THE BLOG

The Government Shutdown, Cancer Research and My Two Favorite Four-Letter Words

10/08/2013 07:27 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

The fall hues of burnt oranges, dark reds and crisp yellows have been overtaken by the glow of pink. I know you've seen the ads during your favorite primetime shows and on Sundays our most intimidating professional athletes will be donning princess pink from head to shoelace. It is that time of year again. The one month when Americans touched or untouched by breast cancer visibly display their compassion for those battling the fight of their life.

Now I could go on and on about the pinkwashing of October and the commercialization of a terrible disease but I won't. We have read similar articles, blog posts and even social media memes about the growing disdain for what we in the field of health communication call social marketing. Many of us know by now that for the most part research institutions and non-profits collect mere pennies on the dollar for the pink paraphernalia that is hustled at every turn. What I think we should take away from cancer awareness months (and nearly every cancer has its own turn in the limelight) is just that -- awareness. They should serve as reminders to us all about recommended screening practices, the importance of maintaining a healthy diet and offering social support for those affected by the disease. As a cancer communication scientist in my professional life, and a cancer survivor's wife in my private life (if we can ever really divide the two), I recognize both the symbolic and real importance of raising awareness about cancer prevention and early detection.

Yet, what I think we are all striving for brings me to my first favorite four letter word when it comes to cancer: CURE. While we may wear pink shirts that say "Save the Tatas" or yellow bracelets reminding us to "Livestrong" I urge that we need to go a step further -- a step I argue that is crucial, life changing and won't even cost us a cent. More important than any walk-a-thon or purchase of a pink mixer is my second favorite four letter word when it comes to cancer: VOTE. What we can do to stand up to this horrible disease that affects so many of us, our family, our friends, is VOTE. Our voice is our vote.

Right now during the government shutdown, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is turning away patients for clinical trials. Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), has said that about 200 patients who otherwise would have been admitted to the NIH Clinical Center into clinical trials each week will be turned away. This includes about 30 children, most of them cancer patients. Take a moment to look up your representatives and senators stance on funding for scientific research. With impending federal budget cuts post shutdown, it is already known that funding for cancer research is going to take a substantial hit. Without this research there is no cure. Awareness is not a cure, treatment is not a cure. What is your state and federal politicians' stance on the Affordable Care Act? Decisions about health insurance from coverage of those with pre-existing conditions to age limits under parental plans are critical issues for those who have, had or will have a cancer diagnosis in their lifetime and unfortunately the statistics are not that favorable -- the lifetime risk for males is one in two and for females it is one in three.

Stepping outside the health care arena, what do your elected officials think about environmental issues or housing laws? Polluted air, pesticides and poor housing stock have all been linked to cancer. What is their stance on education and funding for college? A cure for cancer may be locked inside a young boy or girl from a disadvantaged household who doesn't have access to much needed math and science programs or a chance at higher education. The list of state and national policies that affect cancer causation, detection, treatment, survivorship and most importantly a cure goes on and on.

I petition that November should be named the most important cancer awareness month. It certainly has the most impact on the future of cancer and the race towards a cure. So if you are with me, let's put on those "Rock the Vote" shirts along with your pink paraphernalia and hit the polls: let our VOTE be our voice for a CURE.