WASHINGTON – A cavalcade of celebrities, including basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, descended on Washington Tuesday to announce their support for a new effort to boost cancer research.
The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and Stand Up 2 Cancer announced a joint venture lobbying Congress to boost funding for the National Institutes of Health and cancer research by $6 billion over the next two years, including $1 billion for the National Cancer Institute.
In addition to Abdul-Jabbar, actor Pierce Brosnan and actress Marcia Cross were on hand for the launch of the One Degree campaign. Abdul-Jabbar was diagnosed with a blood cancer in 2008, which had previously taken his uncle and grandfather’s lives. He stressed the progress made in cancer research in recent years.
“The breakthroughs of the last decade are reason enough to continue investing in cancer research,” said Abdul-Jabbar. “It positively impacts our economy and all of mankind.”
Rep. Rosa Delauro, D-Conn., who successfully battled ovarian cancer over 25 years ago, urged fellow lawmakers to support the bipartisan legislation, which would increase funding by $6 billion over two years and 6 percent thereafter.
“Research funding was never meant to go backward,” said Delauro, who is the bill’s co-sponsor. “It was always supposed to move forward, because it’s money that’s needed to save lives.”
Several Republicans also spoke in favor of the legislation. Rep. Matt Salmon of Arizona was one of a number of conservatives expressing support for the legislation, suggesting that cancer research is a rare area of agreement in ongoing fiscal debates.
“I think if you get a right wing fiscal hawk Republican like me to fight this fight, then anything is possible,” said the congressman.
Despite the support of these lawmakers, cancer research has taken a hit in the past few years thanks to lack of congressional support. While this year’s National Institutes of Health budget is $30.3 billion, it has decreased by more than $6 billion in inflation-adjusted terms since 2003. The funding has been eroded in a number of ways, most notably the 2013 sequester, which forced the NIH to cut 5 percent of its budget.
The message of the new campaign, One Degree, emphasizes how every American is impacted by cancer, whether directly or through a friend, colleague or relative. As of 2014, nearly 14.5 million Americans previously diagnosed with cancer were still living thanks to advances in medical research, according to the American Cancer Society.
Nearly 600,000 Americans are expected to die from cancer this year, making it the second most common cause of death, following only heart disease.
In an emotional speech, Brosnan, who lost both his first wife and daughter to cancer, said the disease touches people on a deeply personal level, even if they never develop it themselves.
“We can never pull back in the fight against cancer,” Brosnan said. “Cancer will never give up in its fight to take one’s loved ones.”