By Lance Armstrong
Special to CNN
Editor’s Note: Lance Armstrong is a cancer survivor and advocate, professional cycling champion and father of three. This is one in a series of “letters to the new president” that will appear as commentaries on CNN.com in coming weeks.
(CNN) — Here’s something that should outrage you: Every day, more than 1,500 Americans die of cancer. Our federal government knows how to prevent many of these losses. Tragically, its attention has simply been elsewhere.
The American cancer community and the Lance Armstrong Foundation are hoping that will change with the election of President-elect Barack Obama, a man who has lost two of the most important women in his life to this disease.
Throughout my conversations with him, I’ve been impressed with his commitment to fighting cancer and have gained a sense of optimism about the future. And looking back on recent years, that optimism is a big improvement.
The American people are doing their part, especially against tobacco, the №1 cause of cancer. Twenty-four states as well as the District of Columbia have strong smoke-free workplace measures in place. Cities all over America are banning smoking. And Americans are far more aware and motivated to lead healthy lifestyles than they were even twenty years ago.
Our federal government’s scatter-shot approach to the war on cancer is what galvanized those touched by cancer this election season to create our own campaign — not to support certain candidates, but to get all of them to commit to our cause: the fight against a disease that will claim more than 560,000 lives in this nation in 2008.
And we used all the tools in the campaign toolbox: we met with candidates to plead our case, stood outside campaign events holding signs, ran ads, sent opinion pieces to our hometown papers, and suggested questions to the presidential debate moderators. We even hosted forums designed to let voters talk to presidential candidates directly about their plans to fight cancer.
Let me put all this in perspective: during two terms on the President’s Cancer Panel, my fellow members and I heard directly from thousands of survivors, healthcare professionals, government officials, policy makers and scientists about the effects of cancer on this nation. And what struck all of us was the fractured approach to this disease taken by our federal government in a time when cancer touches 12 million American lives.
Luckily, our campaigning paid off. Like most Americans, both Sen. John McCain and Obama have strong personal connections to cancer. McCain is himself a survivor while our next president has lost both a parent and now a grandparent. Both answered our call with plans of action.
So here’s what we will be looking for come 2009, stacked up with the commitments made by our next president:
1. Creating National Coordination: No great struggle was ever won without leadership and a plan. Currently, thousands of diligent people in our federal government work hard but without coordination against cancer. A unified strategy for cancer research, treatment and awareness programs is therefore the first step and our next president has committed to this in principle.
2. Increasing Our Investment in the Fight: Today, our federal investment in this fight is roughly $6 billion, a vastly inadequate amount considering the millions of Americans lost in the last decade alone. And for the past few budget cycles, funding has remained static or fallen off. Cancer patients and caregivers persistently lobbied for more dollars for the National Institutes of Health, the National Cancer Institute, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration. During his campaign, Obama said he’d double federal funding for cancer research within five years, focusing on the NIH and the NCI, and increase funding for the FDA during his administration.
3. Investing in Prevention and Screening: If you could fix the dam for a dollar now, why wait for the flood that will cost you $10 million? Even modest investments in cancer prevention and screening save millions of dollars — not to mention lives — down the line. Obama made a campaign promise to require federally supported health plans to cover all essential preventive services and to expand investment in proven smoking cessation programs. We support that pledge and look forward to seeing him honor it.
4. Supporting Survivors and Their Families: When you beat cancer, it doesn’t simply disappear from your life. Its effects stay with you, physically and emotionally, and it influences your outlook, your future and your family. To date, we’ve done a poor job in supporting the millions of Americans who have to face these realities. The Obama campaign promise: new support to survivors and their families and new funding for the CDC to study how best to help people affected by cancer navigate a thoroughly confusing health care system.
We expect Obama to work with Congress on these measures as well as on comprehensive legislation that will modernize our efforts. Sens. Kennedy, D-Mass., and Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, are already hard at work on this.
Big picture: We love what we’re hearing so far, Mr. President-elect. We support your commitments and will do everything in our power to further their achievement.
We can only LIVESTRONG™ if we’re GODSTRONG™.
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