Saturday, March 25, 2006

Mr. Clanton Goes to Washington

(Washington, D.C.)

The cherry blossoms are popping out in our nation’s capitol, just in time for my annual visit to button-hole a few congresspersons (they used to be all called “congressmen,” but that’s not technically nor politically correct these days.)

I am here attending an annual “Mission Day” convention of the Leukemia-Lymphoma Society, at which we will conduct LLS business, and more importantly, visit our respective congressional Representatives and Senators about how they spend your money.
This is my second trip to DC for this purpose.

Specifically, we want to impress this august group each March how important the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Cancer Institute (NCI) are to the fight against cancer, of which your’s truly is now a survivor. Additionally, the Department of Defense has a cancer research program for Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML), Breast Cancer and Prostate Cancer.

Congress has invested $23-million in DOD work on these diseases for the past three years; the LLS wants to throw our weight behind an initiative to expand the research to include all hematological malignancies. And you thought all the Defense guys bought were $500 toilet seats…and big boy toys to blow up things with.

Here’s the deal.
In Washington, everyone has an angle.
If you don’t participate in the process, you lose.
It’s that simple.

So if it’s a question between lobbying the politico’s for federal funds like a sanctified version of Jack Abramoff, or not having enough dollars to fund the work of cancer researchers (some of which have parsed my prostate cells), I side with getting the message in the right hands and ears.

The Leukemia-Lymphoma Society supports increasing funding by 5-percent for the NIH and NCI. A percent here, a percent there, and pretty soon you’re talking serious cash--$1.4-million for NIH, and $240-million for NCI—which pays the salaries and supply bills for chemists, oncologists, doctors and caregivers trying to figure out how to beat Cancer. Period.

This weekend’s meetings are being underwritten in part by people who have a vested interest in our success in getting this message heard in Congress: Companies like Amgen, Merck, and Novartis. So there’s your full-disclosure.

Novartis markets Gleevec, a “silver bullet” in the Cancer fight—the first FDA-approved drug to directly turn off the signal of a protein known to cause a cancer. This is pretty significant, because other drugs previously approved by the FDA can only interfere with proteins associated with other cancers, but not with proteins that directly cause the disease.

There are two other points on our agenda this weekend. We’re pushing for passage of funding for the Patient Navigator Act. That’s not where all cancer patients get a Lincoln SUV.

Have you tried to get around on the website for your healthcare provider? There ought to be a law! Actually, there is—but it’s another one of those un-funded mandates. An initial $25-million grant was approved for patient navigators, but no appropriation has been blessed. Maybe a bridge or two to nowhere got in front of the pecking order, but since navigating health care systems is vital to cancer patients, the Leukemia-Lymphoma Society is going on the record in support of writing the checks to pay for this through 2007.

The final piece of lagniappe this weekend is the handling of a “Cancer Survivorship” bill written in the last congressional session to create programs addressing the unique needs of cancer survivors. The LLS independently was working on a similar idea, drafting principles for pediatric cancer survivors. We’re going to ask that the two themes be blended, and a revised bill be reintroduced for consideration—and passage.

So, that’s how I am spending my weekend…preparing for these meetings, and getting my talking points in order. Not exactly cleaning the garage, but it is good work that needs to be done.

Tomorrow, I want to share with you some personal stories of people I’ve met here. Some of the best pictures I’ve shot so far were taken with the cameras of others…and the Washington Mall is more than a focal point for marches by millions of men. Meet you back here, later this weekend.

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