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Cancer: Literally a Matter of Life and Death, and More

A Blog Post by Chuck Maniscalco | May 11, 2017

Last week, I had the distinct opportunity to represent the Lurie Cancer Center as a patient advocate for a day on Capitol Hill, arguing for increases to government funding for cancer research. Three national associations sponsored the day, and there were 70 of us from 25 states, each meeting with our own state delegations.

I was struck by many things, not the least of which being how hard it is to get people's attention when the House is voting on a new Health Care law. But, for this post, I want to focus on the arguments people use to lobby for more funding for cancer research.

I listened to association leaders, congresspersons, and many staffers who put forth one or another argument for research. Here's what I heard. Cancer research is important because:

  • It provides a good career path for top-notch researchers and investigators.
  • It lowers health care costs.
  • It provides jobs and economic vitality to states where the funding is allocated.
  • It is needed because, over the longer-term, cancer research funding hasn't kept up with inflation.

Worthy arguments to be sure. But, there were two things I didn't hear that I think are equally, or more compelling.

The first is that cancer is literally life (and quality of life) and death. I am Exhibit A. Though diagnosed last October with Stage IV Lung Cancer, and because of a treatment only approved 4 years ago, I am alive and more importantly back in my life. Mentally and physically, I have re-engaged myself. Had I been diagnosed 10 years ago, it is unlikely I'd be alive much less thriving. Perhaps a statistic will bring my point home.

In the entire history of the United States, combat deaths have added up to 666,000 people. That is a lot of people killed in the defense of freedom. What about cancer? EACH AND EVERY YEAR, cancer kills over 600,000 people in the U.S. Cancer takes from us almost as many people in one year as war has taken in 240 years!

Did I say life and death?

The second argument I did not hear was about the state of our understanding of these diseases known collectively as cancer. When I first met Dr. Platanias, we had a long discussion about the fact that we now know that cancer is a disease of genetic mutations. In fact, it is a mutated gene that is the target of my treatment right now. Ah, I said, so we now understand what causes cancer!

No, said the good doctor, we know how it EXPRESSES itself. We still, for the most part, don't know why genes mutate and why some mutations turn to cancer. We know in general that there are hereditary factors, environmental factors, inflammation, etc. But true understanding of causes at the individual patient level? No, we don't understand this. Wow. All these years of focus and energy and research and yet we still don't understand cancer at the level of root causes.

So, in addition to that initial set of arguments about why cancer research is important, I would add LIFE AND DEATH — and also that there is still so much that we do not understand about cancer. Without research to bridge that understanding gap, we will not make big inroads into treatment, and we don't have a hope in getting to the holy grail of prevention.

The folks at Lurie certainly understand this argument about the state of knowledge, and this is what drives them every day to go into the laboratories, and to enroll people in over 300 trials. Please do your part and help us bridge the gap by supporting the Lung OncoSET Program. It is a matter of life and death.

About Chuck Maniscalco

Chuck Maniscalco

Diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer in October 2016, Chuck benefitted from the advanced, individualized and research-based treatment options offered at the Lung OncoSET, part of the Lurie Cancer Center.

Chuck retired after a long and accomplished career in business, including roles as President of Gatorade, CEO of Quaker, Tropicana and Gatorade, and CEO of Seventh Generation. A man of many passions, he was an avid runner and guitar player, and took daily joy in completing the New York Times crossword puzzle. Chuck passed away March 19, 2019 at his home in Winnetka.

About Lung OncoSET

The Lung OncoSET is an extension of the Lurie Cancer Center's breakthrough OncoSET Program. OncoSET (Sequence, Evaluate, Treat) is based on the premise that each individual and every person's cancer is unique. It harnesses the power of precision medicine to identify tailored therapies for patients based on the abnormal genes specific to their tumor.

In 2014, the Lurie Cancer Center became the first academic cancer center in Chicago and one of only a handful in the nation to provide this kind of personalized medicine to patients with tumors — especially those tumors that are resistant to traditional cancer therapies. Learn more about Lung OncoSET and support more effective treatments for patients with lung cancer.

Support Lung OncoSET

Recent Posts

A Delicate Imbalance - Video (12/6/2017)

The Importance of Research (9/21/2017)

Is Immunotherapy a Panacea? (6/22/2017)

Cancer: Literally a Matter of Life and Death, and More (5/11/2017)

Cancer: Why Do We Need Precision Medicine? (5/1/2017)

Thriving with Cancer (3/28/2017)
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