Obama and Congress Use Their Powers for Good

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The Lloyds with Dianne Peranich and Lisa Niemi Swayze in the U.S. Capitol

I’m aware that this seems an unlikely headline given the antics of the fiscal cliff and the bickering about taxes and spending between the President, U.S. House Speaker Boehner, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Reid, U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and U.S. House Minority Leader Pelosi.

But sometimes there is a silver lining and it happened today.

Just in the nick of time before the 113th Congress was sworn in, the President signed the Recalcitrant Cancer Research Act into law. The legislation, formerly known as the Pancreatic Cancer Research and Education Act, passed the U.S. Congress on December 21, 2012, after it was attached to the National Defense Authorization Act.

You might ask why sweeping cancer legislation was linked to defense authorization and the answer to that is simple.

When Congress wants to pass a law in a lame duck session, it often needs a vehicle to carry that law.  Rather than attaching the law to controversial Health & Human Services legislation which also covers Social Security, Medicare, and other entitlement programs, Members of Congress decided to attach it to a piece of legislation they were just about sure the President would sign before the beginning of the 113th Congress.

If it sounds tricky and weird, it is.  But that’s the way it works in Washington.

What the new law does

This new law will require the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to develop a scientific framework for pancreatic cancer research.  One might ask why they haven’t done this in the past when they have developed such strategies for other deadly cancers like breast cancer, prostate cancer, and colon cancer.

The results have shown that when the NCI focuses on research, prevention and cure, they achieve results in reducing cancer deaths.  This enables them to fund research and promote awareness.  With that comes new treatments and perhaps eventually a cure to these deadly cancers.

The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network issued the following statement:

“The passage of this bill into law represents an unprecedented milestone in the history of pancreatic cancer. For the first time, there is a law dedicated to putting a greater focus on pancreatic cancer and other similarly deadly cancers.

The landmark legislation requires the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to examine its current research efforts on cancers with very low survival rates and work to develop early detection methods and better treatment options to help improve outcomes for those diagnosed with the most deadly forms of cancer, including pancreatic and lung cancer.

“The adoption of the Recalcitrant Cancer Research Act is a historic victory in the fight against deadly cancers—particularly pancreatic cancer—as it is the first legislation designed specifically with the disease in mind,” said Julie Fleshman, president and CEO of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. “On behalf of thousands of pancreatic cancer advocates and patients around the country, we are deeply grateful for the incredible bipartisan support in Congress and to President Obama for signing the bill into law.”

You can read the rest of their press release here.

Why this is important

This milestone is important to fighting the most deadly cancers, but it is especially important to me personally.

Today marks the anniversary of my mother’s birthday.  She would have been 82 years old.  On her 80th birthday, she spent time with her brothers and sisters knowing that it would be her last birthday.  Mom had pancreatic cancer and was diagnosed in mid-October of 2010. She passed away a short three and a half months later on February 1, 2011.

Years before, I worked in Washington, D.C. as a congressional staffer for a great Member of Congress named Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) and also had the opportunity to work in the U.S. Senate Majority Leader’s Office for Bob Dole (R-KS).  I also served in President Reagan’s Administration at the U.S.D.A.

I never thought that I would return to Washington, D.C. as part of the pancreatic cancer family. The truth is, you never want to be part of this family if you can avoid it.  Pancreatic Cancer deaths are startling.  A deadly statistic that hasn’t changed in nearly 40 years is that pancreatic cancer is the only one of the top 24 cancer killers that still has a five-year survival rate in the single digits.  Only 6 percent make it past five years.

Yet for the past two years, I have made the trek back East to Washington, D.C. with my son to meet with Members of Congress who, even in the face of sequester and budgetary chaos, took the time to help.  My special thanks go to U.S. House Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy, Congressman Jeff Denham, Congressman Michael Grimm, Congressman Brian Bilbray, Congresswoman Mary Bono, Congressman Jerry McNerney, Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, and so many others who helped make this possible.

Many famous people have been stricken with pancreatic cancer:  Apple’s Steve Jobs, Nobel Prize Winner Ralph Steinman, Astronaut Sally Ride, Actors Patrick Swayze and Michael Landon, to name a few.

In the end, this legislation will mean more to the many families like ours whose stories aren’t as famous but are personally memorable due to the devastating affects of the disease.  People like my Mom, whose birthday was today.

It’s nice to see Congress and the President use their powers for good.

Learn more at the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.