Fighting Back Hope

Dear Mr. President, About Your Budget Proposal

Dear Mr. President,

About your budget proposal.

Listen, I get that you want to reduce inefficiencies in the federal government. Streamlining is a good thing. I’m a local government employee myself and I’ve gotten really good at streamlining processes and getting the best return on investment for the tax dollars entrusted to my stewardship.

Before I came to work for my local health department, I worked for a cancer advocacy organization. I don’t know if you’ve heard of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, but you will. See, we’re a one-million-strong group of advocates working hard to make cancer issues a national, state and local legislative priority.

As you might imagine, cancer research funding is important to advocates like me. I’ve spent the better part of the last 15 years collecting signatures, organizing bus tours, collecting more signatures, hanging banners, contacting lawmakers again and again and again, walking the halls of the Capitol, speaking to Congressional staffers, speaking at a research briefing, writing op/eds and letters to the editor, sending emails to my congressman and senators, sharing stories about the people I love whose lives have been saved, and so much more — all in the name of making sure the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute have adequate funding to move research innovations from ideas to reality.

For five of those years, sir, I have counted myself among the 15.5 million cancer survivors alive today because of advances in cancer research; the fifth anniversary of my diagnosis is just 11 days away as I write this.

Thing is, I’m not supposed to be here. My surgeon has made that clear on multiple occasions. He says I should be sick again, or dead. I attribute my survival to my faith, the love of my amazing wife, the support of our friends and family, and advances in cancer research. Without that research, the aggressive adenocarcinoma that lodged itself onto my rectum would have killed me. But it didn’t. I’m still here.

I’m still here because I have work to do, sir. I am a cancer advocate to the very core of my being and I’m concerned that your budget proposal will undo the progress my fellow advocates and I have worked so hard for over the last 15 years.

We just saw, at the end of the last Congress, and with overwhelming bipartisan support, passage of both the 21st Century Cures Act and the Cancer Moonshot Initiative. Your proposal to slash the budget for the National Institutes of Health by 19 percent and cutting $1 billion for the National Cancer Institute moves that progress back. I’m asking you not to make this cut.

Mr. President, do you know anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer? I assume you do, since cancer affects one in every two men and one in every three women in his or her lifetime and, as we like to say, we’re all just One Degree from cancer. I want you to do something for me. Walk through the chemotherapy floor of one of the D.C. area cancer treatment centers. Sit with the patients there. Look those people in the eyes, and then tell them why you want to cut the budget for cancer research. While you’re at it, talk to them about the higher insurance premiums, higher deductibles and low-quality coverage they’ll get under the American Health Care Act. But, I digress.

If you have an ounce of humanity in you, sir, I don’t think you’ll be able to do it.

Cancer sucks, Mr. President. Treatment is hard, and surviving treatment doesn’t mean cancer is over. Five years out, I have a permanent colostomy and persistent neuropathy in my feet that makes walking painful some days and means I don’t sleep well many nights. There will never be a day that I can forget I had cancer. As a cancer advocate, I can promise you I’m not going to let you forget it either.

Sir, please don’t cut the budget for NIH. Lives are at stake. That’s no exaggeration.

Sincerely,

Michael Holtz

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