In October 2013, I wrote an article about metastatic breast cancer (MBC) for the Idaho Statesman . I profiled four Idaho women whose breast cancer had spread to other parts of their bodies, a condition for which there is currently no cure. Two of those women have since passed.
The numbers around breast cancer are staggering: One in eight women are diagnosed with the disease and around a third of those have their cancer metastasize. While it isn’t the facts and figures that have motivated me to advocate for MBC research, this past year I determined that if I cared about seeing the lives of my MBC friends extended, I needed to focus more on the numbers.
In June, I was a member of a coalition of more than 50 cancer organizations called One Voice Against Cancer. We assembled in Washington to approach Congress with three fiscal year 2016 budget requests: provide $5.4 billion for the National Cancer Institute; end the decline of cancer’s share of the National Institute of Health budget; and support cancer prevention screening programs and registries in every state by increasing funding for the Centers for Disease Control.
In Idaho, we are at the bottom of the list when it comes to breast cancer screenings — 49th out of the 50 states. The president’s proposed budget for FY16 has major cuts to the CDC’s Cancer Prevention and Control Programs, believing that expanded Medicaid money available to the states would cover this deficit. Since Idaho opted not to expand Medicaid, if we lose the CDC funds, we have only compounded our dilemma, and we will lose more Idaho lives. We need to reverse this course of action.
The good news is the House of Representatives passed the 21st Century Cures Act in July and sent it to the Senate, where it is currently being reviewed. This bill provides changes to the way the Food and Drug Administration approves new drugs, creates a new Cures Innovation Fund and provides $8.75 billion to the NIH over the next 10 years.
We need these funds, and more. Just a decade ago, 1 in 3 medical research projects received federal funding. Today, now that the NIH budget is down 26 percent due to inflation, that number is 1 in 7. We can’t afford to let important, promising research be left languishing and unfunded in labs across America.
This isn’t a Republican vs. Democrat battle; everyone is affected by this disease and wants to see a cure, yet it is still a fight over budgets and finances. While Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, added his support by co-sponsoring the 21st Century Cures Act, Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, voted against the measure as it requires mandatory spending. While the NIH needs the stability of predictable funding, Labrador remained consistent in his priority not to increase our nation’s deficit. He wanted these additional funds to come from reductions to other budgets.
I’ll propose one. Our country spent $73.3 billion in FY15 through the Overseas Contingency Operations (war) fund. It is time to recognize that cancer is our enemy. It was diagnosed in over 1.7 million people this year within our borders. It took the lives of 589,000. The cost is immeasurable. Let’s bring the fight, and the funds, home.
I don’t need to see cancer cured in my lifetime. I need to see it happen within the lifetimes of my cancer-fighting friends, several of whom are profiled in today’s pink edition of the Idaho Statesman. We need more funding. We need it now.
Chad Estes is a Boise photographer and writer whose project, “The Reveal Mission,” showcases stories of breast cancer survivors and fighters. He volunteers his time to several breast cancer agencies in Idaho, including American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.