Trust me when I say that I'm not complaining about the attention cancer is finally getting in the media. But I don't understand why it requires two very upsetting announcements about cancer recurrence to prompt a national discussion about our nation's second leading killer.
I was struck, in particular, by the headlines about Elizabeth Edwards and the repeated use of the word "incurable." That word is so contrary to the American spirit and what we believe about our ability to innovate and excel. It doesn't take into account Elizabeth's considerable courage, and it says something alarming about the complacency that leads us to just expect another diagnosis with another new day.
It's clear that the way we battle cancer is deeply at odds with our values as a country, and with our common sense. There is a serious gap between what we know and what we do; what we deserve and what we get; what should be and what is.
The shameful reality is that we do not ensure that everyone benefits from what we know today about cancer prevention and detection. The outcome of a cancer diagnosis often depends on factors that have nothing to do with the disease, including race, insurance, economics, age and proximity to treatment centers. We can prevent about one third of cancer deaths just by widely distributing information about prevention and early detection—but we aren't doing it.
Meanwhile, we know scientific discovery is critical and our best hope for the future. Research labs hold the promise for improved screening and therapies and better understanding of metastases and prevention. Congress, however, repeatedly fails to fully fund the requested budget for the National Cancer Institute and recently cut cancer funding for the first time in more than 30 years.
These are only two examples of the disconnect between what we know and what we do. At some point we have to ask ourselves what is at stake. Who is left vulnerable by that gap? The answer is our spouses, parents, children and friends.
For that reason I am determined to lead a movement to fundamentally change the experiences and expectations of cancer patients. We need an unapologetic effort to demand what is right and champion what works. We have to be ruthless and relentless, as the author Jim Collins often says, in our quest for results. We must honestly and clearly affirm that this is an ethics issue. To confront it we must summon our resources and the moral courage and political will of the public, the health-care system and our government.
To that end, Americans deserve leaders who understand the magnitude of the problem and have carefully considered what to do about it. Trust me when I tell you that we are going to ask them. And we expect an answer.