I am going to finish my series of posts about my AACR experience, which was so enlightening, with a post about cancer research funding.
In the United States, cancer kills about one person per minute, 1500 people a day. We lost 3000 in one day in the Twin Towers attack, but it takes cancer two days to kill that many…but it does that EVERY two days. We lose 564,000 people a year to cancer. Seventy-two percent of cancers occur in those over 60 years old, and as the baby boomers age, the number of cancer cases in the US will increase 30-50% by 2020. Cancer isn’t going away.
In the US we spend $226 per person per year on soft drinks, but only $16 per person per year on cancer research. The National Cancer Institute budget for 2008 is 4.8 billion, and we’ve spent $517 billion on the war in Iraq. Funding for cancer research has not increased since 2004, and in real dollars factoring buying power, that represents a 15% decrease in cancer funding over just the past 4 years.
Only 10% of grant proposals for funding new research are now being approved by the National Cancer Institute because of lack of funding. So only one in every ten potential cancer cure gets a chance to be tested and explored. Young scientists who have the best and brightest minds in the field are leaving cancer research as they cannot obtain the funding to do their trials and cannot make a living in the field.
Many scientists who want to stay in the US are now finding careers outside of cancer research, but those who are willing to leave the states are being paid large amounts of money to conduct their research in other countries like China, Singapore and India. Any discoveries they make will become the intellectual property of those countries. We may one day have to travel to China to have our cancer cured, or die at home wishing we knew what might have saved us.
I listened to a cancer researcher and former president of the AACR, Dr. Geoffry M. Wahl, speak about cancer research funding for about an hour. He was passionate about funding for cancer research, passionate about seeing cancer defeated, passionate about supporting the great scientific minds who want to do research. He made such an impression on me, his passion was contageous. He so inspired me. I asked him just how I could help when he was done speaking. He told me to get involved in government, to talk to my state representatives, talk to my congresspersons.
Yikes…I’m ashamed to say I don’t even know who those people are, I’ve never done anything like that, I’ve never been involved in the political process. The idea intimidates me, but so does cancer; so I’m going to try to learn what to do. Maybe I can help some of you reading my blog learn from me as I muddle through figuring out how to make a difference in the political process.
I found a great example of someone who is doing just that, though, Randy Pausch. I was told of Randy Pausch by cancer advocates I met in California. Randy is a 47 year old professor, husband and father of three young children. At the university where he teaches, professors give a “Last Lecture” to their students, a hypothetical lecture they would give if they were about to die and had to impart final words of wisdom to their students. He gave that lecture, but with a twist, it really was his last lecture. Randy Pausch has advanced pancreatic cancer with a 100% chance of dying in a few months. He is using some of his last days to do what Dr. Wahl told me to do, get involved with my state representatives, do work in the political environment to help get more government funding for cancer research.
This is an 8 minute video of the talk Randy Pausch gave to congress. PLEASE watch the video below. It will amaze and inspire you. His experience with pancreatic cancer in some ways is like our own, we have a cancer that’s almost as deadly. Much of what he says applies to many cancers, including our own. Maybe some of us can follow his example.