Patrick was one of over 35,000 Americans whose lives were taken by pancreatic cancer in 2009. It is a deadly and complex cancer - the average life expectancy after diagnosis being just three to six months. Sadly, these statistics have changed little for decades; they certainly have not changed at all since my husband passed away, excepting that the number of those diagnosed, and those that die each year, has risen. In fact, pancreatic cancer has the lowest five-year relative survival rate of all major cancers at just six percent, a statistic that has barely changed since 1971.
There is very little hope to offer newly diagnosed patients. And it’s time for that to change. America has the best scientists and doctors in the world, and with adequate federal resources and a comprehensive plan, they can unravel the mystery and defeat even the most formidable diseases, such as pancreatic cancer.
Given the lack of progress over the years, I firmly believe it’s time for Congress to act and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to develop a long-term comprehensive strategic plan that will lead to early detection methods and more effective treatment options to increase the survival rate for pancreatic cancer patients. Last year, the NCI devoted a mere two percent of its five billion dollar budget to pancreatic cancer research. We can and must do more.
Fortunately, a bipartisan group of more than 240 members of the House of Representatives and 50 Senators has signed onto a bill that could finally bring much-needed hope in the fight against pancreatic cancer. The Pancreatic Cancer Research &Education Act (S. 362/H.R. 733) would call on the NCI to develop a five-year strategic plan with the goal of making verifiable progress against the disease. Not only would the plan help create an environment that will foster out of the box thinking for new approaches in pancreatic cancer research, but it would also ensure that taxpayers are able to monitor their progress.
On June 26th, I will be joining nearly 700 Americans in the nation’s capital to urge lawmakers to pass the Pancreatic Cancer Research & Education Act. We will be making a forceful case for lawmakers to act so that we can develop a plan to fiercely and unrelentingly attack this disease.
What makes America great is that our leaders, scientists and innovators have the ability and imagination to rise to the occasion - and not back down from a challenge. Pancreatic cancer is a challenge. And this challenge means life and death for patients and their families.
Patrick and I fought hard for 22 months to beat pancreatic cancer. I want others to have the hope that he fought so hard for.
Hope and a fighting chance; that’s all we’re asking for. We can come together and make a real impact by passing the Pancreatic Cancer Research & Education Act.
Lisa Niemi Swayze is a best-selling author, director, actor, and dancer. She also serves as the Chief Ambassador of Hope for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.