Cancer and Politics

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • If the Livestrong Presidential Cancer Forum is any indicator, the next President of the United States will lead a “war on cancer.” All six of the candidates who participated in the cancer forum said words to that effect. Unfortunately, with more than half the Presidential candidates skipping the forum, there’s no guarantee that any of the ones we watched and heard on MSNBC Monday and Tuesday, live from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, will be elected. Mitt Romney wasn’t there. Neither was Barack Obama. John McCain skipped it, as did Rudy Giuliani. The latter two have both had cancer; Obama’s mother died at a young age from cancer. Yet Ames wasn’t high enough on their list of whistle stops to warrant showing up. And that’s a shame.

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    The number of cancer survivors in the United States is currently pegged at around 10 million. Most of those survivors are old enough to vote. And for most, cancer is still a big part of their life; if not physically, emotionally. You never forget the first moment you hear the word “cancer” applied to yourself. And you never… quite… put it out of your mind. It lurks there, as insidious as the disease itself. As former Arkansas governor (and Republican candidate) Mike Huckabee said during his opening speech at the forum, “You always wonder… Every ache, every pain… Has it come back?” (Huckabee’s wife successfully survived a tumor on her spine 32 years ago; she and Mike have three children, despite the doctors’ assertion that radiation would make her infertile.)

    So, given that cancer is a serious and personal concern for upwards of 10 million voters–and many millions more, if you count those survivors’ family members and friends–why the lack of interest from candidates in the Armstrong forum? I wrote about the cancer community’s surprisingly lukewarm response to submitting candidate questions; perhaps another reason more of us didn’t bother to ask questions is that we could see the majority of the candidates–nearly two-thirds–were themselves apparently uninspired by the topic.

    That said, Jacki Donaldson has written a terrific overview of the forum, and the responses from participants Hillary Rodham Clinton, Bill Richardson, John Edwards, and Dennis Kucinich, from the Democratic side; and Republicans Huckabee and Sam Brownback. Following are a few points made during the forum that caught my ear as I listened via computer:

    Richardson: “We spend $6 billion on cancer research a year–that’s the same as two weeks for the war in Iraq. That is pathetic.” Richardson, governor of New Mexico, has enacted into law a good number of “war on cancer” programs in his state, including a comprehensive smoking ban; healthy breakfasts for every child; mandatory phys. ed. in schools, and mandated insurance coverage of certain types of cancer. He’s also funded increased cancer research at the University of New Mexico.

    Edwards: “Used to be 8 out of 10 NIH [National Institutes of Health] grant requests were funded. Now we’re down to 2 out of 10. What’s the chance that somewhere in those 8 is the cure?” Edwards noted that he’d fund research by ending the war Iraq, and cutting out tax breaks for Americans making over $200,000 a year. He also said that “half the bankruptcies in America are as the result of medical costs… The answer is a truly universal health care system for every man, woman, and child in America.”


  • Kucinich: “Cancer survivors have to worry about tests and retests throughout life, and it’s not fair that people have to fight this battle, and fight with the insurance companies at the same time… Our young people are being stopped from home ownership, from being able to pour money into a college education, because of our for-profit health care system.” Kucinich said that as President he would reverse the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005, noting that it keeps individuals in bankruptcy “forever,” while allowing big businesses to get back on their feet. He says the system he’d implement, which could take effect within three years, would mean individual Americans could “never again go bankrupt” due to health-care costs.

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    Clinton: “We have to have a broad investment in health care research and science. We have to end the war that’s been waged against science by this administration, led by the President of the United States. He’s been leading an assault on science and research. His two priorities have been the war in Iraq, and tax cuts for the wealthy, while cutting funds to the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute… The current administration has literally called a halt to the war on cancer… We have a lot of cleaning up to do when we finally say goodbye to the Bush-Cheney administration.” Clinton avowed she would double the NIH and NCI budgets; end discrimination by the insurance companies against those who have a genetic predisposition to cancer; and require insurers to pay 100% of the costs of colorectal screening, mammograms, and prostate exams.

    Huckabee: “I have a passion for the reality of what cancer does to people.” In addition to his wife being a survivor, Huckabee’s father died of cancer 3 1/2 years before he became governor of Arkansas. He noted he enacted legislation favorable to cancer prevention and research in Arkansas, including a statewide ban on indoor smoking; and elimination of the co-pays and deductibles for state employees receiving colonoscopies, mammograms, and prostate exams. Huckabee, a strong advocate of cancer prevention as the result of a healthy lifestyle, has lost 110 pounds.

    Brownback: The only candidate at the forum who’s had cancer (melanoma), Brownback says “The mental battle for dealing with that was significant... That experience was one of the best experiences of my life. It changed me… It changed me from someone in the pursuit of power, into someone whose purpose is glorifying God and serving others.” Brownback vowed that as President his goal would be to end cancer deaths in 10 years. “It’s probably an American-sized goal that only America can get done,” he said.

    Brownback has an impressive cancer record in D.C. He co-chairs the Cancer Caucus in the U.S. Senate with Dianne Feinstein. And, with Feinstein, sponsors the National Cancer Act of 2007 (S. 1056), a far-reaching act that would provide for a comprehensive Federal effort relating to early detection of, treatments for, and the prevention of cancer.

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Published On: August 30, 2007