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Congress should come together to help kids with cancer

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I should be signing up my son, Mason, for soccer right now and preparing to celebrate his 14th birthday on Sept. 16.  Childhood cancer made sure that did not happen.  Like so many kids with cancer, Mason will never have the chance to grow up.  He was five years old when he died from brain cancer.

Through Mason’s illness, my family and I were shocked to learn about the limited funding for research dedicated to improving the lives of kids suffering from cancer.  My son was a funny, strong-willed little boy who loved his brother and wanted to run and play with him, instead of being in a hospital room fighting for his life.

{mosads}In his memory, I have joined thousands of families affected by childhood cancer by taking our fight for our kids to Congress.  More research needs to be devoted to curing childhood cancers, and a wider collection of data is needed to improve treatment and survivorship rates. Children with cancer should survive and thrive.

Right now, we are tantalizingly close to getting Congress to approve the most comprehensive childhood cancer bill that has ever been introduced: The Childhood Cancer Survivorship, Treatment, Access, and Research (STAR) Act (HR 3381. S1833).  The STAR Act encourages research to find treatments and cures for kids fighting cancer.  It is endorsed by dozens of leading childhood cancer advocacy groups. 

Unfortunately, time is running out to pass this important legislation.  With just a few remaining working weeks before the end of this session of Congress, the time to act is now.

I have participated in many advocacy days and meetings on Capitol Hill in memory of Mason and in support of the STAR Act.  Most often, I hear from Members of Congress that they want to help kids with cancer, but, with a short timeline and busy schedule, only priority issues will make it through the legislative process right now.  It is hard for me to fathom that childhood cancer, the number one cause of childhood death from disease, could be anything but a priority.

To be fair, some Members of Congress are pushing for the STAR Act., Reps. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) along with Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), have done an incredible job garnering the necessary bipartisan support to show that this matters to Congress. Almost a quarter of the Senate and more than half of the House including nearly 60% of the Energy and Commerce Committee members who have jurisdiction over the bill have already signed on in support.  Still, we are asked by Members of Congress to show that this legislation is a priority. 

I wish that I could take every Member of Congress to spend an afternoon in a hematology/oncology clinic with sick kids and their families.   I would challenge them, looking at frightened, young patients and their weary, desperate parents to say that Congress is too busy to pass the STAR Act and move life-saving research forward. I think if they spend just one afternoon in a cancer hospital, they would agree that the STAR Act has never been more of a priority. 

Mason should be going to high school, meeting girls, fighting with his brother, and playing soccer. Instead, like so many kids with cancer, Mason’s dreams were cut short by a lack of funding and investment in kids with cancer.

Congress has an opportunity to step up and show that, even in this divisive election year, the system is not completely broken.  We should all be able to agree on and pass a bill that would stop the suffering of kids with cancer and their families.  Members of Congress should come together and pass the STAR Act now.

Kirk Leach is the father of Mason Leach and a volunteer advocate with the St. Baldrick’s Foundation.  He lives with his family in Huntingtown, Md.


The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill. 

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