A Survivor's Review of the LIVESTRONG Presidential Cancer Forum: Democratic Candidates

Jacki Donaldson Health Guide
  • Politics isn't necessarily my thing, but cancer is. So I tuned into the Livestrong Presidential Cancer Forum on Monday, August 27 to hear what the Democratic candidates had to say about the cancer question.

     

    Why a forum on cancer? To make sure the candidates we have now and the two who ultimately fight for the presidency discuss the number one killer in this country, says Livestrong founder Lance Armstrong. Just like they'd talk about war, terror, and taxes, Armstrong says they should address the issue of cancer. And they did. Well, four of them did.

     

    Senator Hillary Clinton, former Senator John Edwards, Governor Bill Richardson, and Congressman Dennis Kucinich all weighed in on this country's burden of cancer. The others? They didn't participate. Perhaps their absence speaks of their commitment to the cancer crusade. Maybe my leap to judgment is way off target. Regardless, the four who spoke to me today made me really think.

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    In November - one year prior to the 2008 presidential election - I will have survived breast cancer for three years. I figure that gives me special cause to comment on each candidate's plan for waging war on one deadly and treacherous disease. Here goes:

     

    On Hillary Clinton

     

    She had all sorts of answers for Lance Armstrong and moderator Chris Matthews, all of them pretty convincing. And herein lies my problem with politics: give me a polished, charismatic candidate, and I'm convinced.

     

    Clinton told me the current administration has called a halt to the war on cancer. I know it has; I've done research on National Cancer Institute budget cuts, and they are real. Will she declare a national war on the disease, Clinton was asked. "Yes," she replied. "Yes."

     

    Clinton wants to get back to setting big goals. She wants quality and affordable healthcare for everyone. If people can't get access, it doesn't matter, she says. And, she wants a public ban on smoking. On making real progress in this war-unlike the war in Iraq she so vehemently opposes-Clinton, holding her thumb and index finger just inches apart, said, "We are this close." Electronic medical records, speedy FDA drug approval, and more participation in clinical trials will help close the gap.

     

    A war against science is being led by the President of the United States, said Clinton, who knows she has a lot of cleaning up to do when we finally say goodbye to the Bush-Cheney administration. She wants organization. I love organization.

     

    A word about clinical trials: I am the happy recipient of the breast cancer wonder drug Herceptin-a drug so powerful and promising it may cut my risk of recurrence by 50 percent. Herceptin targeted my early-stage, aggressive cancer with a vengeance-but only because women before me valiantly volunteered their bodies to science. They took a chance so I could live. I'm in favor of more clinical trials and more participation in these studies. But I also think we should tread lightly in this area. Human life is precious. Let's be careful.

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    On John Edwards

     

    I'm convinced once again, this time by a man whose wife, Elizabeth, is battling breast cancer for a second time. I can't help but feel a connection. I believe Edwards' commitment to this war is more than political spin. The man is living with cancer, after all. He surely has some special insight.

     

    Edwards and his wife are not so unlike the rest of us grappling with the financial side effects of cancer. They have money, yes, and good insurance too, but they still receive statements and bills and most of the time, says Edwards, they can't make any sense of them. What's covered? What's not covered? Who knows, he says, because the entire current healthcare system is set up to deny benefits and coverage. The insurance industry beats us down until we don't ask for anything anymore-I agree as I sit next to my own folder titled, "Breast cancer bills." I pay my portion and file the papers away. No questions asked. It's too tiring. I need my energy for healing.

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    What's a president to do about such a rotten system? Edwards will set up a universal healthcare program if elected as Commander in Chief. Right now, we're on our own. With this plan, everyone is covered and a consumer protection organization advocates for us. Electronic records also make Edwards' to-do list. So does nixing tax cuts for those making more than $200,000, increasing funding for smoking cessation programs, and confronting drug companies.

     

    I like what Edwards has to say. As with all candidates, though, I'm not sure how his program will be funded. I know what the candidates say. I just can't picture it happening.

     

    On Bill Richardson

     

    Richardson knows how he'll get the funds. Once he stops the war in Iraq, he'll divert the $500 billion we're spending there to domestic issues, like cancer. He'll force pharmaceutical companies to negotiate on the cost of drugs. He'll mandate a constitutional amendment to balance the budget. He may even make Congress salary increases contingent upon demonstrated deficit progress.

     

    Richardson wants a cancer czar. He wants a budget more like the one given to NASA-$18 billion-and he wants to make a difference in the lives of cancer patients. He did it in his state of New Mexico when 100 people asked him to consider a medical marijuana law. He backed the bill, it passed, and now it's law. Impressive. This man may not be the next President of the United States, but he knows how to make change happen.

     

    Why is cancer often forgotten? Why is it not on the front page of every newspaper, Armstrong asked Richardson. Because it's not sexy, he replied. People are dying-and it's not on the radar. Something tells me this man, if given the right tools and the right opportunities, could get this disease on the radar.

     

    On Dennis Kucinich

     

    Kucinich approached the topic of cancer from a lifestyle perspective. This, I like. After giving up all meat and dairy a decade ago, Kucinich lost 25 pounds, doesn't need as much sleep, has more energy and clarity, and experiences fewer health problems. Four months ago, I changed my diet-I gave up sweets and soda, ditched all high-sugar and high-fat foods, and dramatically increased my intake of fruits and vegetables, and exercise. I've lost 14 pounds and feel healthier than ever.

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    Cancer prevention is largely up to each of us. What we can't do on our own, Kucinich can do with his universal healthcare plan-one similar to the UK and every other civilized nation where the government pays for everything.

     

    Armstrong asked: If universal healthcare is so good, why do people from the UK come here for medical care? Kucinich, visibly stumped by this question, did his best to not answer it. And he didn't-which brings me to my overall impression of this forum.

     

    The candidates convinced and confused me all at once. But cancer confuses me too. I never intended to walk away from this debate with a definite winner in mind. I expected to be educated and enlightened. And I was.

     

    For more on Lance Armstrong's cancer forum, visit our special section:

     

    Livestrong Presidential Cancer Forum: Our Breast Cancer Community's Questions and Advice

     

     

Published On: August 28, 2007