Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Too High a Price

Earlier this year, my uncle's wife -- a vibrant, brilliant, creative woman whom, regretfully, I did not know nearly as well as I wish I had -- passed away following a long battle with lung cancer. Nora's struggle came to a close late one Friday night in her family's home on Cape Cod. The following morning, we made our way to the Cape, a trip we'd already been planning to make, only it was no longer to visit with Nora but instead to be with my uncle and my cousin and to try to fill the void we felt with memories of her shared among our family and her friends.

Lung cancer is a vicious disease -- the 5-year survival rate following diagnosis has NEVER exceeded 15%. However, it is all too often excused as a smoker's disease that people bring upon themselves. That's unfortunate in light of the horrific cost to our society, communities, families, and health care system caused by this disease that is often identified far too late to be successfully fought.

My uncle shared the following statistics in an e-mail he sent today:
  • Lung cancer is the #1 cancer killer, claiming more than 160,000 American lives every year
  • Four times as many people will die from lung cancer as breast cancer; nearly twice as many women will die from lung cancer as breast cancer
  • Three times as many people will die from lung cancer as prostate cancer
  • More people will die from lung cancer this year than breast, prostate, colon, liver, kidney, and melonoma cancers — COMBINED
  • Spending on lung cancer research last year was approximately $1,400 per lung cancer death compared to breast cancer research receiving $23,953 per death and prostate cancer research spending $10,318 per death
  • Approximately 15% of the people diagnosed with lung cancer have never smoked - we are all at risk
  • Approximately 45% of the people diagnosed with lung cancer are former smokers, many of whom quit decades ago
  • While smoking is a primary cause of lung cancer, Massachusetts, for example, (most other states are similar) generated tobacco-related revenue over $711 million while spending only $4 million on smoking cessation and prevention programs
The number of deaths is tragic. However, the addiction of our governments to the cash generated by sales of the drug that is so blatantly a cause of this disease is appalling.

However, the stigma of lung cancer -- it's a smoker's disease; it's their own fault for picking up the filthy habit; why don't they just stop; the warnings are right there on the package -- changes the rules, allows revenue to be generated and budgets to be balanced, and, tragically, weakens the drive to do something about it.

But perhaps that can change. November is National Lung Cancer Month. Next week, the Lung Cancer Alliance of Massachusetts is hosting a candlelight vigil in Boston to raise awareness (click below for details).

And at the national level, Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Chuck Hagel (R-NE) have introduced legislation in the U.S. Senate creating and authorizing at least $75 million for lung cancer research. This is the first-ever multi-agency, comprehensive program targeted at reducing lung cancer mortality.

I urge you to contact your U.S. Senators today and ask them to add their support to S. 3187, the Lung Cancer Mortality Reduction Act. It's easy to do -- simply CLICK HERE to arrange for an e-mail or letter to be sent to your Senators to urge them to get behind this legislation.

In a world where car makers and insurance companies are expecting multi-billion dollar bailouts, $75 million is a pittance that can change the lives of millions.

Make sure your Senators know that they need to support this. Do it for a friend or relative who might have suffered from this illness. Do it for a friend or relative who might find themselves diagnosed with this disease in the future. Do it because it's the right thing to do. I'm going to do it because never seeing Nora again is too high a price to pay.

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