has lost the battle. Cancer affects all of us.
The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network is educating the public in Washington and across the country about cancer issues and candidates' positions on those issues. Questionnaires have been sent to the candidates asking them about their positions on the importance of increasing cancer research and programs, strongly implementing the Affordable Care Act, protecting Medicare and Medicaid for cancer patients and funding proven prevention programs.
I encourage Suzan DelBene and John Koster to fill out their responses and join the many candidates across the country who have already gone on the record with their positions on issues that are critical to the 13.7 million cancer survivors in the United States. Candidate responses help educate both candidates and the voters on the importance of cancer issues. They also enable us as voters to hold the winner accountable for their commitments to fight cancer.

Christine Griffiths, a volunteer with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, lives in Bothell.

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