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America must put cancer research into high gear

As Camp Good Days and Special Times ends its 37th year of providing programs, I find myself thinking about where we have come as an organization, and about the progression of the medical industry in treating and diagnosing children and adults with cancer.

There have been improvements, but in order to keep moving forward, there needs to be support from our leaders. It is frustrating that, during this time when we, as a country, are deciding on our next president, there have been a large number of debates where a whole host of issues have been talked about, but unfortunately cancer hasn’t been one of them.

There was talk about the Zika virus, immigration, poverty and terrorism, which are all important topics, but cancer in this country is as if one of the twin towers is falling every single day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. It should be one of the most important topics.

Either directly or indirectly, cancer touches all of us. About 11,000 Americans die each week from cancer. That’s unacceptable. If you are a woman, you have a one in three chance of being diagnosed with cancer in your lifetime, and if you are a man, your chances are one in two.

It is hard to understand how so many families that are touched by cancer seem to be so underrepresented. These families have valiantly fought with this disease as their family members go through the most potent treatments medical science can come up with. However, I don’t think our elected officials are fighting for them.

Our leaders need to let us know how they are going to find answers. There is no question that we have the technology, scientists and researchers to find information, but there is no coordinated effort. We need money and leadership to help us find the way to win the war on cancer, and that leadership needs to come from Washington, D.C. The president needs to appoint a Cabinet-level official whose job is to bring people together to coordinate efforts and information.

I was excited when President Obama started the Cancer Moonshot, and selected Vice President Joe Biden to lead the program. The last time a president had done anything in a major way regarding cancer was President Richard Nixon, when he declared war on cancer in the 1970s.

Where we have made the most progress is in certain forms of pediatric cancer. As recently as the 1960s and ’70s, these cancers were almost always fatal. Today, children diagnosed with these forms of cancer have an 80 percent chance of being long-term survivors, and not in the traditional sense, where they could live five years from the date of diagnosis, or two years off of any kind of treatment, but can actually grow to be a ripe old age.

And while these children and families still have medical challenges, most of them appear to have successfully beaten their cancer.

Clinical trials are where the answers are going to come from, and we, as a country, need to increase the participation in trials. We need money to support trials, and we need physicians to stay up to date on information from clinical trials so they can share the information with their patients. Currently, 65 to 70 percent of pediatric oncology patients in the United States are active in trials; however, the percentage of adults active in trials is only 1 to 3 percent. Hopefully, participation in clinical trials will only increase, and the important information being discovered from these trials will help end the dreadful and terminal reign of cancer. We need support for these trials from our leaders; we need them to put finding the cure to cancer on the forefront.

We are blessed in New York to have Republican Rep. Tom Reed and Democratic Rep. Louise Slaughter advocating for Cancer Mission 2020. They are committed to helping it be successful, and committed to helping end the deadly reign of cancer. Recently, Reed and Slaughter came to the Camp Good Days office, where we presented them with close to 40,000 signatures to give to Biden, to show how much we are in support of finding the answers to end cancer.

If a Republican and a Democrat can come together to support the same mission, there is no reason others can’t stand up and support. Cancer is not a Republican, Democratic, independent, conservative, liberal or tea party issue – it is a people issue. Either directly or indirectly, cancer touches all of us. I urge my fellow citizens to make smart decisions when entering the polls this year. Remember that our future president needs to be committed to finding a way to end cancer. We need to show our leaders our desperation and frustration before someone we love or care about is affected by cancer. We must let our voices be heard; we can’t wait any longer. Everyone needs to stand up and be counted.

Gary Mervis is founder of Camp Good Days & Special Times.

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