CAPITOL CORNER: AACR INTERVIEWS MEMBERS OF CONGRESS
Can you share with our readers, many of whom are cancer patients, advocates, and researchers, your personal connection to cancer?
Cancer is the most ravenous disease. It touches all of us and has taken the lives of too many of our loved ones. Over the years I have lost family members and dear friends to cancer. My grandmother died of lung cancer, and she is someone who didn’t even smoke; many years ago I lost my friend Claudia Dison to Breast Cancer; and just last year my dear, dear friend who did so much for the City of Philadelphia and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Ahmeenah Young died of Cancer, Ahmeenah was the former executive director of the Pennsylvania Convention Center and ran the center for many years before she passed away. Like I said, it’s a ravenous disease that has touched each and every person in our neighborhood in some way.
How has the experience of dealing with cancer in your community, both personally and from stories you’ve heard from your constituents, shape your views as a policymaker and a public official?
It’s a very personal issue. We are talking about the lives of our family members, friends, neighbors, people we go to church and temple with, people we grew up with, and so many more. Cancer not only takes a toll on individuals who are unfortunate to receive the diagnosis but it also affects families, coworkers, friends, and the community as a whole. That is why I am working diligently to ensure that funding to prevent this pernicious disease achieves its goals and beyond.
On a personal level it reminds me to be more conscious of my own physical health, to stay even more vigilant. As a member of Congress and for many years when I was a state representative I was always a strong advocate for research and always looking for ways to raise the consciousness on this critical issue. Looking for ways to invest in Cancer research to get us closer to finding a cure. I always say when you hear the “C” word, when you hear the word Cancer it gives you a chilling feeling and you hope that person will be okay. We all know that feeling. We all know how critical early detection is and how it’s so important when we look at this in terms of our policy to allocate the necessary funds to get us that much closer to finding a cure.
In addition, I believe that it is incumbent upon me and other elected officials to assume the role of advocates as well.
What would you say to your colleagues in the legislative branch about the role of federal investment in medical research and cancer research in our nation?
The district I am proud to represent in Congress, is home to a number of world-class medical institutions and federally qualified health centers like: Albert Einstein Medical Center, Chestnut Hill Hospital, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Hahnemann University Hospital, the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Jefferson Health, Bryn Mawr, Lankenau Medical Center, Mercy Philadelphia Hospital, Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, Roxborough Memorial Hospital, Shriners Hospitals for Children/Philadelphia and Temple University Hospital.
These are health centers that are all on the cutting edge of research and innovation. These are our leaders who are laying the ground work for safer, healthier neighborhoods of our future. I always say we are in the business of ‘doing no harm’ and a way to ‘do no harm’ is to invest in models that work. It is clear that when we put more funding and federal dollars into medical research we increase the ability for people to lead longer healthier lives which in turn allows us to build stronger neighborhoods block by block.
How can groups like the AACR and patient advocates best communicate the importance of medical research to the members of Congress? Do you think we have made progress in terms of raising awareness of the importance of National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding to saving lives and helping the American economy?
Your organization is dong an exceptional job of relating the stories of constituents like mine and how funding at the federal level can make an immediate impact in their lives by mitigating the effects of cancer.
Also it ensures that funding remains a high-profile in the compendium of problems that Congress deals with on a daily basis.
Can you tell us more about other efforts—legislation and otherwise—that you have worked on or are currently working on in support of better prevention, detection and treatment of cancer?
When I was in the Pennsylvania State Legislature I was on the board of directors of the Fox Chase Cancer Center. For many years and throughout my nearly 37 years of public service I have worked closely with the Susan G Komen Foundation—I can’t think of a time when I’ve missed one of their Mother’s Day Race for the Cure walks in Philadelphia. This issue is very personal to me. Like I said it touches all of us and I do not take that likely. I am committed to working with whoever I can to keep driving us closer to finding a cure.
The AACR is headquarted in your hometown of Philadelphia. Do you have anything you would like to say to the AACR and our scientists and physicians who have dedicated their careers to making progress against cancer?
Keep doing what you are doing. Keep pushing forward, keep raising the consciousness and dialogue on the important work you are doing and the impact it has on the quality of life in all of our neighborhoods. I appreciate you and all you do and I look forward to working together in our shared goal to build a better tomorrow for future generations.